Human Exploration and Development of Space and the Mars Sample Return Mission

Michael B. Duke
Lunar and Planetary Institute
3600 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, TX 77058

The Human Exploration and Development of Space is one of NASA's five strategic enterprises, which comprise the major thrusts of the U. S. space program. This enterprise includes all NASA programs that involve human space flight, including the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and future exploration programs beyond low Earth orbit. The management of HEDS is currently shared by the Office of Space Flight and the Office of Life and Microgravity Science and Applications, but also incorporates significant contributions from the Office of Space Science and the Office of Access and Space Technology. In other words, essentially all parts of NASA are involved in the Human Exploration and Development of Space.

As a new strategic enterprise, HEDS has completed its first Strategic Plan. This can be downloaded from the Internet at For the first time, NASA enunciates, in HEDS, the goal to "Explore and Settle the Solar System." Within this strategy are two specific objectives of importance to Mars exploration. The first is: "Characterize solar system bodies, including the Moon, Mars and asteroids, to enable planning for human activities." Another calls for "Demonstrate technologies required to use extra terrestrial resources." Another major objective calls for NASA to "Establish a human presence on the Moon, in the Martian system, and elsewhere in the inner solar system." The strategies within this emphasize the development and demonstration of technologies to support humans and to undertake human exploration missions at drastically lowered cost. This strategic approach provides the basis for consideration of the linkages between robotic missions and the initial human exploration of Mars.

In 1993-4, a review and development of a human exploration of Mars reference mission was undertaken by an inter-center group. This report is nearing publication and should be available soon as a NASA SP. The reference mission established a number of desirable features of a human Mars exploration program, including long duration surface operation and extended surface exploration mobility, supported by a robust surface infrastructure that utilizes in-situ resources for life support and propulsion. A buildup of infrastructure over four Mars launch opportunities was envisioned, which allowed local to regional exploration for science, and addressing of the critical questions regarding the feasibility of permanent habitation of Mars. The contributors to the reference mission report believed that the program outlined could be undertaken (three human landings, each lasting 1-1/2 years on the Martian surface) for about the cost of the Apollo program adjusted for inflation.

One purpose of this reference mission was to provide a basis for understanding the importance of various technology developments and improvements that could be undertaken between now and the time a human exploration program can be initiated. This serves as well as a means of identifying technology demonstrations and information gathering that can be done by robotic missions in advance of the human missions. In particular, a Mars Sample Return Mission can contribute particularly to: (a) gathering environmental and sample data, which includes dust composition and size distribution, surface dust and surface environment reactivity, as well as generally gathering ground truth through which the large bank of Mars remote sensing data can be calibrated; (b) demonstrating and verifying the extraction of useful resources from the Martian atmosphere, the high power applications required to do that, and the system control that will be necessary for long-lived operations; (c) test and verify sample collection and packaging using teleoperated rovers, preserving and packaging samples and back-contamination control; and (d) demonstrating an end-to-end round-trip mission to Mars that could include aerocapture, precision landing; surface operations, including remote checkout of the Mars Ascent Vehicle from Earth, fueling with ISRU, Mars launch, Mars orbital rendezvous/dock, and return trajectory management.

The Human Exploration and Development of Space is linked inevitably to the robotic missions such as the Mars Sample Return mission, which provides both fundamental data as well as a demonstration test bed for important technologies.


Vugraph 1: HEDS Exploration Planning

Vugraph 2: Reference mission

Vugraph 3: HEDS Development Needs

Vugraph 4: HEDS Development Needs

Vugraph 5: Contributions of Robotic Missions

Vugraphs 6: Mars Sample Return Relationship to Human Mars Reference Mission

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