A team of British scientists recently developed a plan that would send humans on an 18-month mission, taking them to Mars and back, on a spacecraft that would generate its own gravity to prepare the astronauts for how it would feel to walk on the Red Planet.
The entire plan, developed by two scientists from the Imperial College London, has been computer animated to show every aspect of the mission, from how astronauts would walk on the planet to what the inside of the spacecraft would look like. A documentary with details of the plan and interviews from some of the scientists is set to air on BBC News this weekend.
The model would send three people in a unique spacecraft that would generate its own gravity from two separate sections, connected by a steel cable, that spin to create centrifugal forces, The Telegraph reported.
The special design would allow astronauts to prepare themselves for the different levels of gravity. A certain spin could replicate Earth's gravity, while slower bursts would adjust the gravity to what it would feel like on Mars.
Because of the length of the trip, it would be important to keep the astronauts adjusted to gravity, because otherwise their muscles and bones would suffer. After several months at zero gravity, their bones would lose density and they would not be able to walk once they landed on Mars.
"We suggested this centrifugal arrangement so you get some sort of artificial gravity as you travel through space," Mark Sephton, the team's geologist, told The Telegraph. "It would mean that when people arrive on the Martian surface they are fighting fit."
The scientists also proposed sending in advance a separate habitat module, a rover and a different spacecraft for the return trip. The rover would mine for water that could be split into hydrogen and oxygen to fuel the spacecraft for the trip back, according to The Telegraph.
"It is a similar idea for a mission to Mars – you can exploit the natural Martian resources to generate fuel," Sephton told The Telegraph. This concept, he said, "precedes any humans setting foot on Mars and the return vehicle is already fuelled and ready to go before they arrive."
The design comes at a time when several other groups are developing plans to send humans to Mars. President Barack Obama has tasked NASA with developing a mission to land humans on Mars by the 2030s, while others have proposed plans to do so as early as 2018.
The Inspiration Mars project, run by American businessman Dennis Tito, aspires to launch a married couple into space on Jan. 5, 2018, when Earth and Mars would align, giving the team the possibility to make the trip there and back in 501 days. Though the astronauts would not actually walk on Mars, the spacecraft would fly "within 100 miles around the Red Planet" before returning to Earth. The proposed Imperial plan would take at least nine months each way, or about 600 days round trip, and the astronauts would plan on walking on the planet.
Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of SpaceX, told ABC News last summer that he thinks he can send the first people to Mars in 12 to 15 years.
Still, the Imperial design is not intended to compete with these other plans, but rather to offer talking points about the obstacles that still need to be overcome, BBC reported.
"There are big, big jumps between a demonstration at one level and putting together the engineering systems for a mission, but they are engineering challenges," Tom Pike, who led the Imperial design team, told BBC.