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Cooperation; the answer to the perfect landing on Mars

16 Nov 2016

Chief Scientist of NASA, Dr Ellen Stofan discusses some of the challenges facing the next frontier in space and how partnerships, outreach and new technology is making this a reality.

Over the next several decades, space agencies from around the world will focus on how to use technology to answer fundamental questions such as: How did the universe form? How do the planets of our solar system help us to better understand processes at work on Earth? And—are we alone?

One of the most important areas for which the global space community is using technology is Earth Science. Working together, we are using space observations to better understand how our climate is changing. Over the next several decades we will use these data to make countries more resilient to the effects of climate change. This matters, because we know that Earth’s changing climate will continue to affect our planet, even as we reduce our carbon emissions. Information is power, so we’re helping countries to adapt agriculture practices to changing weather and climate patterns, plan for rising sea levels and increased storm surge, and prepare and recover from extreme weather events.

At NASA, we are expanding our reach and working with local and regional leaders to improve awareness, increase understanding, and provide access to climate data so that resilience planning can begin at local levels. We are also involving the general public. Our longstanding open data policy, for example, provides access to NASA’s extensive collection of Earth observation data.

In the United States, we are on a journey to Mars that will send human beings to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Since the launch of our Viking missions in 1975, NASA has been sending orbiters and landers to study Mars — often in partnership with space agencies from around the world — discovering that Mars once had conditions that would have been suitable for the evolution of life. The robotic explorers have laid a great foundation; now it’s time to extend our human presence into the solar system to explore Mars and look for evidence of past life.

Learning about Mars can teach us about life elsewhere in the cosmos, about how life began on Earth, and the very nature of life itself. Sending humans to Mars is also an investment in the global economy, as we push technology to turn science fiction into science fact.

Sending humans to Mars is not easy. However, with the right partnerships and a continual emphasis on innovation and technology development, it is achievable. As an international community, we are utilizing the International Space Station to conduct microgravity research for testing of new life support and crew systems, advanced habitat modules, and other technology needed for this long journey. Simultaneously, development is underway for our transportation to the Red Planet. The Space Launch System will be the most powerful rocket in the world, and the Orion crewed spacecraft is being designed with long-duration spaceflight at the forefront. We will go to Mars as an international space community, utilizing public-private partnerships, because no one country can achieve such an audacious goal alone.  

An overarching theme for science and technology for the next several decades is cooperation—nations from around the world tapping into one another’s talents to push the boundaries of science and technology. To do this as a global community, we need a diverse team of scientists and engineers from all of our population.

The first crew that lands on Mars will represent the best talents of Earth—women and men who are ready to boldly explore a new frontier.

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