NASA Contest Wants Your Ideas to Keep Astronauts Safe on Mars

Humans may travel to Mars in the next few decades, and NASA is asking for input from the public on how to make missions safe and effective. This image shows an artist's depiction of a crewed mission to Mars.
Humans may travel to Mars in the next few decades, and NASA is asking for input from the public on how to make missions safe and effective. This image shows an artist's depiction of a crewed mission to Mars. (Image credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings, SAIC)

To prepare for future colonies on Mars, NASA is asking the public for ideas on how to keep Red Planet astronauts safe that require minimal resupplies from Earth.

The "Journey to Mars Challenge" will give a $5,000 award to each of the three winning participants who describe an original idea that could assist the human exploration of Mars. The proposal must be "technically achievable, economically sustainable, and minimize reliance on support from Earth," NASA wrote in a statement about the challenge.

"This could include shelter, food, water, breathable air, communication, exercise, social interactions and medicine, but participants are encouraged to consider innovative and creative elements beyond these examples," NASA added.Because launch costs are considered one of the key barriers to space exploration generally — and Mars exploration, especially — NASA says it could use some ideas on what to bring on these missions and how often to resupply them.

The resupply aspect is especially important to the space agency because resupply opportunities to Mars would happen only every 500 days; the respective orbits between Earth and Mars make it more difficult to send spacecraft at other times. By contrast, the International Space Station has resupplies every few weeks or months.

The agency is looking for ideas that are backed up by a strategy — "a process to develop, test, implement and operate the system or capability," NASA said. More information about the challenge is available at

The "Journey to Mars" challenge was announced the same week as the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C., a conference in which NASA is participating. Experts at the summit are considering the best ways to bring humans to Mars affordably within the next few decades.

In recent months, NASA publicly repositioned its human exploration program as a series of stepping stones to Mars.

Examples include the current one-year mission on the International Space Station — which is intended to help scientists better understand space's effect on the human body — and a proposed asteroid mission to test human capabilities and technology in deep space.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: