According to the head of the European Space Agency, it will be at least 15 years before we can expect humans aboard a flight to Mars. The US space agency NASA is operating on a similar timeline with hopes to have astronauts making a Martian landing by the mid-2030s. It’s not just a matter of overcoming distance, although the two-year one-way trip is daunting enough on its own. In addition to the time commitment, the space shuttle technology needs to be able to equip the people for such a long trip and protect them from deep-space radiation. Not to mention the struggle over arm rests and the difficult choice of aisle versus window seating.
One factor that is impacting the timeline is our current lack of space colonies along the way, like pit stops. Sure, the International Space Station has been out there for a while, but the predictions of imminent colonization of the moon has yet to come to fruition. And it isn’t for lack of interest. The ESA Director-General Jan Woerner envisions a cluster of lunar research laboratories with 3D printing capabilities that could help supply the Mars bound vessels:
“The moon village is a pit stop on the way to Mars…there are various companies and public agencies asking to join the club now, so they want to do different things, resource mining, in situ research, tourism and that kind of stuff. There is a big community interested.”
He sees these moon villages not only as way stations for the longer journey to Mars but also testing grounds for whatever might be needed in order to make life on Mars possible. Imagine being able to 3D print with moon rock and use those creations to build the structures necessary for daily life. Given the lack of forests and Home Depots in outer space, this capability is essential for any sort of sustained living in such a remote location.
Elon Musk, the head of Tesla Motors, seems to think that he can get it done a bit faster, and states that he plans to have an unmanned spacecraft on Mars by 2018 and humans making touchdown by 2030. Woerner acknowledges that funding is part of the reason for the long timeline, and also distanced himself a bit from Musk’s reusable launch vehicles:
“If there was enough money then we could possibly do it earlier but there is not as much now as the Apollo program had. We should not copy. To follow and copy does not bring you into the lead. We are looking for totally different approaches.”
In other words, if somebody knocks on your door trying to sell you timeshares for a condo on Mars, don’t agree to pay up front. Tell them you’ll send the check in 2030. Thoughts? Let’s talk about this subject over in the 3D Printing on the Moon Sooner to Come Than Mars forum at 3DPB.com.