The Mars Exploration Program invests in its own Mars-relevant technologies, as well as staying abreast of complementary innovations across NASA and the Aerospace industry. Technology investments unique to Mars include:
● Mars Ascent Vehicle: An essential element if NASA is ever to return materials (or people) from Mars, NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is currently investing in propulsion & guidance technology that could survive the trip to Mars and its harsh surface environments before being launched back into space. Hybrid rocket motors using paraffin fuel burned with liquid oxides of nitrogen are especially promising for this application. Within the thin Mars atmosphere, aerodynamic controls such as fins will not be effective, so investments are also being made in Liquid Injection Thrust Vector Control (LITVC). Using small ports to inject liquid oxidizer directly into the nozzle at different points, the direction of the MAV can be controlled quickly and effectively with no moving parts, even in the thin atmosphere on Mars.
● Planetary Protection Technologies: NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is also investing in technologies to enable the safe transport of materials from Mars to Earth (e.g., technologies for containing samples and sample containers for Mars materials, as well as technologies for sterilizing the outsides of these containers). Although it is not known whether or not life ever existed on Mars, concept studies for returning Martian material are conducted under safety standards that are as high as, or higher than, standards used for transporting known hazardous material on Earth. Technologies currently under investigation include in-space sterilization approaches (e.g., localized heat sterilization and plasma sterilization), as well as sealing technologies (e.g., in-space metal brazing and explosive welding).
From Robots to Humans
The science and technology developed through the Mars Exploration Program will enable humans to one day explore the Red Planet.