Man can set foot on Mars in less than 15 years: NASA scientist

Man could set foot on Mars in the next 5 to 15 years, says Anita Sengupta, an Indian origin scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), US.

“Future manned missions to Mars are an eminently doable feat from the perspective of a scientific endeavour. But a lot depends on sustained adequate budgetary support, supply of resources and a (political) will for the mission,” said Dr. Sengupta, a scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a California-based field centre of NASA.

‘Curiosity’ on Mars

Dr. Sengupta, who fronted a team of scientists that developed a robust parachute for the smooth landing of NASA’s car-sized robotic rover ‘Curiosity’ on Mars, is currently in the city under the auspices of the US Consulate in Chennai to get children and youth excited in space exploration.

Her trip to cities, which include her father’s hometown Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore, coincides with the anniversary of the Mars mission.

The technologies for orbital, landing rover and human missions have some level of similarity, but they also vary. “Technically, there could be some similarity, but, for a manned mission, we need to adapt the spacecraft to a hypersonic aerodynamic acceleration regime.

We might also need a much larger vehicle than the one we used for Curiosity,” she said during an interaction with journalists. An aerospace engineering expert who worked on the Entry, Descent and Landing part of the Curiosity mission, Dr. Sengupta said one of the many challenges was to design a parachuting system that could deal with a heavier payload and larger drag area. “Curiosity has been doing such a fine job of exploring Mars since it landed on Gale Crater a year ago that it has taken us longer than scheduled to move it to the foothills of Mount Sharp,” she said.

The scientist is currently heading a project to build an International Space Station to observe new quantum phenomena.

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory Mission that will also explore the state of matter in a microgravity regime is on course to set up the space station by 2016, she said. “The idea is to create a lab floating in the space with tests carried out through remote control from earth,” Dr. Sengupta said.

Of her experience with children from India, Ms. Sengupta said she was surprised at how much they were familiar with space missions, especially those led by US.



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