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From our Expert Voices conversation on travel to Mars.

To make a Mars mission a reality, we will lean on four main capabilities:

  1. Controlled hypersonic flight of slender-body vehicles. SpaceX has successfully brought back the first stage of their Falcon 9 rockets, testing on both a droneship at sea and a landing pad near their launch site.
  2. Supersonic retro-propulsion. For large objects, parachutes and other familiar landing systems won't work on the Martian surface. We'll need a new landing propulsion in which a rocket engine descending at supersonic speeds is ignited in order to slow down for landing.
  3. Full and rapid reusability of rockets and spacecraft. Aircraft-like operations will be essential in keeping down costs.
  4. Refueling in orbit and on planetary surfaces. We'll need to "live off the land" as much as possible. That means, for example, turning Mars' atmosphere into rocket fuel and launching fuel tankers into space to refuel a primary ship.

SpaceX has already demonstrated the first and second of these capabilities and efforts on the third are progressing. The refueling challenges are trickiest—they will require complicated on-orbit and on-surface operations that involve engineering and procedures yet to be developed.

What's next: While the timeline and capabilities are certainly ambitious, the U.S. aerospace industry has demonstrated it is ready to lead us into this exciting future.

Other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
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Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

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Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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