This question just occured to me while I was setting up my first manned (err, kerbalized?) Duna mission in KSP: In order to test my basic lander design I did not want to start a whole Duna Mission but thought of using it on Minmus first. So the ascent engines are used for landing/starting from a closer body with lower gravity.

However, what would NASA do with a manned Mars mission? Where there ever (or are there) plans to test a Mars lander on the moon first? Would that even work (is landing on and starting from the Moon possible with the delta-v required for landing on and starting from Mars)? How about the atmospheric reentry? Is there a way to test a Mars lander in Earth' atmosphere or would it simply not work here (heat shield, parachute design)? So how would NASA ensure that after a year long mission the lander/ascent stage actually works as expected?

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    $\begingroup$ Schiaparelli is a European landing test for Mars, to be launched now 14 March 2016. It does some atmospheric science too, which probably also is useful for planning a landing. NASA has learned from robotic landers. LDSD is an inflatable heat shield for Mars which has been tested on balloons and rocket sleighs on Earth. The atmosphere is the headache, so Earth is a better analogue than the Moon. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Feb 28, 2016 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ The failure modes of crafts in KSP tend to be entirely different from failure modes of real crafts. Things that fail due to player miscalculation (due to the 'by hunch' nature of the in-game engineering) are results of thorough analysis in real launches; OTOH components that do fail for real - engines, decouplers, tank leaks, electrical installations, gaskets, actuators, life support systems - never fail in the game. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Feb 28, 2016 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ I wasnt thinking so much about a component failure (you can probably always put in more redundancy), but a general integegration test; I.e. in order to test the heat shield you need a comparable amount of heat in a comparable amount of time in a comparable flight geometry etc. $\endgroup$
    – choeger
    Feb 29, 2016 at 12:11

1 Answer 1


No, testing a Mars lander on the Moon wouldn't work for a number of reasons. The main thing is Mars's atmosphere, which is one of the more difficult things in managing a Martian lander.

There are parts of a Martian lander which can, and are frequently, tested on Earth. A few items include:

  • Airbag tests for Pathfinder- Done in a vacuum chamber, with Mars air pressure, and dropped at a height to have the same force on impact as on Mars.
  • Mars Supersonic Parachute System Tested and failed using a rocket sled.
  • Many parachute systems are tested in high atmosphere, where the atmospheric pressure is similar to that on Mars.

As to your original question, well, I think it will be tested with at least an unmanned lander, most likely carrying supplies, prior to the launch. There might be a test of an ascent rocket, perhaps the Mars Sample Return Mission. But testing on the Moon is impracticable, and wouldn't be useful.


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