NASA experts discuss Mars project

Students who always dreamed of becoming astronauts got the chance to explore their aspirations Thursday during a seminar discussing NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Stellar · Paul Marshall, assistant program manager for Orion, emphasizes the importance of space exploration at the event Thursday. – Corey Marquetti | Daily Trojan

Paul Marshall, the assistant program manager for Orion at NASA Johnson Space Center, and Lawrence Price, Orion deputy program manager for the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, spoke in Taper Hall about their roles in the Orion program.

Currently, the Orion is being developed to send crews of astronauts to explore asteroids, moons and Mars.

“As a country, as a nation, really as an international community of space programs, we’re committing to exploring the solar system with human beings,” Marshall said.

In 2004, President George W. Bush announced the original Orion project, then known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle. With Bush’s announcement came the creation of the Constellation Program, which seeks to develop new technologies to explore the depths of space.

In 2011 — seven years after the Orion was created — the Obama Administration replaced the program with the U.S. National Space Policy, issuing the goal to send crewed missions to Mars by mid-2030.

Though the spacecraft’s name was then changed from the Orion to the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Price said none of the changes dramatically affected the program.

“Nothing has changed,” said Price. “This has always been about building machines to get humans to space.”

Both experts explained the structure and preparation that comes with developing the Orion. Marshall said the new technology behind the Orion is one of its key features.

“The central element is the crew module — larger heat shield, and thermal protection — we’re employing these new technologies to the Orion along with modern technological facets,” Marshall said.

NASA still has several problems to solve before the Orion’s official launch, however.

Once a crew heads to Mars for a mission, it would take approximately two years for them to return to Earth. Before a launch, the program must make observations and conduct tests to ensure the crew can stay safe for that stretch of time.

“It is a careful balance. A number of things that are biological and psychological still have to be solved,” Marshall said. “A total mission is a major commitment. It’s about 600-plus days out. There are a lot of problems that have to be solved before we let people commit to a mission.”

Though there are inevitable risks to sending astronauts to Mars, both the experts and students agreed that exploring the frontier of space is worth the risk.

“Space is the essence of the pioneer experience characterized by human exploration,” said Jake Hunter, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering. “It is the next and most logical step on the evolutionary chain.”

Learning about the Orion in detail also helped some students, such as Haley Buckley, a sophomore majoring in astronautical engineering, put their personal aspirations into account.

“I think the most important part to me was hearing about the time-frame they have to send humans out there because I want to be an astronaut,” Buckley said. “Hearing that kind of information has helped me put everything into perspective.”