Mars Penthouse, anyone?

"Yes, we will be able to live on Mars, but we need to continue our research into human spaceflight for the coming years to be ready for a human mission to Mars," says MIT’s Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. "Initially, we'll likely go with small crews, four to six people, living in habitats and pressurized rovers, kind of like an interplanetary camping trip. We need to provide the Mars astronauts with new space suits for locomotion and exploration. Initially, we'll have to bring all of our food, supplies, robots, rovers, space suits, and life support with us. An initial Mars mission might be a 600-day stay on the surface of the ‘red planet,’ and it'll take approximately two years for the roundtrip spaceflight journey to Mars and back."


Men on Mars

"I think a grand vision for human habitation on Mars might include initial missions with four to six people as mentioned above, and then larger numbers of Mars astronauts — 10-100 inhabitants when we can successfully make our own fuel (propulsion for our spacecraft and especially for return flights to Earth)," says MIT’s Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. "The fuel will likely be methane, and we have the technology to make this on Mars given Mars's CO2 atmosphere. We'll have to make hydrogen, and the best source might come from the ice on Mars (H2O). My grand vision for habitation on Mars includes an international crew all working together.” She adds, “We need all the smart astronauts we can find for missions to Mars, and it would be an incredible celebration of the human spirit of exploration, if we can accomplish it cooperatively and globally — for all humankind to enjoy."

Is there Life?

"We know there is water/ice on Mars. When we look for the evidence of life, we follow the water," says MIT’s Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. "Stay tuned: the latest NASA mission (Mars Lander - Curiosity) will be sending us new images and data daily. When we put together this information with what we already know about Mars, we're going to learn more than we can imagine about Mars. The information will also help us to plan for future human Mars missions — where to land, what tools to bring, what scientific instruments and measurements are needed next — and will aid in our search for life on Mars. If life ever existed on Mars, it might have been billions of years ago. Whatever we learn about Mars will greatly enhance our understanding of our own Earth, Spaceship Earth, I like to call it (after Bucky Fuller). Earth and Mars are both approximately 4.5 billion years old, and we'll study the similarities in the planets' formation as well as the differences, especially when it comes to sustaining life."

The Right Stuff

"Most astronauts are engineers, scientists, doctors, and military pilots," says MIT’s Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. "NASA accepts astronaut applications every few years, and the selection process is very competitive. The people chosen as astronauts excel in their professional fields, leadership, and as team members. Many are pilots, most scuba dive or are climbers, and all are passionate about human space exploration. My advice is to select a technical degree, continually work to improve your leadership and teamwork skills, and excel in graduate school. Work experience is also really important to be competitive in the selection process. I'd start with the NASA website and books available from the government, especially NASA's educational materials. I particularly enjoy the Smithsonian's Air and Space book collection when it comes to history. For current events, is a good site to check."

Engineer This

"I encourage all students to think about a career in engineering," says MIT’s Dava Newman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems. "Do you want to change and improve the world, your neighborhood, our city, your nation? If so, then engineering is for you. Do you love to build things, design new solutions, and think about helping society? If so, then engineering is definitely for you. You need to be proficient in math and the sciences since that’s the foundation of a good engineering education. I also recommend diving into the humanities and arts. You don't have to live, breathe, and eat math and physics.” She adds, “We need all the great engineers we can get in the US to help solve major societal problems like energy, the environment, clean water, education, and the future of space flight and exploration."

Dava The Explorer
Keywords: Business

She sails around the world. Played A-team basketball. Skied in the Junior Olympics. Competes nationally as a triathlete. Earned a PhD from MIT.

Dava Newman, what is it with you? Who are you — one of those do-it-all rock-star chicks?

Um, yes. Actually, try rocket scientist. You know all the news about the Mars rover Curiosity? The one that shot its first laser beam over the weekend, pulverizing a rock named Coronation? Dava knows all about that; in fact, some of her former students are intimately involved with the program. But her goal is even more ambitious: to send humans to Mars. The mission, as you can imagine, would be fraught with physical and psychological dangers. Dava has devoted years to mitigating them, to designing the right suit and environment to allow man (and woman) to survive a six-month trip to the Red Planet, a 600-day stay, and a year-and-a-half return to Earth. 

It’s a multi-billion-dollar gamble, but a true calling for Dava, who’s had her eye on the sky since the age of five. That’s when she became obsessed with the blow-by-blow televised accounts of the Apollo moon missions. She’d sprawl out on the green grass of Helena, Montana, staring at the stars. Her parents, both teachers, instilled a love of learning in their daughter, but Dava was a natural student anyway, not to mention a born risk-taker (see: that ski-racing stint in the Junior Olympics). She wound up as one of only two women majoring in aerospace engineering at Notre Dame, where she excelled on the basketball court as well as in the classroom. From there, she earned two master’s degrees and her PhD at MIT and then rose through the ranks to become a full professor. You see, like her parents, Dava aspired to teach others. But her proudest accomplishment, she says, is the BioSuit, which she co-engineered with a team that includes her husband, Gui Trotti. Built like a second skin, it’s designed to help humans move safely and efficiently in space — and, Dava hopes, allow mankind to take that next giant leap.