When considering potential landing sites on Mars, NASA astronauts are calling for more careful selection of the touchdown point.
"Safety is our top priority," said NASA astronaut Stan Love at a seminar on potential landing sites for manned flights to Mars.
To begin with, Love recommends immediately excluding the high latitudes of Mars from the list of potential sites. Far to the north and south of the equator, radio contact with orbiters would be bad. In addition, the crew will have a very difficult launch from high latitudes when returning to Earth.
High latitudes are also colder, which makes equipment heavier. Add also poor lighting due to short days and low sun position.
Another big problem is the Martian dust.
"We hate dust. It will not blow up your ship. But it is terrible for landing. It interferes with your gateways. It interferes with your space suits. It interferes with all your mechanisms. It harms your solar panels. If we can land in a place that is not exposed to permanent dust storms, it will be very good, "said Love. Boulders and steep slopes should also be avoided.
After the crew lands on Mars successfully, the most important aspect that will affect the productivity of the mission will be how long it takes the crew to verify its safety.
"The safer the landing and the more favorable the landing area, the less time it will take to ensure our safety, the less time we will have to devote to maintaining systems that will protect us from the adverse environment," said Love.
Even under ideal conditions, astronauts will have to spend most of their time maintaining the body and equipment, leaving only 5 hours a day for research and exploration.
"Just keeping yourself healthy takes a lot of time and effort. We know this from life on the ISS. We know this through work in Antarctica. You need to get enough sleep. You have to feed yourself. You have to keep your body clean. If you are in the group, you have to spend some time to coordinate your actions, "added Love.
NASA does not yet know how much time it will take to train the Mars crew, as astronauts do at the International Space Station. "The amount of training is still questionable. On the ISS, people spend 2.5 hours every day to prevent loss of muscle and bone mass. We know that Mars has its own gravity. But will it be enough or should we resort to additional loads ? "said Love.
Add time to sleep a little off-duty time and 17 hours of the day are gone. Some of the remaining seven hours will need to be spent on the operating systems of the residential module. In contrast, operations on the space station are performed by ground control commands.
"We cannot do this on Mars, as it is too far away. We do not have uninterrupted communication coverage, and we have no immediate feedback," said Love.
"In the end, you have five hours a day for research work. It is regrettable, but it is unlikely that we will be able to increase it," he added.
NASA hopes to send the first astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s.