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It’s too bad Mars is such an interesting place, because it’s actually one of the most difficult places to visit in the Solar System, especially if you want to bring along a lot of luggage. That planet is a graveyard of missions that didn’t quite make it.
As our ambitions grow, and we think about exploring Mars with humans – maybe even future colonists – we’re going to need to solve one of the biggest problems in space exploration.
Payloads - Surface - Mars
Successfully landing heavy payloads on the surface of Mars is really really hard to do.
There are a bunch of challenges with Mars, including its lack of a protective magnetosphere and lower surface gravity. But one of the biggest is its thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide.
Surface - Mars - Spacesuit - Death - Asphyxiate
If you were standing on the surface of Mars without a spacesuit, you’d freeze to death and asphyxiate from a lack of oxygen. But you’d also experience less than 1% the atmospheric pressure you enjoy here on Earth.
And it turns out, this thin atmosphere is making it incredibly challenging to get significant payloads safely down to the surface of the Red Planet. In fact, only 53% of missions to Mars have actually worked out properly.
Missions - Mars - Past - Problem
So let’s talk about how missions to Mars have worked in the past, and I’ll show you what the problem is.
Historically, missions to Mars are launched from Earth during the flight windows that open up every two years or so when Earth and Mars are closer together. ExoMars flew in 2016, InSight in 2018 and the Mars 2020 rover will fly in, well, 2020.
Missions - Transfer - Trajectory - Amount - Fuel
The missions follow interplanetary transfer trajectory designed to either get there the fastest, or with the least amount of fuel.
As the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of Mars, it’s going tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. It has to somehow...
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