Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference

Antonio Del Mastro – Mars To Earth Challenges for Students

Antonio Del Mastro is working on research and industrial applications connected to the human exploration of Mars and space.

Mars Planet Technologies actively engages with small, medium, and big enterprises in research related to Mars/Space exploration to support the creation of a new economy based on human space colonization.

A number of organizations and companies all over the world are contributing to this new economy, which will help solve some of the most important economic, social, and technological challenges of today.

Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference
Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference

Did you always want to work in the field of space-tech?

Yes, for me, space-tech is not only an economic opportunity that I want to share with others but a way to see life and my personal position in reality. Space-tech includes everything we need to survive as a species, and I think that there is no other endeavor that is as comprehensive as human exploration of space. From this point of view, everything we do on earth, first looking from a business perspective, can be considered only a partial and a limited activity with respect to what we could and must do in Space in the near future. The problem is that the ones who share this vision in the world are in the overall still few, and we as a species lose a lot of time doing things which are completely useful or tragic, like the wars that happen in these dramatic days in different parts of the world.

So, for me, working in space tech is first a mental habit that pushes me to see our world with a different point of view, and this in itself contributes to making me a better and richer person. This attitude is well summarized in the motto of our company: “Think beyond your planet”.

Can you provide an overview of the Mars Planet organization and its mission in exploring and studying the Red Planet?

Mars Planet was born in 2004 as a cultural association operating in space research. We have started to investigate the technologies necessary to explore space and especially Mars. In 2018, we have created a spin-off company, Mars Planet Technologies, which is now the economic entity in charge to put our projects into practice.

I want to mention that the roadmap we have followed is different from the one followed by many companies because we have spent many years doing research as a private organization. Only when we reached a strong knowledge of some domains of space tech did we start to create business from this knowledge. It has been a difficult choice, but today, we are in contact and able to discuss with all the main space operators. Furthermore, our team is located both in Italy and distributed in different parts of the world. This enables us to develop and follow projects in different space domains. 

We are providing a series of courses on Space technology to a wide public. To become active in the space sector, it is essential that companies, organizations, and students are aware of space science and its applications, and our Mars City Academy wants to help to fill this knowledge gap with the proposal of highly innovative courses.

What specific research and exploration projects is Mars Planet currently involved in on Mars, and what are the primary objectives of these projects?

All our Mars projects are part of our main Research flagship Mars City. With our Mars City we want to build a Mars and Moon simulation center in North Italy that will act as a place to develop technologies for Mars and Moon exploration and involve companies and institutions in the space race. The idea is that to make Mars Exploration possible, we need to test and simulate new technologies on Earth. There are already institutional testing facilities of the main Space Agencies and companies, but we want to build a private center that will have as key function the one-off involving traditional industries in the Mars race.

Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference
Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference

When do you think that we will be ready to colonize Mars?

As you can imagine, it is challenging to provide a specific date for when the colonization of Mars will be real. This does not mean that it will not happen quite soon. You must consider that Mars is the destination of all the NASA and ESA programs, which are specifically designed to reach this goal as the one most promising for our future. Also, the next exploration of the Moon by means of the Artemis program will have an impact on the future colonization of Mars because, to some extent , we can use the Moon as a testbed for the technologies that are necessary to explore Mars. There is also a specific NASA program called ´Moon to Mars Architecture´ which is designed for this purpose.

I would like to make an example. We know that the discovery of America y is dated 1492. After that everything changed in the world, the economic center of the world shifted, for example, from the Mediterranean to the big Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Having in mind this example applied to the human exploration of Mars, I think that if things work well, we could say that now we are in 1470 or 1465. Mars colonization, or at least its first step, could happen something like 20 or 30 years from now, perhaps a little bit before or also something quite later, such as 40 or 50 years from now. In any case, I would exclude now that it will happen in the next century.

In other words, we could say that students who have participated in the Elevate Conference will see for sure the first humans walking on Mars.

When it happens, we will have a technological, economic, and social change in the history of humankind , similar to the discovery of America but more extensive and fuller of consequences for our future.

In my talks, I call the year of the first Mars settlement “Mars 0” (zero) to indicate that there will be a time in which our history will be divided before and after “Mars 0”. The concept of “Mars 0” in my opinion, is useful because, like in the construction of a house, we know that we must reach the goal to complete the house, and we can start to work from now to get positive outcomes. More we work and more people we involve in the project, the nearer in the timeline and easier to reach our desired achievement will be.

What are the biggest challenges?

The challenges of Mars exploration are many and almost all have high levels of difficulty. The good news is that with our current level of technology, we can overcome these challenges if we work together to reach the final goal of having humans on Mars in an appropriate time frame.

To summarize very shortly these challenges, we can mention the difficulties of the interplanetary travel, the entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars, which impacts the kind of spacecrafts we must use and the number of astronauts to be chosen as the first settlers on Mars, the possibility to guarantee a survival in the harsh environment of Mars, radiation protection, the design of appropriate Life Support Systems able to guarantee the production of oxygen, food, and water for long-duration missions, the recycling of resources to guarantee sustainability, the development of technologies able to use the local resources on Mars, the creation of Mars agriculture, the technologies necessary to guarantee the health of the astronauts, the study of the human factors necessary to make the life of the astronauts on Mars comfortable, the construction of Martian habitats both in surface and in Martian caves, the telecommunication system with the earth, the energy production and robotic exploration plans.

All these will be possible thanks to strong international collaboration and involvement of new economic operators and industries, but also taking care to solve some legal and ethical issues, risks management of all the operations, and, obviously, an appropriate evaluation of the costs involved in the project.

I also want to highlight that we must look at the above-described challenges not as problems, but as opportunities. The good news is that every time we solve one of these challenges, there will be not only the possibility to make the colonization of Mars real but also practical consequences on Earth in terms of technological development that will help to solve practical problems on our planet, starting, for example, from food production, greenhouse effect management, and sustainability.

From this point of view, we could apply to the Mars/Earth system a new version of the third principle of Newton´s dynamics: every time we develop something for Mars Exploration, this will have a reaction effect on Earth, and vice versa. Every time on Earth, we develop a key technology, think, for example, of AI; this will have an effect on our capabilities to establish a long-duration settlement of Mars.

What contributions has Mars Planet made to our understanding of Mars and its potential for future human exploration or habitation?

There is a general contribution that we surely provide due to the activities we do to promote Mars research and exploration on Earth. For example, around our town Bergamo, there is a valley (Seriana valley), and with local partners and institutions, we are working to create a “Seriana Space Valley”, that is a space ecosystem made up of companies and institutions that will develop projects and activities useful for the human exploration of Mars.

From a scientific point of view, we are active, and we want to continue to contribute to the research on future construction of habitats on Mars, as part of our main research flagship Mars City. In our team, we have people particularly specialized in space design and architecture applied to space, and this month we will also have courses available on these topics on our marscity.academy. Linked to this, there is the area of research related to the exploitation of Mars resources: to answer questions such as how to produce iron, water, glass on Mars? 

Finally, we want to continue our research on Space Medicine, which, by the way, has many important applications on medicine on earth. We will not be able to colonize Mars if we do not solve the medical problems that the astronauts will face when they are on the surface of the red planet. So, Space and Mars medicine are prerequisites for everything we want to do in Space, since our bodies have been designed by evolution to live on Earth.

Can you share any recent or upcoming milestones or breakthroughs in Mars exploration that Mars Planet is excited about?

An important milestone we are excited about is the success rate of robotic missions to Mars. Until 2000, we had a success rate of about 3/7, that is, for every robot/rover sent to Mars only 3 out of 7 successfully arrived and operated appropriately on Mars. From 2000 the success rate is 7:2; 7 successes and 2 failures. It means that we have learned a lot about how to send our systems on Mars, and this obviously is an encouraging result.

Also, we now have at least nine countries involved directly in Mars missions plus the missions organized by ESA, which normally involve many European countries. When I entered the space sector twenty years ago, there were practically only NASA and ESA and a little bit of Russia. This is a true positive effect. It means that international cooperation is increasing, and this will also activate a competition which, as in every industry, will facilitate the future of exploration.

Another huge result of the last few years is the discovery that under the soil of Mars, there are wide water reserves. While exploitation of these reserves is not yet at our technological level, this is a key advantage that will help a lot the exploration of Mars and one of the reasons why we must consider Mars our second planet. 

Finally, I want to mention the MOXIE experiment: with this mission, we have sent for the first time a device to Mars that has been able to produce Oxygen and Methane from the C02 available in the Mars atmosphere. It is the first time that we, as a species, produce Oxygen on another planet!

Also, the methane produced by future evolution of devices like MOXIE will be useful to produce energy for astronauts on Mars and fuel for the rockets that will arrive on Mars, such as the ones being produced by SpaceX of Elon Musk.

Collaboration with other space agencies and organizations is crucial in space exploration. How does Mars Planet collaborate with NASA, ESA, or other space entities in missions related to Mars?

We have participated directly or as members of a consortium in different ESA funding projects, and we normally send ideas of projects to ESA to be evaluated every year. For NASA, we do not work directly, but we have active cooperation with a couple of US universities and two US companies that are involved in NASA projects. For the US, we plan to create hopefully next year a Mars Planet US, which, together with US partners, will be able to enter more directly into the US space ecosystem.

I want to mention that we cooperate with different space companies in Italy, which is the third contributor of ESA, thanks to the work of our Space Agency ASI. We plan to increase the level of connection with the little and big operators of the Space Sector in Italy.

Do you want to travel to space?

Yes, while I have no longer been a student for a long time, if my health conditions would allow this experience, I would like to be part of a real space experiment to feel directly what it means to “think beyond your planet”. There is nothing in my personal programs of this type at the moment, but I do not want to definitively close the door to this possibility.

Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference
Antonio Del Mastro at the ELEVATE Space & Sustainability Conference

Do you think that space tourism helps to accelerate the industry?

Space tourism has the potential to significantly accelerate the space industry in various ways. While it may not be the primary objective of space exploration for the moment, it will play a crucial role in several key aspects of future space growth because space tourism can create new market opportunities. For example, we think that the fashion and design sector will benefit from the space tourism development because this market will require new innovative textile products not only to be used as suits for space tourists but also as part of the furniture of the spacecraft used for space tourism. And as Italians, I think that we have all the right economic background to create a future “Italian style in Space”.

Furthermore, space tourism can contribute to technological advancement in things like design of space stations, safety, propulsion, telecommunications, and media industries to mention only a few . This contribution of space tourism will have a positive impact also in other areas of the space sector.

The above development will be a key to attracting new investments, funding, and economic initiative in the Space Industry. For example, there are already some movie production companies investing in future movies production in Space. 

Finally, a contribution of Space Tourism that I consider crucial is the one related to the physical construction of future space facilities and things like spaceports. These facilities will provide huge development to the dream of making our species multiplanetary. All these things are for the moment not yet real, and it is for this that we must start to develop these technologies now to be the first to capture the advantages of this revolution. To this purpose, we already have to develop some project ideas for these applications.

Do you think ELEVATE can help people understand space technology and sustainability better?

Yes, I think that, due to the international nature of Monaco, ELEVATE could become a recognized think tank and space projects promoter located in the core side of Europe. ELEVATE Conference is an International open space where to discuss and design new ideas and projects related to Space Technology and Space Economy. This will be beneficial for all the European space ecosystems.

Did you like the audience questions at ELEVATE?

Absolutely, I was surprised by the quality of questions, especially by the students at the ELEVATE Conference. I think that this is “human capital” that we must help to grow for the benefits of the ELEVATE Conference and, let me say it, especially for the future of Monaco young generations and Monaco economic ecosystem. From this point of view, if this can help, we, as Mars Planet Technologies, could cooperate with ELEVATE to achieve this goal.

As interest in Mars and space exploration grows, what advice do you have for individuals interested in pursuing a career in planetary science or becoming involved in Mars exploration efforts?

I think that the starting point should be a strong educational program. Space tech in general and Mars exploration, in particular, are highly specialized, and it is essential that people who want to be involved in it can understand the technicalities of the space domains they want to be part of. Other key things to do are to start becoming part of some space network, collaborate with other people interested in this sector,visit space operating entities, gain research experience, stay informed about the main advancements in Mars exploration carried out by entities like NASA, ESA, and other international agencies, specialize in a specific activity related to Mars exploration, and, as soon as possible, participate in some kind of mission.

All of this with a common attitude: as said in my talk at ELEVATE, quoting JFK, “We are not active in Mars exploration because it is easy, but because it is difficult”. It means that to get results in this sector people need to be adaptable, patient, and persevere.

Finally, let me say that if people are interested in Mars/Space Exploration, there is an easy thing to do: follow what we do at Mars Planet Technologies. We offer, for this purpose, a membership program that aims to help individuals, professionals, and companies enter the Mars/Space race.

Talking about the future of space and the importance of educating the next generation, Antonio signed an agreement with fellow ELEVATE presenter Alan Offer, which resulted in an online educational course on Rocket building for marscity.academy. 

This course helps unleash the power of curiosity and ignite your interest in the fascinating world of rockets. This course is not your typical space odyssey; it’s a specially curated experience for young minds.


Read the full and illustrated interview in the Winter 2023 edition of the Living in Monaco, the Monaco Residents’ Magazine.


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