Google+ Mars Travel: Manned Exploration of Mars Within a Decade

Manned Exploration of Mars Within a Decade

Setting a Goal

NASA's last space shuttle launch was on 08 July 2011, but it is imperative that America does not allow its human spaceflight program to suffer. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity to set a goal for the future, instead of letting hundreds of billions of dollars go to waste in aimless pursuits. That goal should be manned exploration of Mars within a decade.
Mars, as taken by the Viking Orbiter

Water on Mars

Ares Vallis was created by massive flooding
Through the use of probes humanity has discovered that Mars was once warm and wet, containing oceans of water on its surface. Just by looking at the Martian surface one can see many deep canyons and ravines created by once abundant, flowing water. These large bodies of water existed for one billion years, which is 5 times longer than it took Earth to develop life after liquid water became a dominant feature on the planet.
Currently that surface water is in the form of ice or frozen mud, with whole continent-sized areas being made up of more than 60% water by weight.
What makes Mars special is that it likely has underground liquid water because of geothermal heating. Underground reservoirs insulated from the frigid temperature of Mars may have created environments conducive to Earth-like life. This underground liquid water has been seen flowing from the underground water table into craters as recently as the past 10 years, but that isn't even the most fascinating thing.

Read Water on Mars and What it Means for Humanity for more information about water on Mars.

Sign of Life on Mars

In our study of Mars, Humanity has detected methane emissions coming out of cracks in the Martian surface; these are characteristic of underground microbial life, or a proof of subterranean environments that will fully support Earth-like life. For more information about this please read Arguments for Life on Mars

What if We Discover Life on Mars?

If we discover life on Mars there are two contrasting scenarios. 

Same Genetic Code

We discover life that shares the same genetic code as life on Earth. The chances that the same specialized, enormously complex molecule evolved separately on two planets are astronomical. This would prove that life on Mars and life on Earth have a common origin.
DNA depiction
Source: DNA Sequencing

Different Genetic Code
We discover life that has a different genetic code from life on Earth. This would prove that life on Mars and life on Earth arose independently. If this is the case it must mean that life is common throughout the galaxy because what are the chances that two adjacent planets both develop life separately?

What if We Discover There is No Life On Mars?

If we discover that there is no life on Mars we will at least know that life is something to be treasured and prized. I'm sure it would be a big "I told you so" for a lot of people, but it would at least answer one of the oldest, most asked questions on Earth, "Is there life on Mars?"

We also have a lot of evidence that even if life is not currently on Mars, it could be sustained underground. This would give humanity a chance to expand to other planets. If you want to know why this is important I suggest you read Humanity Must Colonize Other Planets.

The Positive Challenge Humanity Needs

Regardless of whether we find life on Mars, we already know that it is habitable to life from Earth (at least underground). We should send a team to begin exploring the habitable regions in hope that one day we will be able to set up permanent bases or colonies on the planet.
Setting this as a goal will give humanity the positive challenge that it needs to thrive. When people are not presented with a challenge they stagnate and become unmotivated. As Robert Zubrin, President of Mars Society and the aerospace research and development firm Pioneer Astronautics wrote
Mars is a bracing positive challenge that our society needs. Nations, like people, thrive on challenge and decay without it. The challenge of a humans-to-Mars program would be an invitation to adventure to every young person in the country, sending out the powerful clarion call: "Learn your science and you can become part of pioneering a new world."
He goes on to point out that if the prospect of colonizing Mars inspires even 1% of kids to pursue a scientific education, that would mean millions
More scientists, engineers, inventors and medical researchers, making technological innovations that create new industries, find new cures, strengthen national defense, and generally increase national income to an extent that utterly dwarfs the expenditures of the Mars program.
(Please note that he is talking about why the United States of America should make this a priority, but realistically if the US pursued this, the rest of the G8 would follow closely behind or even help in their efforts.)
A project of this scale could be exactly what humanity needs right now. It could be the boost that the world economy needs, while causing a jump in technological achievement. The possibilities are unimaginable.

The Technology Required

The technology that would be needed is not much more advanced than that used for the first successful manned mission to the moon. The following is paraphrased from Robert Zubrin:
The Last Saturn V
The primary equipment would be a heavy-lift booster similar to the the Saturn V launch vehicle utilized in the 1960s. We are more than capable of engineering this.
We would then have to make two launches, the first sending an unmanned, unfueled Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) to Mars. This would then create it's own return fuel by combining a small quantity of hydrogen (H2) brought from Earth with a large amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere of Mars itself. This technique has been used on Earth countless times.This is all that is necessary to create the return fuel.
Upon creation of the return fuel, a habitation module containing the crew is launched to Mars by the second booster. The journey will take six months, after which time the habitation module is landed near the ERV and used as the crew's base of operations for exploring Mars.
The crew would use space suits for the Martian atmosphere, which is much thinner than Earth's. Using the habitation module as their base, they would begin their search for past or present life on Mars. The proposed time period that the astronauts spend doing this is one and a half years.
After this they would enter the ERV and take the 6 month journey back home, leaving the habitation module behind.The habitation module could then be used in future expeditions to Mars, with each new mission adding another habitation.

How Much Would It Cost?

When you adjust NASA's Apollo-Era (1961-1973) budget for inflation, it was approximately $19 billion a year, which is only 5% greater than NASA's current budget, yet they were able to get to the moon multiple times, with technology that nowadays most people carry around in their pocket.
We could do so much more with less, if just given a goal and a deadline to accomplish that goal.
On May 24, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared "First I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon..." we didn't take no for an answer. We did it. We need that kind of commitment now.

...the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space. - John F. Kennedy, 1962


Anonymous said...

Great article :)

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