Moon to Mars: What's Beyond?

Moon to Mars and Beyond Report
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On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new vision for America’s civil space program that calls for human and robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond: "Today, humanity has the potential to seek answers to the most fundamental questions posed about the existence of life beyond Earth. Telescopes have found planets around other stars. Robotic probes have identified potential resources on the Moon, and evidence of water – a key ingredient for life – has been found on Mars and the moons of Jupiter."

This vision set forth goals of: returning the Space Shuttle safely to flight; completing the International Space Station (ISS); phasing out the Space Shuttle when the ISS is complete (about 2010); sending a robotic orbiter and lander to the Moon; sending a human expedition to the Moon as early as 2015, but no later than 2020; conducting robotic missions to Mars in preparation for a future human expedition; and conducting robotic exploration across the solar system.

Ray Bradbury, celebrated author of The Martian Chronicles, testified to the Commission about the importance of exploration. When presented with this challenge of travel to Mars, he said, "Our children will point to the sky and say YES!"

Spaceflight is difficult, hazardous, and confronted by enormous distances, at least in human terms. Despite extensive safety precautions, during its 144 human space missions the United States has lost 17 astronauts. The pursuit of discovery is a risky business, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps of greatest relevance are resources required by humans to live and work in space. For example, the common H2O (water) molecule can yield oxygen to breathe, water to drink, and oxygen and hydrogen as propellants. Fortunately, these potential resources exist in some form in abundance at the first two human destinations, the Moon and Mars. Currently, there are many unknowns about the extraction of useful materials and the operations needed to support such activity. These issues will require expertise from both the aerospace and mining industries.

Enabling Technologies

There was significant agreement that helped the Commission identify 17 areas for initial focus. Surely others will emerge over time. At this juncture, we identify the following enabling technologies, which are not yet prioritized:

  • Affordable heavy lift capability – technologies to allow robust affordable access of cargo, particularly to low-Earth orbit.
  • Advanced structures – extremely lightweight, multi-function structures with modular interfaces, the building-block technology for advanced spacecraft.
    "lessons of galactic, stellar, and planetary history tell about the future and our place in the universe."
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  • High acceleration, high life cycle, reusable in-space main engine – for the crew exploration vehicle.
  • Advanced power and propulsion – primarily nuclear thermal and nuclear electric, to enable spacecraft and instrument operation and communications, particularly in the outer solar system, where sunlight can no longer be exploited by solar panels.
  • Cryogenic fluid management – cooling technologies for precision astronomical sensors and advanced spacecraft, as well as propellant storage and transfer in space.
  • Large aperture systems – for next-generation astronomical telescopes and detectors.
  • Formation flying – for free-space interferometric applications and near-surface reconnaissance of planetary bodies.
  • High bandwidth communications – optical and high-frequency microwave systems to enhance data transmission rates.
  • Entry, descent, and landing – precision targeting and landing on "high-g" and "low-g" planetary bodies.
  • Closed-loop life support and habitability – Recycling of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water for long-duration human presence in space.
  • Extravehicular activity systems – the spacesuit of the future, specifically for productive work on planetary surfaces.
  • Autonomous systems and robotics – to monitor, maintain, and where possible, repair complex space systems.
  • Scientific data collection/analysis – lightweight, temperature-tolerant, radiation-hard sensors.
  • Biomedical risk mitigation – space medicine; remote monitoring, diagnosis and treatment.
  • Transformational spaceport and range technologies – launch site infrastructure and range capabilities for the crew exploration vehicle and advanced heavy lift vehicles.
  • Automated rendezvous and docking – for human exploration and robotic sample return missions.
  • Planetary in situ resource utilization – ultimately enabling us to "cut the cord" with Earth for space logistics.

A science research agenda can be organized around the following broad themes:

  • Origins – the beginnings of the universe, our solar system, other planetary systems, and life.
  • Evolution – how the components of the universe have changed with time, including the physical, chemical, and biological processes that have affected it, and the sequences of major events.
  • Fate – what the lessons of galactic, stellar, and planetary history tell about the future and our place in the universe.

A Notional Science Research Agenda


  • The Big Bang, the structure and composition of the universe including the formation of galaxies and the origin of dark matter and dark energy.
  • Nebular composition and evolution – gravitational collapse and stellar ignition.
    "Planetary in situ resource utilization [is about] ultimately enabling us to ‘cut the cord’ with Earth
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  • Formation of our solar system and other planetary systems; clues to the origin of the solar system found in meteorites, cosmic dust, asteroids, comets, Kuiper Belt Objects, and samples of planetary surfaces.
  • Pre-biotic solar system organic chemistry – locations, histories, and processes; emergence of life on Earth; interplay between geological and astronomical processes.


  • The Universe – processes that influence and produce large-scale structure, from sub-nuclear to galactic scales.
  • Stellar Evolution – nucleosynthesis and evolutionary sequences, including the influence of particles and fields on the space environment.
  • Planetary Evolution – the roles of impact, volcanism, tectonics, and orbital or rotational dynamics in shaping planetary surfaces; structure of planetary interiors.
  • Comparative Planetology – study of Earth as a terrestrial planet; divergence of evolutionary paths of Earth, Venus, and Mars; comparisons of giant planets and extrasolar planets.
  • Atmospheres – early evolution and interaction with hydrospheres; longterm changes and stability.
  • Search for Habitable Environments – identification and characterization of environments potentially suitable for the past existence and present sustenance of biogenic activity.


  • Biology of species in space – micro- and fractional gravity, long-term effects of exposure to variable gravity; radiation; avoidance and mitigation strategies.
  • Impact Threat – cataloguing and classification of near-Earth objects; estimation of the recent impact flux and its variations; flux variation with position in solar system; hazard avoidance and mitigation.
  • Natural hazard assessment – Advanced space-based characterization of meteorological, oceanic, and solid Earth natural hazards to diminish consequences and advance toward predictive capability.
  • Temporal variations in solar output – monitoring and interpretation of space weather as relevant to consequence and predictability.
  • Climate change – assessment of recent climatic variations; solar controls on climate change; quantitative modeling and testing of the greenhouse effect; and possible effects on planets and life.
  • Long-term variations of solar system environment – galactic rotation and secular variations; local supernovae.

Related Web Pages

Moon To Mars Commission
The Bigger Picture
Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Spaceman
What Would a Martian Drive?
Three Tough Questions
Search for Life in the Universe I