Why Mars Can Be Affordable And Achievable

SCOTT AUDETTE / REUTERS
The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014.  (UNITED STATES – Tags: TRANSPORT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)  REUTERS/Scott Audette

by Joe Cassady, Executive Director for Space Programs, Washington Operations,

Aerojet Rocketdyne

Why should humans venture to Mars? In some sense, it is to fulfill a longing in our collective psyche. Humanity has dreamed of walking on Mars since travel above the Earth’s surface became feasible… Those dreams seemed to be on the verge of being realized with the dawn of the Space Age in the mid-20th Century, but for decades Mars remained out of reach to human explorers on site. That frustrating situation has resulted in what many have come to see as Mars being perpetually “20 years away.”  In the terminology used for space launches, we have been in a “hold” for the past 30 years. Today, however, we can finally say that the countdown clock is running. We are going to Mars, twenty years and counting! If we stay the course, the first humans will set foot on the Red Planet by the year 2033.

New technologies have become available that have allowed us to take a fresh look at how to approach human Mars missions and, as a result, to tackle the hardest technical problems that had previously led to a hold in the countdown. And these approaches have given us the ability to design an architecture that can be brought on line incrementally, which keeps the annual expenditures within a reasonable projected NASA human spaceflight budget.

The key to this architecture is to separate much of the supplies and equipment and send them in advance of the crew.  By prepositioning equipment, supplies, and even return rocket stages (more than 80 percent of the total mass), using propulsion systems such as solar electric propulsion (SEP) that are extremely energy efficient for long-haul cargo missions, we can save more than half the costs versus transporting everything using chemical propulsion systems that are needed to reach orbit.

On the other hand, the Space Launch System (SLS) is the key to placing large blocks of payload into Earth orbit.  An analogy here on Earth would be how intermodal shipping of supplies and manufactured goods is accomplished. Short haul is accomplished by trucks or rail, while long haul is accomplished by massive ships.  In this same way, SLS accomplishes the short haul mission to orbit, whereas the cargo is transported over the much larger distance to Mars by solar electric transport ships. The two different propulsion systems, each of which is appropriate for its particular type of mission, are complementary.  And to transport the astronauts, we add in a third element: the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle as well as a deep-space habitat module, which together provide living space and life support systems.

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Why Mars? An Astronaut’s Perspective

I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

by John M. Grunsfeld, Astronaut, Scientist, Explorer

Image Credit NASA
As a young boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was inspired by the nascent space age. At the age of six I declared that I wanted to be an astronaut. My mother thought that was just fine, as it would encourage me to learn science, and besides, there really was no chance I would ever actually become an astronaut. While I watched the Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon, I imagined that I might some day travel to Mars, to do science, of course. Indeed, I felt compelled to study nature, science, and engineering, eventually earning a PhD in physics. As a scientist, I sent experiments to near-space on high altitude balloons as well as into space aboard the Space Shuttle. But the explorer in me still wanted to go to space in person. To the amazement of my mother, in 1992 I was selected to become a NASA astronaut. I had the privilege to fly five missions on the Space Shuttle, including three missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

Of all the planets in our diverse solar system, Mars is unique in that it is the only planet where we can some day live in a somewhat similar fashion to the way we live on Earth. It is large enough to have a suitable surface gravity, and has an atmosphere and resources we can use to live off the land. Scientists using the intrepid Curiosity Rover have shown us that billions of years ago Mars was very much like Earth, with fresh water lakes, rivers, and warm salty seas. At about the same time that Mars was very much a habitable planet, life started on Earth. Did life also emerge on Mars? The question of whether we are alone in the universe is for the first time a discrete scientific question we can answer. We are exploring Mars for signs of past or extant life. We are also preparing to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which might harbor a habitable ocean, and with future large telescopes we will look for signs of life on planets orbiting nearby stars. But Mars beckons us like no other world, and we will exponentially increase the pace of discovery when we have women and men explorers ― planetary scientists and astrobiologists ― on the surface of the Red Planet performing scientific research. These intrepid explorers will also be opening up a new frontier.

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The Mars Generation: Why We Must Go To Mars

The Mars Generation: Why We Must Go To Mars

PALLAVA BAGLA VIA GETTY IMAGES
India’s Mars bound rocket and Mars satellite blasted off on November 5, 2013 from India’s launch pad.

“Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at the stars because we are human?” – Neil Gaiman, Stardust

This is a quote from my favorite movie, Stardust. This quote has defined my life and, I believe, defines humanity as well. I, like every other person on this planet, was born curious. As a kid I marveled at many things on Earth (and off!): the way that the leaves of trees would change color with the seasons, the way that ants moved in cohesion, the way that my fingernails would grow or a glass would shatter when it fell off a table. The world around me was exciting and full of new things.

I, like all children, was born a scientist: curious. But something happens to many children as they grow up, something along the way subdues this natural inclination for discovery that keeps humans alive, that inspires new technology to advance our abilities and that creates new ways to do things. Keeping children curious and engaged in the quest for knowledge through their teen years and into adulthood is essential to the future of humanity.  So the question is, how can we stop kids from losing the drive to discover new things and keep them engaged and excited about the world around them? I believe that we already have an answer: human space exploration.

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Why Mars? An Introduction To A 10-Part Series On Sending Humans To Mars

BJORN HOLLAND VIA GETTY IMAGES

Momentum is steadily and inexorably building toward sending human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s. While this goal has been an integral part of United States space policy over the past fifty years, the reality of achieving that goal has always seemed so very far in the future. Recently, however, a critical mass of support, technical progress, and scientific momentum has coalesced that may very well finally propel humanity to the Red Planet.

Mars has been the subject of a great deal of media coverage in recent years, with frequent images and scientific updates coming from various United States and international Mars robotic missions. Hollywood has also been drumming the Mars beat, with movies such as The Martian, as well as the upcoming six part National Geographic series, Mars, and the feature film The Space Between Us (with more to come).

As for policy, Congress has included Mars in multiple authorization bills ― and the Senate is currently moving forward with a Transition Authorization bill that contains the most comprehensive language in support of Mars exploration ever to appear in a major bill.

NASA has also embraced this goal, with its Journey to Mars program, and last October it also held its first workshop to investigate potential landing sites for the first human explorers. Industry has also jumped on the bandwagon, with companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne having released their own proposals as to how to send humans to Mars – and in late September SpaceX joined the chorus when it announced its own ambitious plans.

Recent polls have also shown overwhelming public support for this goal.  Yet, some people still ask Why? Why should we take the time and spend taxpayer dollars? Some even ask why should we take the risks inherent in any space mission ― let alone missions to a planet millions of miles away?

History teaches us that ambitious exploration and innovation projects of this kind have always tended to benefit humanity.

Unfortunately, much misinformation has been disseminated claiming that such missions would cost upwards of $1 trillion.  In reality, none of the current credible plans would require anywhere close to that amount, and in fact they would require far less. (To put this in perspective, all NASA budgets combined since 1958 don’t come close to totaling $1 trillion – even with adjusted dollars).

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We Should Explore Mars So That Our Students Will Keep Dreaming Big

We Should Explore Mars So That Our Students Will Keep Dreaming Big

by Janet Ivey CEO, Janet’s Planet

BABAK TAFRESHI VIA GETTY IMAGES

Why send humans to Mars? Because as Gene Roddenberry said, “We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.” As a space science educator, a lover of Star Trek, and someone who played “astronaut” on the playground, sending humans to Mars is more than just a good sci-fi fantasy, it is an imperative for humanity.  Mars is the first outpost in the colonization of other worlds. And thanks to countless orbiters, landers, and rovers… the more we learn about it, the more Mars beckons.

For the past 16 years, I have endeavored to find ways to connect students’ natural curiosity with the wonders of our solar system and the universe, and always with an eye looking back at Earth. As a STEM/STEAM educator, I believe that we must teach science as the greatest adventure story of all time; and allow and inspirestudents to dream beyond their house, their town, and their own Earth-bound experience.

Listen to any scientist, engineer or entrepreneurial visionary who is passionate and committed about going to Mars and you will see that the parallels between a human endeavor to Mars and an education that elevates STEM/STEAM skills are remarkably similar. Getting to Mars and creating a skilled labor force for our nation is all about building with the same organic material. And I am not talking about aluminum, steel or titanium. I am talking about the robust material of minds… young, brilliant, future scientific and engineering minds. Howard Bloom, founder, and chair of the Space Development Steering Committee says it this way: “Rockets roar into space using two forms of fuel.  One is the liquid in the rocket’s tanks.  The other is the fuel in the human heart.  Yes, big dreams are fueled by the raw stuff of the human spirit:  excitement, awe, and desire.  Those emotions power us to do the impossible.  So when you’re looking for a goal, find the one that excites you and your fellow humans the most.”

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