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But before we do, we'll need to figure out how to keep our germs to ourselves and how to protect ourselves from the life we may find there. That's the mandate of planetary protection , and experts in the field are already developing guidelines for human missions that will visit potentially life-supporting locales, like Mars.

NASA already has planetary-protection guidelines in place for robotic missions, although a National Academy of Sciences report that was published July 2 calls even those measures "inadequate. Mitchell gave a presentation July 16 at the Committee on Space Research of the International Council for Science conference in Pasadena, California, about what's been done so far and what's left to tackle when it comes to preparing planetary-protection measures for crewed missions.

The Martian environment could be bad news for astronauts if planetary-protection requirements aren't up to snuff. Even if nothing from Mars makes it all the way back to Earth, simply infecting a habitat or spacecraft could be dangerous enough, putting astronauts at risk. Mitchell and her colleagues think the key to tackling this and other planetary-protection challenges is to think at a systems level — in other words, picking an individual system involved in space travel and thinking through each step and its weak spots.

One of her colleagues has already done this with how future spacewalks will play out, poring over the vulnerabilities inherent in leaving the craft, conducting the walk and returning. Two of those steps require opening the sealed craft, and that represents a huge risk, she said. They're going to have dust on them ; they may have bits of rock, small grains, stuck to the suit," Mitchell said.

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Getting that dust off of spacesuits is going to be a crucial piece of planetary protection to make sure a habitat doesn't become contaminated — and right now, scientists don't know how to do that. If that dust can't be stopped at the door, it could make its way into crucial life-sustaining systems, like water-recycling facilities, she said. Engineers are confident of their recycling facilities' ability to purify water of terrestrial biological contaminants.

Unfortunately, we are not ready to send humans to Mars in We have made tremendous strides over recent years with rovers and robots. But there is much we still need to understand about getting people to Mars safely and affordably. Yet the clock keeps ticking. SpaceX has an even more ambitious target date of If we are going to put a human footprint on Mars in the next 15 years, we will need to address three big challenges: rockets, restlessness and radiation.

Terraforming 101: How to Make Mars a Habitable Planet

Here is a brief summary of the issues, and the plans for this year and beyond to mitigate them. Getting humans to Mars is expensive. Is that with or without an in-flight meal? Even if you skip the peanuts, the only way to truly bring these costs down and change the economics of Mars is to build reusable rockets. Is that possible?

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They have already demonstrated the launch and landing of the Falcon 9. And this year, they are planning the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy. And what comes next? SpaceX eventually plans to replace its current fleet with a single one-size-fits-all rocket, called the BFR, capable of carrying people and a payload of ,kg.

You figure it out. Sounds great. When do we leave? Two BFR cargo missions are planned for , followed by a further two cargo and two crew missions as early as So, do you think we will we be ready in 15 years? Yes almost certainly. That was never an issue on Star Trek.

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Broadcast Special Edition, interview with Gwynne Shotwell audio file.