Not a day goes by where the folks at NASA and other agencies aren’t thinking about Mars. This week, Mars’ news centered around the potential for terraforming the red planet and finding suitable landing zones for an eventual manned mission.

DARPA talks terraforming

Terraforming is a subject that always comes up when talking about permanent colonies on other planets. Instead of continuous supply missions to keep a colony fully-supplied, what if we could transform a planet like Mars to be more like our own? Imagine growing food on a once barren planet. The ultimate goal for any colony is self-sustainability.

It sounds like science fiction, but DARPA is set on getting it to work.

Motherboard’s Jason Koebler attended a DARPA-hosted biotech conference and wrote a fantastic article about DARPA’s plans for terraforming.

“For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,” Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA’s new Biological Technologies Office, at the conference.

DARPA wants to take the best genes from various forms of life and engineer them to survive in inhospitable areas. DARPA’s focus right now is closer to home, but Mars is on their radar.

Another Small Step for Man, Another Giant Leap for Mankind

NASA wants to put a person on Mars, but where should they land? It’s a question NASA will seek answers for during a Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars. The workshop will be held on Oct. 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

NASA Recruitment Posters Draw the Shit Out of Mars Explorers

According to NASA, landing site candidates will have to offer “compelling science research” within the immediate landing area. Mars’ first explorers will be limited to about 60 miles around the landing site.

An example of how these potential landing sites will be selected is shown below.

potential mars landing sites

The red circle indicates the ~60-mile range for the Mars crew. NASA wants an area that offers the most bang for their buck in a 60-mile area.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft will also play a significant role in selecting the landing site. The landing sites discussed in October will be thoroughly imaged by the two spacecraft to provide better maps and scientific data on these landing sites.

Future Mars orbiter missions will also help narrow down the selection before a manned mission launches.

NASA has plenty of time to figure out the landing zone. A manned mission to Mars isn’t expected to launch until at least the 2030s.

Reaching Mars

Big changes are coming to NASA’s space missions. Human space exploration has been limited to low-Earth orbit for the past several decades. That’s going to start changing in the next few years thanks to NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.

The Space Launch System will make missions to Mars possible. One of NASA’s proposed manned missions is a test of the Orion spacecraft in Lunar orbit powered by the Space Launch System. On June 25, NASA conducted the longest test yet of the RS-25 engine which will be a part of the Space Launch System rocket.

Successful tests of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will lay the foundation for a manned mission to Mars in the next 15-20 years. And, we get to see it all develop in front of our eyes.

President Obama and Mars. The United States of Space is Here

Six months ago, NASA conducted an unmanned test of the Orion spacecraft. Ever wonder what atmospheric re-entry looks like from the astronauts point of view? Check it out below.

Image credits: NASA

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