A Crewed Mission to Mars...

Landing on the Surface:

How will the equipment and crew land on Mars?

What equipment will be there?

What will the astronauts do during their stay?


1) Mars Entry and Landing

Once at Mars, an aerocapture maneuver will be used by arriving cargo and crew modules to enter Mars orbit. This maneuver will be performed with the use of a single aeroshell which will provide the aerodynamics and thermal protection needed for safe insertion into orbit. The main advantages of an aerocapture maneuver are the savings in spacecraft mass (an aeroshell will be lighter than a propulsive capture stage) and the elimination of one propulsive stage (thereby minimizing potential risk on entry). After successful capture into Mars orbit, a Mars descent maneuver will be performed and the same aeroshell will provide thermal protection for the descending module during atmospheric entry. Once the descending module has entered the Martian atmosphere and slowed down considerably, the aeroshell will separate from the module inside and parachutes and/or atmospheric propulsive maneuvers will be used to vertically deliver the module to the surface. Extremely accurate surface delivery will be required for all Mars surface payloads to ensure that all equipment intended for use by the astronauts is accessible upon their arrival.

2) Surface Equipment for the First Crew

The astronauts will arrive on the surface in the same module that was used for transit to Mars. The crew habitat module will be a cylinder with a diameter of 7.5 meters and an overall height of about 6 meters. The module will be divided into two levels, each approximately 3 meters in height. In total, this configuration translates into a total of about 960 square feet. The crew module will contain all of the necessary consumables and life support systems for the 180 day transit and the 500+ day surface stay.

Previously delivered equipment will include a fully fueled ERV in Mars orbit, a MAV fueled-up by the in-situ resource utilization propellant production module, two 160 kW nuclear power modules which have been autonomously deployed 1 km from the main "outpost site", two utility trucks, a pressurized rover, a remote controlled rover, spare parts, and the surface laboratory module.

The surface laboratory module will have a configuration identical to the crew habitation module (power systems, pressurized hatches, and life support). Identical systems in the crew and laboratory modules will lower development costs and provide a degree of safety and ease of maintainability to the crew. The surface laboratory will act as a safe haven for the crew in the event of an emergency and it will contain consumables and additional supplies for the crew. All laboratory work will be performed in this module and the module will also serve to increase the pressurized area for use by the crew. Soon after landing, the crew will position the crew and laboratory modules next to one another (the modules will be mobile) and the two modules will be connected.

The pressurized surface rover will be capable of long duration surface expeditions, possibly up to weeks at a time. It will have an airlock that will allow direct connection with the crew habitat while at the outpost and the same airlock will provide surface access while on excursions. The rover will have its own rechargeable life support system and will be capable of carrying up to 4 crew members in an emergency. For shorter surface excursions in the 6 to 8 hour range, unpressurized rovers will be used by crew members wearing the extravehicular activity (EVA) suits used for all "outdoor" surface operations.

Approximately 2 months after the crew's arrival, a second ERV will be delivered into Mars orbit and a second MAV, along with liquid hydrogen and scientific equipment, will be delivered to the surface site.

3) Surface Operations

Initially, the primary activities of the Mars crew will involve the organization and systems check of the existing modules at the landing site. Soon after the crew touches down, solar panels will be deployed from the crew and laboratory modules to provide auxiliary power to critical systems. There will be regenerative fuel cells similar to those currently on board the space shuttle available to supply power, but they are intended only for use when absolutely necessary (e.g. on descent to the Martian surface when the solar panels will not be deployed). The transit/habitation module will be connected to the laboratory module and all surface equipment will then be gathered near the joined modules. Power will need to be routed to the crew habitat/laboratory from the nuclear power module, establishing a primitive Mars power grid. With power routed to the crew habitat, all systems will be brought online and a lengthy systems check will begin. Finally, The MAV and propellant production module will be checked out. About two months after their arrival, the crew will also be responsible for the retrieval and systems check of the components of the arriving cargo mission which was launched before the astronauts on the slower minimum energy trajectory.

During their stay on Mars the astronauts will conduct previously planned experiments and their findings will likely determine the direction of further investigations. The geology and mineralogy of the surrounding area will be investigated and the search for evidence of life, either past or present, will continue. The astronauts will look for water in the Martian soil and on future missions they may even drill deep below the surface as their search for Martian water reserves intensifies. Essentially, the astronauts will attempt to answer as many of the existing scientific questions about Mars as possible. The crew will keep in contact with an Earth based support team to whom they will relay the findings of their investigations and from whom they will receive general instructions for future experiments. Additionally, the crew will report their experiences on the surface of Mars back to the people of Earth so that we may all share in their pioneering adventures. The astronauts will also have leisure and "vacation" time so that they can appreciate the experience of being the first humans to ever walk on Mars. The Mars astronauts will certainly be busy!

Why Go to Mars? - motivations behind a human Mars exploration program

Mission Objectives and Profiles - objectives, risk evaluation, trajectories, travel/stay times, split mission strategy

Launching the Mission - propulsion, launch schedule, launch payloads

Surface Systems - power, return propellant production, surface life support

Return to Earth - ascent from the Mars surface, Earth Return Vehicle

Back to Mars Exploration Homepage

Mars Home

NSSDCA Planetary Science Homepage

NSSDCA Homepage

NASA Homepage


Dr. David R. Williams, dave.williams@nasa.gov
NSSDCA, Mail Code 690.1
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771

NASA Official: Dave Williams, david.r.williams@nasa.gov
Original Page Author: Malcolm J. Shaw, Malcolm_Shaw@pcp.ca
Last Updated: 27 August 2015, DRW