“No commercial company without the support of NASA and government is going to get to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to Forbes.

The reply came to a suggestion from a member of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, who said NASA could be entering a new space race with private companies such as SpaceX.

Bolden is right. What SpaceX is doing is great, but it’s going to be a joint effort led by NASA with the help of companies like SpaceX that gets us to Mars. The committee could always recommend some extra funding towards NASA. But, that would make too much sense.

Bolden and NASA continue to champion the ARM (Asteroid Redirect Mission) as a precursor to a manned mission to Mars. “ARM is how we get there,” Bolden told the committee.

What is ARM?

ARM is an ambitious mission to visit a largest near-Earth asteroid. The visiting spacecraft will collect a boulder from the surface and place it in orbit around the Moon.

Astronauts will then conduct missions to the boulder – collecting samples and returning these to Earth. Early estimates would have astronauts performing these missions in the mid-2020s.

The mission has an extra perk besides preparing astronauts for a journey to Mars. It will also demonstrate techniques that could be used to divert asteroids on a collision course to Earth. Fast forward to 1:06 in the NASA video below to learn more.

How does ARM help NASA get to Mars?

Retrieving a boulder off an asteroid and placing it in orbit around the moon sounds awesome. But, how does visiting a tiny rock help NASA get to Mars?

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The technology that will eventually be used for a trip to Mars will go through its paces during ARM.

solar electric propulsion

Advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) will be a vital part of any deep space journey. SEP uses solar arrays to create electromagnetic fields to accelerate and discharge charged atoms to produce a low thrust. This propulsion system is slower than traditional chemical propulsion, but makes up for it by reducing weight.

This extra weight capacity could be better used for additional cargo for a manned mission to Mars.

The navigation techniques testing during the ARM mission is necessary for any mission to Mars.

According to NASA, “The ARM mission will help perfect techniques for sending those large masses to Mars by requiring a precise set of maneuvers to intercept the asteroid at a distance with large time delays.”

NASA is working on improvements to the space suit. Did you know parts of the spacesuit still used today on the ISS were first designed 40 years ago? They still work good on the ISS, but NASA is busy working on improvements for deep space missions.

NASA wants a space suit that can be easily repaired by crewmembers.

NASA wants your help too

Do you have a radical idea on how to reduce radiation exposure on deep space missions? NASA wants to hear from you.

Starting April 29 and lasting until June 29, NASA will hold a challenge for design ideas to protect astronauts during a deep space mission. Up to $30,000 will be awarded to design ideas selected by NASA.

“We are very impressed with the enthusiasm and sheer number of people from the public who showed interest in solving this very difficult problem for human space exploration,” said Steve Rader, deputy manager of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. “We look forward to seeing what people will come up with in this next challenge to find the optimal configuration for these different protection approaches.”

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Check out some of the designs already recognized by NASA.

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