Mars is seen as the next frontier for humans. Ever since astronauts first walked on the Moon in 1969, scientists and space enthusiasts alike have dreamed of one day exploring the Red Planet. While we work on new rockets to get us to Mars, scientists are already hard at work thinking about how to build a sustainable colony on Mars. What do we need to survive? That's the question NASA is asking the public in its latest competition.
The challenge asks for written submissions detailing what explorers will need to colonize a new planet. The space agency is offering a total of $15,000 in prize money to be split between three winners of the contest.
This latest competition from the space agency is broad, but there are many challenges facing planetary colonization. NASA lists ""shelter, food, water, breathable air, communication, exercise, social interactions and medicine" as potential topics for participants seeking to advance humanity and winning a little money in the process. With rockets only able to carry so much weight, NASA is pushing for innovative solutions that can be used in the future when a mission to Mars is ready to blast off.
"We're not going to get humans to Mars until at least the mid-2030s, and the world is going to change by then," NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said in a recent interview. "So how do we make sure that the path we're choosing has enough flexibility, so that as technology develops we can adapt what we're doing? That way, if someone figures out how to do something much better, you can adapt without starting from square one or making costs go way up."
Manned missions to Mars may be decades away, but NASA is already making progress toward achieving that goal. Mars rovers and orbiting probes are feeding the agency more information every day and the Orion capsule is getting closer and closer to being ready for a mission in space. In an effort to battle budget cuts, NASA has also turned to private enterprise and other countries to fill in the gaps. According to Stofan, other countries don't need a push to collaborate on a mission to the Red Planet.
"With the mission to Mars, the whole world wants to get involved," Stofan said. "So we actually have 13 different space agencies from around the world working on the global exploration road map. That helps us because we don't have unlimited resources. And it's a benefit to all the other countries that want to participate."
While turning to the international community makes the journey to Mars an International mission, NASA turning to the public makes the project a collective effort by all.