Lockheed Martin Martians: Exploring the Red Planet Right Here on Earth
While The Martian is a work of science fiction, the principles behind survival on the Red Planet are very real—and, in fact, are already being applied by engineers at Lockheed Martin every day.
“When the book talks about all of this infrastructure being used to try to figure out how to save the astronaut Mark Watney, I think the tie in for Lockheed Martin is that a lot of that stuff we are doing today—from taking high-resolution pictures from orbit to relaying communications from assets on the surface,” said Guy Beutelschies, Lockheed Martin’s director of interplanetary programs. “And on top of that, we are also working on Orion, the spacecraft that is going to take astronauts to Mars.”
Read on below to learn more about the work being done today to provide us with a better understanding of a potential future on Mars.
WE LIKE MARS SO MUCH WE ARE...
...ALREADY OPERATING SPACECRAFT THERE...
NASA Mars Missions
The missions to Mars have done a tremendous job sharing information about similarities and differences between the Red Planet and Earth, getting us closer to knowing whether or not Mars can sustain human life. Currently, Lockheed Martin is operating three Mars orbiters for NASA out of the company’s Mission Support Area in Denver, Colorado. The most recent orbiter to reach Mars, MAVEN, is taking a closer look at the upper atmosphere of Mars to help scientists understand what the planet may have looked like billions of years ago when it more closely resembled Earth. MAVEN builds upon its predecessor missions— Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey. NASA’s next mission to Mars launches in March 2016. The InSight lander will tell us about how the planet formed. Together, these missions play a crucial role in drawing an ever-expanding picture of Mars—from its landing environment and physical composition to the interior composition and processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than four billion years ago.
...LEARNING WHAT IT TAKES TO STOCK THE SHELVES...
ISS Cargo Mission Contract
Future Mars inhabitants may not be quite as resourceful as The Martian’s main character, Mark Watney. More than likely, a habitat on Mars would require a steady stream of supplies. It’s not an easy task, but on a smaller scale, we are already figuring out what it takes to keep an orbiting outpost fully stocked. From hardware and experiments, to toothpaste and food, the International Space Station crew requires a lot of products to keep it running. Lockheed Martin provides this service through the Cargo Mission Contract, in which we process and pack critical cargo—more than 45,000 pieces since 2011.
...BUILDING THE VEHICLE THAT WILL TAKE US THERE...
To reach Mars, astronauts must travel one thousand times farther than they have ever gone before. Orion is the first spacecraft designed for deep-space human exploration, which means it will be the first to take humans on this long journey to Mars. The team still has a ways to go to make this dream a reality, but we came one step closer on December 5, 2014, when Orion successfully completed its first high orbital test flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Exploration Flight Test-1 sent Orion 3,600 miles above Earth, the farthest a spacecraft built for humans has traveled in more than 40 years—since the days of Apollo.
Image courtesy of NASA
...DEVELOPING THE MENU FOR THE LONG FLIGHT...
Food scientists are currently developing the menu and food preservation technology for long-duration space flight. The “menu for Mars” is critical for Mars missions because it influences astronaut health and performance. The duration and distance of the Mars mission presents unique challenges for the menu, such as the fact that the food cannot be resupplied like it is on the International Space Station. The food astronauts eat has a psychological impact on them— it’s an experience they link directly back to their experiences on Earth. Also, if the crew doesn’t eat the food provided, they don’t get the nutrition that they need to maintain their overall health. The mass and volume of the food will also have a big impact on how the food is packed and how it gets to Mars.
Image courtesy of NASA
...AND SPENDING A YEAR PRACTICING TO LIVE THERE.
The HI-SEAS Habitat
Andrzej Stewart used to be an engineer at Lockheed Martin, until he decided to trade that all in for HI-SEAS IV, a year-long mission conducted by the University of Hawaii in cooperation with NASA to study what life would be like for astronauts on Mars. HI-SEAS, or Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, provides a research opportunity to study the energy, water and consumption needs of astronauts on Mars; the physiological, social and physical effects of living in a closed habitat; and other science questions, such as how well vegetables and other food sources can be grown in a controlled environment away from Earth. “Our typical mission day includes work tasks, such as performing activities for the main psychological science, working on our personal science and engineering projects, and recording videos for media and outreach,” said Stewart. “We perform housekeeping tasks, such as cleaning and cooking meals. We also work out daily, just as real astronauts in space do, to maintain our health and fitness.”