Early this morning, NASA successfully landed the unmanned Mars-Rover, “Curiosity”, on The Red Planet. This is TRULY a remarkable achievement! Thinking back to Newt Gingrich’s calls for a Manned Mission to Mars, during the Republican Primary Debates, I can only wonder how long it will be before people start calling for one to be scheduled.
We had another Drone Lander on Mars, a few years ago, and I believe that scientists learned quite a bit from it. Curiosity is expected to retain power for two years and should be able to provide valuable insight for NASA. BUT…there is a significant difference between an Unmanned Mission, as compared to a Manned one. It obviously would not suffice to just build another one-way ship. The logistics of a Manned Flight would take a much more demanding leap. Also, it would have to return safely to Earth.
Let’s assume that a Manned Flight would take one-year–in each direction. Accordingly, to make the trip cost-effective, it would have to last at least three years, perhaps longer, with one year spent on Mars. In planning such a flight, there are a number of different aspects that should be addressed, which I would divide into Personnel, Logistics and Payload Technology.
For that long of a trip, would this be “accompanied” (by family) or crew-members only? Would the crew include: Scientists; Doctors; a Pilot (remember the Apollo 11 Landing); a Psychologist; a Teacher (if accompanied); Telecommunications Technician; Mechanics; an Agronomist (if growing their own food); a Police Officer/MP; Clergy; etc. Remember to build-in some cross-trained crew, in case of illness or injury.
Then, we come to the Logistics: Fuel; Power Supply, with Back-Up Equipment; Telecommunications Equipment (both for Mission and Personal Use); Medical Supplies, to include Limited Operating Facilities; Food for Three Years (both Pre-Packaged and for Growing); Clothing; Personal Effects; Recreational Materials; etc. Do they live on the Ship (requiring separate rooms) or build Pre-Fabricated Living Facilities?
Now that we have noted the increasing Payload, the Lift Capability of the craft would need to be expanded exponentially from this morning’s craft. In the early days of the US Space Program, the payload increased somewhat since 1961, when Alan Shepard went into Space; but, he did not go into orbit. Then, with the Apollo Program, with a ten-to-twelve person crew, plus Scientific Payload, the Spaceship size exploded.
But, two questions still remain:
1. How long will it take the Technology to catch-up with the Payload Requirements?
2. Would the expense be truly Cost-Effective for attempting a Manned, rather than an Unmanned, Mission to Mars?
NOTE: I believe this topic would make a good exercise in Critical Thinking for either Middle or High School Students. Give them the Basic Question And let them think it through.