Reporter with Silicon Hills News

It’s rare that a SXSW session gets a standing ovation but NASA’s Journey to Mars presentation Tuesday left a packed audience inspired and on their feet.

NASA panelists made it clear that there is not, currently, a mission planned to Mars. Instead, preparations are being made on numerous levels. Experiments are being done to study the effects of space habitation on behavioral and physical health—such as bone loss and disruption of the astronauts’ circadian rhythms. Gardening is being tested on the International Space Station. Research is being done to determine how they can employ reduce, reuse and recycle efforts on Mars and also maximize the benefits of 3D printing. They’re also working on space suits that function in low gravity and various equipment to land on and operate on Mars as well as a system to send a robot harvest asteroids to study.

Chris Crumbly, spacecraft/payload integration and evolution manager said that right now they’re building the ground systems, the Orion lunar orbit and lunar spaceship so they do tests in an initial deep-space habitation facility where they can get people home quickly if something goes wrong. They’ll be practicing by traveling to the dark side of the moon and increasing altitude away from Earth. “It will be the farthest and fastest we’ve ever gone,” he said.

Before going to Mars, said astronaut Victor Glover: “You have to know how to spacewalk, you have to know how to speak Russian at a high level. And you have to know how to fix the toilet because the toilet breaks a lot and there are only two.”

Astronaut Jessica U. Meir who finished her basic training a year ago said what she looks forward to from her first space flight is “Seeing that ball below you and everyone you’ve ever known, every place you’ve ever been, every experience you’ve ever had down there in its entirety…no borders…and the perspective that would give you.”

NASA has multiple international partnerships both with other government space programs and with commercial companies to bring an ultimate Mars mission to fruition. “No country can do this alone,” Crumbly said.

Yves Lamothe, lead systems engineer said that NASA’s Houston office that deals with commercial entities would be a first stop for tech companies interested in participating in preparations for the Journey to Mars. Companies can also look on the NASA website for the word “procurement” under broad area announcements and national research announcements, Crumbly said.