Though traveling to Mars may seem like something out of a classic science fiction novel, we’re very quickly reaching the point where it’s about to become science fact. Right now, as you’re reading this, NASA engineers are trying to figure out how to safely get humans to Mars by sometime during the 2030s. Even people like Elon Musk are spending billions of dollars trying to get there. It’s a move that has major implications for the human race, not only in terms of what we’re capable of accomplishing but also with regards to our future as a species…
… and it will be absolutely, 100% impossible without composite plastics.
A Mission to Mars Made Possible By Composite Plastics
One of the major ways that plastics machining is making it possible for humans to safely travel to Mars and back has to do with a number of serious advancements in terms of CAD-CAM design. The computer-aided design of polymers and composites is something that has been around for years, but it’s particularly relevant to the Mars mission in terms of the advanced level of prototyping that it allows.
For a mission that is already going to cost an incredible amount of money, costs will need to be considered without sacrificing on quality at the same time. Thanks to composite plastics, engineers can experiment in terms of the flexibility, with regards to meeting impossibly tight tolerances, can take into consideration things like strength and thermal requirements and much more – all in a way that yields more effective results with far less waste in a situation where literally every dollar counts.
But one of the most important ways that composite plastics will make it possible to get humans to Mars has less to do with making sure that everything goes right and has more to do with solutions in case something goes wrong. For years, NASA scientists and engineers have been preparing for the unexpected, making sure that astronauts have the tools they’ll need to tackle unexpected problems and dangers on such a long journey. Systems like the Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication Unit, for just one example, allows people to create spare parts as-needed – even if they’re thousands of miles away from home. During a trip that will take almost two years to complete – and this is before you think about everything that could go wrong on the surface of the planet to delay the start of the trek home – this is a very important asset to have, indeed.
Traveling to Mars is, understandably, a dangerous proposition. Even though the distance between Earth and Mars will only take about 300 days, it’s still approximately 55 million kilometers away at its closest point. We have to figure out how we’re going to get human beings there and back. How much fuel we’ll be required to burn. What we’ll do in the event that something goes wrong. Advancements in technology will play a crucial role, and plastics machining, and special composites will lead the way.
Thanks to G10/FR4 and the advantages that only composites bring to the table, along with advancements in milling, drilling and routing, one thing we won’t have to worry about are the materials themselves. Advancements in materials like G10/FR4 (Mil-I-24768/27), built on the foundation of decades of innovation and ingenuity, have made it possible for us to accomplish some truly incredible things as a species. It’s amazing to think that one day very, very soon… a trip to Mars is going to be at the top of that list.