NASA administrator Charles Bolden claims that an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will be a major step towards a manned mission to Mars. ARM involves visiting a large near-Earth asteroid, collecting a boulder from its surface and placing it in orbit around the moon, writes Alex Chavers for Newsledge. You may be wondering what this has to do with a Mars mission, but ARM has several benefits.
Testing technology for deep space missions
Astronauts will visit the boulder and collect samples which will then be returned to Earth, preparing them for a Mars mission as well as testing techniques which could be used to redirect asteroids which are heading towards Earth.
The major benefit of ARM is that it allows NASA to test technology which would be used on an eventual trip to Mars. One such technology is Advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), which uses solar panels to create electromagnetic fields, accelerating and discharging charged atoms in order to produce a small amount of thrust. Although SEP is slower than traditional chemical propulsion, it greatly reduces the weight of spacecraft, which would be essential in order to take the necessary extra cargo on a manned mission to Mars.
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As well as testing SEP, an ARM mission will provide vital experience in navigation techniques. NASA says that “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.”
Mars mission: Appeal for designs
NASA is also working to improve its space suits, making them easy for crew members to repair during deep space missions. The space agency has appealed for design ideas from the general public, inviting suggestions as to how to protect astronauts from radiation during an eventual mission to Mars. Designers could receive up to $30,000 should their idea be selected by the space agency.
“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.