In 2033, NASA hopes to make the next great leap in space exploration by sending the first crewed mission to Mars. Additional missions will launch every two years, coinciding with when Mars is in “Opposition” (closest to Earth), to establish a research outpost on the Martian surface. Naturally, many challenges need to be dealt with first, such as logistics, radiation protection, and ensuring enough food, water, and air for the astronauts.
This raises another all-important question: what to do with all the waste this generates? To address this, NASA has once again teamed up with the crowdsourcing platform HeroX to foster solutions. Having already launched competitions for new ideas on how to convert space waste into building materials and jettison the unrecyclable waste, HeroX has launched the Trash-to-Gas Challenge – on behalf of the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL).
With a prize purse of $30,000, NASA wants to hear your best ideas on how to maintain trash-to-gas reactors that may be used on long-duration missions.
A renewed era of space exploration is upon us, and many exciting missions will be headed to space in the coming years. These include crewed missions to the Moon and the creation of permanent bases there. Beyond the Earth-Moon system, there are multiple proposals for crewed missions to Mars and beyond. This presents significant challenges since a one-way transit to Mars can take six to nine months. Even with new propulsion technologies like nuclear rockets, it could still take more than three months to get to Mars.
In addition to the physical and mental stresses imposed on the astronauts by the duration and long-term exposure to microgravity and radiation, there are also the logistical challenges these types of missions will impose (i.e., massive spacecraft, lots of supplies, and significant expense). Looking for alternatives, the European Space Agency (ESA) is investigating hibernation technology that would allow their astronauts to sleep for much of the voyage and arrive at Mars ready to explore.
Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.”
With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future robotic missions to Mars. These would reduce these missions’ “bioburden” requirements, which are designed to prevent the unintentional contamination of the Red Planet with Earth-based organisms. Specifically, the report considers how Earth organisms would interfere with searches for indigenous life on the planet.