Was President Donald Trump just joking during a conversation this week with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson when he said he would like Americans to get to Mars by 2020?
Trump was congratulating Whitson, currently serving her third trip on the International Space Station, on setting the record for American with the most time in space – 534 days on Monday, noted CBS News. The topic then turned to Mars.
"Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or at worst during my second term," Trump told Whitson. "So we'll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?"
That timetable, though, faces technical and natural obstacles. Here are at least five miracles NASA would need to perform to get Trump and American astronauts to Mars by 2020.
1. Build a rocket that could get there — According to Popular Science magazine, NASA will not test-fly its new Space Launch System until late 2018 or early 2019. The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be NASA's most powerful rocket ever designed for the purpose of launching spaceships into deep space like Mars.
2. Make the trip survivable — Astronauts will have to actually live, eat, and survive a trip filled with deadly radiation and isolation, noted Popular Science. That doesn't include actually living on Mars itself once they get there — things NASA is still trying to figure out. Scientists must find a way to protect astronauts from deep space radiation along with the negative effects weightlessness has on the brain and body, maintaining its food supply, and so on, all within the next three years.
3. Provide enough oxygen to breathe — NASA will be testing its Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, known as MOXIE, on its upcoming Mars 2020 rover with hopes of producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing. If it works, scientists will have crossed a major hurdle to make living on Mars possible. If it doesn't, astronauts may have to take oxygen with them, making the trip much more difficult.
4. Catch Mars while it's closest — Because of their elliptical orbits and speeds, Earth and Mars are separated by various distances throughout the years. Mars will be at its closest to Earth in July 2018 and October 2020, making those the best date options to land humans there, per Popular Science.
5. Make Elon Musk step on the gas — The billionaire businessman and founder of SpaceX is already flying missions to the International Space Station for NASA, so naturally, he probably already has all this figured out. SpaceX announced plans last year to fly a Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 with his first human voyage set for 2024, according to SpaceFlightNow.com. That would be late in someone's second term.
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