Jul 25 2013

Mission to Mars

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18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Mission to Mars”

  1. Michael Finfer, MDon 25 Jul 2013 at 8:39 am

    There is another challenge here. There is some evidence from Phoenix and Curiosity that suggests that perchlorates are widespread in the Martian soil. Those compounds are highly toxic, and it may be very very difficult to avoid exposing crews to it on surface missions if it is indeed a component of the soil. In fact, perchlorates may be responsible for the life-like signal that was seen in the Viking data.

    I am concerned that we may be putting the cart before the horse. It may be important to do a sample return mission to get some of the soil and the global dust into a laboratory so we can see what’s really there. We do not want to be recovering dead or dying astronauts at the end of the mission.

  2. ccbowerson 25 Jul 2013 at 9:14 am

    “There is some evidence from Phoenix and Curiosity that suggests that perchlorates are widespread in the Martian soil”

    It looks like perchlorates are 0.5-1% w/w of the martian soil, which is really problematic. One solution to this, and has the added benefit of being nonspecific in its protection of toxic compounds, is to have suits that are kept outside at all times once on mars. The suits could attach so that the astronauts could climb into them, and reattach to get back inside. I’m not sure how easy such a design would be to impliment, but it seems like a safer way than to use some type of spray to convert perchlorates in a given area, especially given other unknowns in the Martian soil.

  3. Garretton 25 Jul 2013 at 9:15 am

    A quick nitpick. The Imperial College of London study is almost identical to Robert Zubrin’s well-known (in spaceflight circles) “Mars Semi-Direct” proposal from back in 1993. Probably the only major difference is that the ICL study, going on more recent scientific knowledge of the Martian surface, proposes to excavate water for making rocket fuel. In Zubrin’s original proposal, hydrogen (H2) was to be brought from Earth and reacted with Martian CO2 to make fuel (methane and oxygen) and water.

  4. Cow_Cookieon 25 Jul 2013 at 11:57 am

    I was watching a multi-episode history of the space program, and I was struck by how specific the space program missions were prior to the actual moon landing. Early missions focused on the stresses of space on the human body. Later missions were proofs of concept for procedures that would be critical in a moon landing, such as the ability to rendezvous and dock. Apollo 10 was essentially a dress rehearsal for the moon landing. These allowed astronauts and engineers to perfect the component parts of the moon landing in space before they actually had to do the whole thing for real. A lot of learning happened during that time.

    That was an expensive prospect even with an object as close as the moon, and I can’t see us doing anything close to that extent with Mars. If that’s the case, that adds a whole new level of challenge. We’d have to get the entire process right on the first try instead of learning step by step as we did when we first went into space.

  5. practiCal fMRIon 25 Jul 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Steven, curious to know why you would like to see humanity progress towards colonization.

  6. practiCal fMRIon 25 Jul 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I used to be a strong proponent of a manned mission to Mars but my opinions are changing as fast as the technology. After seeing humanoid robots and full immersion VR systems, I’m now increasingly a supporter of unmanned missions that can provide nearly all the sensory experiences of being on the Martian surface. (One would hope that the fear experience would be missing!)

    So now I am focused on the essential question: why go? “Because we can/should” is one reasonable answer, except that the risks and costs get very high, very quickly. And would it be a stepping-stone to somewhere else? If there was another earth-like body nearby, or if there was something of net benefit to mankind to be obtained by setting human foot on the Martian surface then I would be more keen. But the more I think about the risks/benefits and the better the robot/VR tech becomes, the more I want to send virtual explorers. It’s not nearly as sexy – possibly because it’s not nearly as risky, and we like heroes – but I would love the opportunity to “strap on” a VR system and “walk” around the Martian surface for myself. That’s never going to happen for me in the flesh! A robot might offer that opportunity in my lifetime.

    Again, then: why go?

  7. Steven Novellaon 25 Jul 2013 at 3:05 pm

    That is a good question. I have two answers
    - I thinks it would be good for humanity. First, we should not have all our eggs in one basket. We’re one asteroid away from extinction. We don’t know how rare intelligent life is in the universe, but it might be rare. And n any case I would like to see the human experiment continue. It would also provide new opportunities to expand the human condition.

    - The other reason is more romantic – I think that public support for space exploration would be greater if it included a human component. I may be wrong about this, and this may change in the future, but for now sending people into space seems to capture the public interest much more than robots.

    For pure exploration, robots are the way to go, hands down. But I think colonization is its own end. But I do think we should maximally use robots to pave the way for people.

  8. ca1879on 25 Jul 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Why go? Beats me. I think much of the positive feeling driving these ideas comes from the unrealistic way interplanetary travel has been presented in fiction and film, the lionization of the small successes of manned missions to date, and the marketing of the projects by interests that would benefit from the huge public expenditures that will be needed to attempt to enact them. That these trips will be psychological and physical nightmares for the participants is well understood. That we are decades away from resolving some of the most basic problems blocking even simple “there and back again” missions is clear, and in the end, if we do succeed, what will we have gained by human participation? Some nice vacation photos and a celebration just don’t justify this. In an age where we are moving away from manned participation in dangerous activities right here on Terra with the use of remote presence (UAVs, remote submersibles), to propose more of that danger off-planet seems to be a romantic and contrary notion.

    The science is important, but to do science we need tools, not heroes. Send the robots.

  9. ca1879on 25 Jul 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Steven – colonization of extra-terran enviroments is easy to desire, and next to impossible to achieve for the foreseeable future. Our best hope of every making it practical is to drive the science, not the fantasy.

  10. TheFlyingPigon 25 Jul 2013 at 3:36 pm

    “The launcher will refuel by digging below the Mars surface for ice.”

    Can someone help me out with this? Where will the energy come from for the electrolysis? The only thing I can think of that might work is solar power… could that really provide enough energy for the trip home (and the ice mining operation) within a reasonable time-frame?

  11. practiCal fMRIon 25 Jul 2013 at 5:05 pm


    “Good for humanity:” Solid argument. If earth destruction is the motivation then I would also argue that we should be trying to make other contingency plans before giving up and fleeing. Perhaps a proper asteroid tracking/destroying program, better preservation of our planet, etc. All of these are actually happening in some fashion, but as a species we don’t seem to be very good at preparing for rare events. Might make a Martian voyage, and beyond, a tough sell to a skeptical public.

    I’d also be intrigued to see what would happen to our species as it evolved in space, or elsewhere in the universe. Indeed, one would think that humans sent off to wherever would fairly quickly evolve to being a different but closely related species, especially if all the radiation in space were bombarding the voyagers’ DNA. But I have trouble enough getting ethical approval for far more basic experiments!

    “Public support:” This one is tricky. Spending a large proportion of NASA’s budget, say, for a very risky journey is going to split the public (not to mention NASA and space scientists). No doubt there would be considerable interest for an out and back type of venture, but I don’t think it’s the best, or only, way to rekindle interest in exploration. If you had a humanoid robot with a VR system, many more people on earth could experience the environment as closely as an astronaut – sans risk, as already noted. If we did that first then perhaps we might increase the public’s interest in a manned mission. Or we might eliminate any interest because we’ve already been virtually.

  12. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2013 at 1:10 am

    ” Indeed, one would think that humans sent off to wherever would fairly quickly evolve to being a different but closely related species, especially if all the radiation in space were bombarding the voyagers’ DNA”

    If the mutation rate is too high, the likely result is “monsters” that are unlikely to survive.

  13. Kawarthajonon 26 Jul 2013 at 1:28 am

    Seems to me like there would have to be some kind of economic incentive to develop a colony on Mars. Many people compare Mars exploration to the early exploration of the Earth by ship and by land. The difference is that there were huge economic incentives to exploring the world at the time – discover a new exotic spice or economically viable plant and you would make a fortune back in the day. What economic incentive do we have to get to Mars? None. Mining can be done cheaper on Earth and I doubt that there are any minerals that can be mined cheaper on Mars (or an asteroid for that matter).

    Until it is economically viable to have colonies on Mars (i.e. to maintain and control the mining robots), any mission to Mars will be short lived and government supported.

    Of all the issues you mentioned regarding the first trip to Mars, funding is an even bigger issue. Until the money can be found, we’ll be staying on Earth, or low-Earth orbit, for our vacations.

  14. Steven Novellaon 26 Jul 2013 at 7:06 am

    I think a mission to mars needs to be international. I would not want to see NASA or the US fund this on our own.

    An international mission could have other political benefits. Carl Sagan was a huge proponent of this, but at the time he was talking of the cold war between USSR and US. But – it couldn’t hurt to have an international colony on Mars.

  15. Survivalist13on 26 Jul 2013 at 10:02 am

    Yes it would need to be international.

    I think there would be a tipping point with colonization, once we exceed a critical mass of people and equipment working on the Moon or Mars a colony should become self sustaining and grow on it’s own with much reduced input from mother earth. Now I think about it that is exactly what the term colony represents.

    I’m skeptical whether spacex, in my mind the only serious player in this (they have money, the will and the tech) are big enough or rich enough to pull off a Mars mission. Their largest rocket in development (yet to be launched) would need to be launched several times and an interplanetary ship built in orbit. The falcon heavy has an estimated lifting capacity about half of the Saturn 5, and your going to need more to get to Mars than the Moon. We are talking surviving for years opposed to days.

    A moon colony first seems like a no brainer. Some of the technology has been developed during the space station program, but building bases on another planet sounds like something we need practice at.

    A Mars rocket might also be a good candidate for exotic propulsion technology. Specifically nuclear engines (researched heavily during Apollo era) might become a good option, if the radiation problem isn’t too bad. If the reactor could also be used to power the ship some real advantages might be possible.

    I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than colonizing space, working towards a common goal such as this would be a great political tool for uniting the planet, well if done right.

    Either way some sort of grand plan is required. By which I don’t mean the sort of things I’m hearing from Mars one and the Imperial lot, I mean a detailed economic and technological plan. Exactly what technologies are we going to develop, how much will each part realistically cost, how are we going to pay for it, who’s going to do which part. The amount of engineering and testing required for such a mission is astronomical, entirely do able but not by a few people in a shed or at a university, by a continent possibly, by a planet… now that would be more like it.

  16. perscorson 26 Jul 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Considering all of the potential threats to life on this planet–geological, biological, political–it seems far more imperative to devote ourselves to extending life beyond it than any other issue–whether it be saving the economy or fighting climate change. Of course the major challenge would be financing. This problem though could very well be its own solution. A mission to Mars would demand a global pooling of resources. But it would also have the imaginative force, once it gets off the ground, to galvanize people around a common purpose. I recently had the chance to read an essay titled “The First Woman on Mars.” The author, Ron Drummond, makes the important point that we need to seize this mission for all that it is worth. Undoubtedly it will have its own emotional appeal but it very well could, if we play our cards right, have the ability to draw nations and national resources together in a collaborative effort of the human will. I’ve attached a link to a reading of Ron’s essay below:


    A space mission would also, as they always do, gather a great deal of general interest and support for science across the board. I hate to say that what we need to do is market a mission to Mars but the word definitely needs to get out.

  17. petrucioon 27 Jul 2013 at 2:56 am

    A Sim-Space-Tycoon of sorts is on my list of games to develop, and will be pretty hardcode on the science and astronomy.

    But right now I gotta finish my current one, a Sim-Adventure of sorts:

  18. Bill Openthalton 29 Jul 2013 at 10:38 am

    Though I am a great fan of Google Earth, on thing it shows clearly is the lack of white space on our maps. As a species, we’re not made to boringly manage our continued survival with ever-shrinking resources, we’re made to unlock unknown territories, discover new realms, or “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, with apologies for the split infinitive and the sixties sexism.

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