BASALT: The Future of Mars, on Earth Today

The following papers were recently published in the journal AstrobiologyVol. 19, No. 3Special Collection: BASALT Research Program: Guest Editor: Darlene S.S. Lim, PhD

Someday, human explorers will walk on the planet Mars.

But, as young children and older space exploration enthusiasts often lament, “someday” doesn’t seem to be getting much closer.

In one sense, that’s a blessing. To carry off a successful Mars expedition, we must solve a daunting array of technical problems, including regenerative life support, improved in-space propulsion, Mars surface power, use of martian resources, and landing of heavy payloads. Seen through the lens of these challenges—many of which will take 10- or 11-digit budgets to overcome—“someday” can seem all too close.

The problems a Mars expedition will face include the limited bandwidth and long latency time of the communication link back to Earth. In modern life, upload and download speeds of megabits per second can seem barely adequate. Our existing communication satellites can manage rates like that. But take a communication satellite to the Moon, and its data rate drops by a factor of 100. Take it to Mars, and the rate drops by a factor of 100 million. Communication between Earth and Mars also means coping with up to 40 min of round-trip speed-of-light latency between asking a simple question and getting an “immediate” answer.

Under those conditions, how can a large team of specialists on Earth best advise a small group of generalists on another planet? How can the home team keep aware of what their distant collaborators are seeing and doing? How can their recommendations arrive “just in time” rather than tens of minutes late? And how can both teams work together to make the best possible scientific decisions? please link below for more info: The BASALT Research Program: Designing and Developing Mission Elements in Support of Human Scientific Exploration of Mars