NASA was successful in putting the largest rover ever on to the surface of the red planet when Curiosity touched down last month. So far, the Curiosity mission has gone off nearly perfectly and the rover is doing its job of investigating the surface of the red planet. In the future, NASA hopes to go beyond placing remote-controlled vehicles on the surface of Mars.
Ultimately, NASA wants to put human astronauts on the surface of Mars. Five of the biggest obstacles facing NASA on its goal of putting humans on Mars have been offered up along with possible solutions. One of the biggest problems facing human travel to the red planet right now is the time it takes to travel there. The obvious solution to this issue is to make faster rockets. Scientists are working on advanced propulsion methods such as advanced plasma propulsion and more.
Another major problem facing putting humans on the surface of Mars is that of cancer. Astronauts on the surface of the red planet will be exposed to potentially high doses of cosmic rays and other so-called "solar particle events." The chances of an astronaut getting cancer from these events or exposure leading to genetic defects in their children is significant. The solution would be some sort of shielding. One concept is to use the water the astronauts would require as a type of shielding.
Another problem NASA faces is one of sex. The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed NASA's extended mission plans and determined that human sexuality needs to be addressed in any extended duration mission being planned. Another major problem is extended zero gravity exposure for astronauts. The longer astronauts are exposed to zero gravity the more muscle and bone mass are lost. Potential solution to this problem includes exercise equipment on spacecraft, pharmaceutical use, and spinning spaceships.
The largest potential issue though is exactly how to provide an expedition team to Mars with enough food and provisions to make the journey and return. One potential solution would be to live off the land once on Mars. This would involve hydroponic gardens and possibly teaching astronauts to create their own fuel for spacecraft using the Martian atmosphere and converting it into liquid methane. One major obstacle is that of water, and scientists hope to be able to teach the astronauts to turn ice located at the Martian poles into water they can drink.
[via USA Today]