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The Challenges of Building a Mars Base 228

ambermichelle writes with an excerpt from an article in Txchnologist: "Going to Mars? Expect to stay a while. Because of the relative motions of Earth and Mars, the pioneering astronauts who touch down on the Martian surface will have to remain there for a year and a half. For this reason, NASA has already started experimenting with a habitat fit for the long-term exploration of Mars. Last year, students at the University of Wisconsin won the XHab competition to design and build an inflatable loft addition to a habitat shell that NASA had already constructed. The final structure now serves as a working model that is being tested in the Arizona desert. Like any home, it's a sacred bulwark against the elements; but not just the cold, heat, and pests of Arizona. A Mars habitat will have to protect astronauts from cosmic rays, solar flares, and unknown soil compositions all while keeping inhabitants happy and comfortable."

NASA Prepping Plans For Flexible Path To Mars 175

FleaPlus writes "A group at NASA has been formulating a 'Flexible Path' to Mars architecture, which many expect will be part of the soon-to-be-announced reboot of NASA's future plans. NASA's prior architecture spends much of its budget on creating two in-house rockets, the Ares I and V, and would yield no beyond-LEO human activity until a lunar landing sometime in the 2030s. In contrast, the Flexible Path would produce results sooner, using NASA's limited budget to develop and gain experience with the technologies (human and robotic) needed to progressively explore and establish waypoints at Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moon Phobos, Mars, and other possible locations (e.g. the Moon, Venus flyby). Suggested interim goals include constructing giant telescopes in deep space, learning how to protect Earth from asteroids, establishing in-space propellant depots, and harvesting resources/fuel from asteroids and Phobos to supply Moon/Mars-bound vehicles."

VASIMR Ion Engine Could Cut Mars Trip To 39 Days 356

An anonymous reader writes "It would take about 39 days to reach Mars, compared to six months by conventional rocket power. 'This engine is in fact going to be tested on the International Space Station, launched about 2013,' astronaut Chris Hadfield said. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) system encompasses three linked magnetic cells. The 'Plasma Source' cell involves the main injection of neutral gas (typically hydrogen, or other light gases) to be turned into plasma and the ionization subsystem. The 'RF Booster' cell acts as an amplifier to further energize the plasma to the desired temperature using electromagnetic waves. The 'Magnetic Nozzle' cell converts the energy of the plasma into directed motion and ultimately useful thrust."

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