The idea of America launching a Manned Mission to Mars has been kicking around for some time. Most vehemently was the proclamation by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the 2012 Republican Primary Debates. It was all nonsense; however, since Gingrich didn’t appear to really have a shot at the Presidency, and any possibility of the Mission being carried out is off decades into the future. More recently, a corporation has been holding a lottery for candidates to sign-up for a No-Return Mission. Really?
In the prior linked blog post, from August of 2012, “Mission to Mars?”, I ended it by asking two questions: first, how long will it be before the technology, for such a trip, will catch-up with the necessary payload requirements; and second, would it be cost-effective to attempt a Manned, rather than an Unmanned, Mission (any time soon)? That post is linked as follows: https://thetruthoncommonsense.com/2012/08/06/mission-to-mars/. However, we now have the word directly from NASA.
I have also linked an interview, by Jon Gertner, with Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Science Officer. The link from “Fast Company” is as follows: http://www.fastcocreate.com/3044263/master-class/skys-the-limit. In the interview, Ms. Stofan lays out her key points regarding any such Manned Mission to Mars, as follows:
1. We have to set a realistic time frame for such a mission, and it might be in the 2030s, and she suggests 2035.
2. She states that there would be so many intermediate steps that we would need to take, and that we would need to “chunk it down”, separating it into the many, many component parts. I would also add that, as in the Moon Mission (1969), numerous intermediate technologies, tools and systems would need to be developed along the way first.
3. With a time-frame that is at least two decades away, there will be many changes in science and technology, and all that will have to be taken into account, and modifications to the mission might need to be made accordingly. Basically, the intermediate steps may very well need to be changed as the program changes between now and blast-off.
4. Considering how expensive this mission will be, we need to expand the project to include other countries and agencies, such as the European Space Agency and Russia, among others. Realistically, that might even enhance world peace somewhat. You will notice that Ms. Stofan doesn’t even address the idea of a one-way manned trip.
5. Although previous technology which was developed within the Space Program has returned the cost several times over, she wants to promote an appeal to the public’s natural sense of curiosity. That’s an old sales trick: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak!”
6. Lastly, keep in mind that, due to the far-off anticipated mission date, much of the crew and mission control are probably children today, and still in elementary or middle school.
So, get your children and grandchildren excited about science and, as Ms. Stofan recommends, take them out to look at the stars. Visit a planetarium with them, or a science museum. Read some real science fiction*. Remember: the whole Earth will benefit from a Manned Mission to Mars–and it will also contribute toward it.
* In the early part of noted science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange World”, there is an excellent explanation of the crew members’ scientific and technical capabilities that might be necessary on such a trip. They would certainly not be just passengers, along for the ride. There would also need to be redundancies in that a geologist might also need to be qualified in biotechnology or agronomy, a physician would have to be cross-trained in, let’s say, surgery and ob-gyn Care, etc. Assuming there would be female crew members on such a long trip.