Finally, phase three is the transition to independence from Earth resources. The "Earth Independent" phase includes long term missions on the lunar surface with surface habitats that only require routine maintenance, and the harvesting of Martian resources for fuel, water, and building materials.
NASA is still aiming for human missions to Mars in the s, though Earth independence could take decades longer. NASA says it will use the Artemis lunar program in combination with the Lunar Gateway as stepping stones to make great scientific strides "to take the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars". Since , SpaceX publicly announced a comprehensive vision to begin the colonization of Mars, by proposing to develop a high-capacity transportation infrastructure. The ITS launch vehicle design was a large reusable booster topped by a spaceship or a tanker for in-orbit refueling.
There are two phases for the first human mission to Mars via Starship:. Entry into the thin and shallow Martian atmosphere will pose significant difficulties with re-entry and for a spacecraft of the weight needed to carry humans, along with life support, supplies and other equipment. Should a heat shield be used, it would need to be very large. Retro rockets could be used, but would add significant further weight. A return mission to Mars will need to land a rocket to carry crew off the surface.
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Launch requirements mean that this rocket would be significantly smaller than an Earth-to-orbit rocket. Mars-to-orbit launch can also be achieved in single stage. Despite this, landing an ascent rocket on Mars will be difficult. Reentry for a large rocket will be difficult. One of the medical supplies that might be needed is a considerable mass of intravenous fluid , which is mainly water but contains other substances so it can be added directly to the human blood stream.
If it could be created on the spot from existing water, this would reduce mass requirements. A prototype for this capability was tested on the International Space Station in While it is possible for humans to breathe pure oxygen, usually additional gases like nitrogen are included in the breathing mix.
One possibility is to take in-situ nitrogen and argon from the atmosphere of Mars ; however, they are hard to separate from each other.
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An idea for keeping carbon dioxide out of the breathing air is to use re-usable amine bead carbon dioxide scrubbers. Some missions may be considered a "Mission to Mars" in their own right, or they may only be one step in a more in-depth program. An example of this is missions to Mars' moons, or flyby missions. Many Mars mission concepts propose precursor missions to the moons of Mars, for example a sample return mission to the Mars moon Phobos  — not quite Mars, but perhaps a convenient stepping stone to an eventual Martian surface mission.
An uncrewed Mars sample return mission MSR has sometimes been considered as a precursor to crewed missions to Mars' surface. Sample return plans raise the concern, however remote, that an infectious agent could be brought to Earth. Starting in , NASA scientists have proposed to explore Mars via telepresence from human astronauts in orbit.
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