NASA is working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and return safely home. While there is much work ahead on the pioneering journey to Mars, one has to wonder: Where exactly will humans first land? This question was the basis for a recent workshop in which the agency collected 47 proposals for locations on the Red Planet that would provide natural resources to enable human explorers to land, live and work safely on Mars as well as provide a rich destination for scientific discovery.
Once safely on Mars, astronauts will be expected to have the mobility to travel long distances from their habitat to perform scientific research and harvest Martian resources for sustainability. Exploration zones, or EZs, are areas of approximately 60 miles (100 km) in radius, and include a viable landing site, habitation site, and include scientific regions of interest.
While it is too early to identify where the first humans will land exactly, they will land in a pre-designated EZ, and begin building the infrastructure to support human life on Mars. New orbital and surface data from the Red Planet, contributions from our partners and advances in space exploration capabilities over the next several years will ultimately determine the exact configuration of the first human landing site(s).
Based on current studies in hardware and operations necessary for a sustainable human presence on Mars, the animation below represents work of the Human Spaceflight Architecture Team’s Evolvable Mars Campaign. It illustrates just one of many potential concepts for how an EZ might evolve over the course of multiple human and automated cargo missions spanning upwards of two decades.
Cargo missions, which could eventually be launched every year to Mars and would take two to three years each to reach the planet, could deliver the initial larger elements that are needed to develop the EZ well in advance of the first humans landing. This would include a habitat, among other structures. When crew missions begin, they would be timed to launch when Mars and Earth are in alignment to ensure crew safety and the shortest trip possible, which is expected to take nine months each way.
Once some of the larger elements have been successfully delivered over numerous missions, future expeditions would require approximately three cargo shipments to be placed on the surface for each crew landing, ensuring a steady cadence of infrastructure development. Each crew rotation on Mars would increase the potential for future crews to thrive with fewer supplies shipped from Earth.
The challenges to achieving Earth independence and a sustainable human presence on Mars are complex, but solvable. NASA and its partners are working on the solutions every day so we can answer more of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth: Was Mars home to microbial life? Is it today? What can it teach us about life elsewhere in the cosmos or how life began on Earth? What can it teach us about Earth’s past, present and future?
To learn more about NASA’s journey to Mars, including the agency’s latest scientific exploration of the Red Planet, visit: