Robots pave the way for human landing on Mars
With NASA rovers Curiosity and Opportunity relaying loads of information about the Red Planet, NASA is inching closer to a manned mission to Mars.
With each landing on Mars over the past three decades, the understanding of how to get safely to the surface has improved.
The Curiosity's rover main goal is to characterise the habitability of Mars' surface in general, but that also includes some information that could be relevant for human missions.
NASA's Mars InSight lander, which is slated to blast off in 2016, and the agency's Mars 2020 rover will both examine winds high in the Martian atmosphere, according to the agency.
"We have nearly all the information we need to really design the system we can put (humans) in," Victoria Friedensen, NASA's robotic precursor mission lead, was quoted as saying on Space.com.
Bigger probes require new technologies, such as the rocket-powered "sky crane" that lowered the 1-tonne Curiosity rover onto the Red Planet on cables in August 2012.
A human landing on the surface, however, would require a much heavier spacecraft.
A safety margin in landing heavier missions on the Red Planet is one of the chief concerns that NASA has right now, she added.
NASA is developing a crew capsule called Orion and the Space Launch System mega-rocket to get the job done.
The pair, which is slated to fly together for the first time in 2021, will be able to get astronauts to a variety of deep-space destinations, agency officials said.
Sending robotic probes to Mars is a relatively cheap and low-risk way to show the way for humans, Friedensen pointed out.
(Posted on 17-05-2014)