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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

Cyberattack forces shutdown of major U.S. fuel pipeline

A police officer stands guard inside the gate to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm in Pelham, Alabama, in 2016. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A major U.S. fuel pipeline running from Texas to New York has been taken offline by its operator because of an apparent cyberattack.

The big picture: Colonial Pipeline "carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies," the N.Y. Times reports.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

The end of quarantine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Long quarantines were a necessary tool to slow the COVID-19 pandemic during its first phases, but better and faster tests — plus vaccines — mean they can be scaled back considerably.

Why it matters: Quick tests and regular surveillance methods that identify who is actually infectious can take the place of the two-week or longer isolation periods that have been common for travelers and people who might have been exposed to the virus, speeding the safe reopening of schools and workplaces.

Amazon rollups are the hottest deals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new generation of companies is forming to scoop up Amazon marketplace sellers — and venture capital firms are writing big checks to support the effort.

Why it matters: These e-commerce aggregators are all about data and using it to optimize and turbocharge sales, which means they’re using Amazon’s own playbook.