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After the moon, people on Mars until 2033 … or 2060

On December 11, 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a directive that instructs NASA to prepare for the return of astronauts to the moon "followed by human missions on Mars and other destinations."

The dates set by the space agency are 2024 for the moon and Mars in 2033, but according to experts and industry insiders, the achievement of the Red Planet has, so far, been very unbelievable, forbidding the huge effort of the Apollo program in the 1960s.

"The moon is the basis for our eventual Mars mission," NASA administrator Jim Bridden told a conference this week.

"The moon is our way to reach Mars in the fastest and safest way. So we're going to the moon."

According to Robert Howard, who heads the laboratory for the development of future spatial dwellings in Johnson's legendary Space Center in Houston, the obstacles are not as technical or scientific as the issue of budget and political will.

"Many people want to have a moment in Apollo and stand as Kennedy and say that we should do it and the whole country to meet," he said.

"If that happens, I will actually say 2027. But I do not think that will happen. I think that in our current approach, we will be lucky to do it by 2037."

But Howard said that if he should be pessimistic, and to assume a political dispersion forward, "it could be the 2060s."

– Psychological challenges –

From the design, production and testing of rockets and space ships needed to learn the best way to grow a green salad: it remains to work on all the basics.

Just getting there will take at least six months, unlike three days to the moon.

The entire mission may take two years, since Mars and Earth are closest to each other every 26 months, a window that must be taken.

Key tasks include finding a way to protect astronauts from prolonged exposure to sunlight and cosmic radiation, said Julie Robinson, chief NASA scientist for the International Space Station.

"The second is our food system," she added. Current ideas about the plant system "are not packaged, portable or small enough to come to Mars."

And then there is the issue of dealing with emergencies in medicine: astronauts will need to be able to be treated in the event of accidents.

"I actually think the big thing is costumes," added Jennifer Heldman, a planetary NASA scientist.

One of the main moves of Apollo astronauts was their gloves, which were too inflated and prevented them from doing a dexterous job.

NASA has developed a new suit, the first in forty years, called xEMU, but it will not be ready for its first time in the International Space Station for several more years.

On Mars, dust will be an even more problem than the moon. Apollo astronauts returned with large quantities of lunar dust in their modules. Keeping out of the habitat will be critical for a mission that involves spending months on the Red Planet.

The techniques for utilizing Mars resources for the extraction of water, oxygen and fuel necessary for people to live there still do not exist – and must be tested on the moon by the end of this decade.

Finally, here is the most basic question: how will a group of people deal with the psychological stress that is completely isolated for two years?

It will not be possible to communicate in real time with Houston's control control: radio communications will be between four and 24 minutes between planets in one direction. NASA is planning to test the IC's delayed communication exercises in the coming years.

Artificial intelligence must also be developed to help and guide astronauts.

The NASA-commissioned researcher to study the likelihood of reaching Mars by 2033 concluded that the goal was "impossible".

"It's not just a budget," said Bhavya Lal of the Institute of Science and Technology Policy. "It is also the bandwidth of the organization, how much can NASA do at the same time?"

For Lal, the more realistic time frame was 2039.

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