Do We Already Have The Technology To Send Humans To Mars And Bring Them Back Again?

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Do we currently have the technology to send humans to Mars and then bring them back again? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Robert Frost, Instructor and Flight Controller at NASA, on Quora:

We do not currently have the technology to send humans to Mars.

This is a soapbox I find myself often standing upon. There is a general poor understanding of what the word technology means. There is a common misconception that if the scientific principles are understood and there is an ability to make the machines, then the technology is there. That is not what technology means. This is where I must use one of my stamps.

There really is no such thing as saying we already have the technology to do something new and complicated in space. The complexity of space missions means they all require technology development. Fifty-four years ago we put humans in low Earth orbit, yet today, companies like SpaceX are developing the technologies needed to do the same. Space is not plug-and-play.

Nobody currently has a launch vehicle that can propel a spacecraft large enough to hold humans, all the way to Mars. There are some in development, but the very word development tells us that they are developing the technology.

Nobody has a vehicle that can land humans on Mars. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, which means it doesn’t serve as an efficient braking mechanism as Earth’s atmosphere does. If you followed the various Mars Rover programs, you will remember how they had to do all kinds of crazy things to slow down those rovers before they hit the ground – things like airbags and sky-cranes.

Nobody has a habitat that can maintain a crew for the time they would be on Mars.

Nobody has a vehicle that can lift humans off of the Martian surface. We haven’t lifted a human off of a celestial body – without a massive rocket – since 1972. There is a lot of technology to develop, there.

Nobody has a spacecraft that can hold and care for astronauts for more than two years, without regular resupply from Earth.

Nobody has protocols to keep astronauts healthy for missions of that duration. This is one of the key purposes of the ISS – to help us develop that technology.


To better understand what the word technology means, see these two posts:

What is technology?

What are Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)?

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