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« Transcript from Morning Edition appearance (1 June 2011) | Main | Chart of the Day: why everyone loves shale gas »
9:55AM

Going to the Red Planet - seriously

Having done a lot of reading recently on the Apollo program, I found this WSJ op-ed to be a seriously plausible description of how we get to Mars:

1) one rocket sends unmanned capsule to Mars orbit with enough fuel for trip home (this is the lunar equivalent of the command module that did not go to the surface);

2) second rocket delivers to Martian surface a payload of chemicals that would use local materials to build up sufficient rocket power strength to ascend off the surface at Mars mission's end;

3) third rocket sends two astronauts to Mars, they land near ascent vehicle, spend 18 (!) months on surface, then ascend up to command module, dock, and fly that home.

Basic point of piece:  enough of the near-Earth stuff!  Let's get NASA back in the business of exploration and let the private sector work the near-space commercial.

Couldn't agree more, and like the logic of the mission plan.

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Reader Comments (9)

I have sadly reached the conclusion that manned space exploration makes little sense at this point. Rocket technology is expensive and impractical. It is better to wait for new technologies to develop that will make space travel faster and cheaper. For now, robotic exploration of other planets makes a lot more sense.

Everyone is proud of the lunar landings. However, if you step back and make an objective assessment, you have to ask "What did they accomplish"? An objective answer has to be, "Not very much."

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstuart abrams

Zubrin drew this plan up years ago. You can probably still see the documentary on youtube. Just search "mars direct"

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRicardo Batchler

All of us old science fiction nuts get excited about Mars exploration. I am not sure that, considering the economy, we can get our fellow Americans to go along. I am afraid that "Mars" is a little strange. You know, "Men from Mars" and all the Hollywood "B" movies over the years. The Moon...well the Moon was romantic. Plus, we can all see the Moon. I mean, who doesn't like the Moon?

I would give anything to ride that ship to Mars. However I don't think it can be sold to the American public right now. They are busy watching "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

So, will those 'local materials' come from a site where there seemed to be fossils from water creatures in our early Mars surface pics?

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLouis Heberlein

Then something goes horribly wrong, and we have another Apollo 13. Seems too risky to send maned vehicles to Mars. As mentioned earlier send the robots until they aren't useful anymore.

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Sterns

This spaceflight opportunity is made financially possible by relying on the affordable launch vehicles (Falcon Heavy) and capsule (Dragon) of an American entrepreneur, Elon Musk, where before NASA's government-centric approach had been prohibitively expensive.

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Kavanagh

I'd like to recommend Jeff Greason's recent keynote address to the National Space Society as another well thought out exploration and settlement strategy. He even mentions Dr. Zubrin's plan in the speech as well. Very well presented:

http://www.nss.org/resources/library/videos/ISDC11greason.html

Dr. Barnett, I'd be interested to know if in your time at the Pentagon and in the Beltway if you've had space exploration strategy pitched as an endevour important tocontinued military supremacy? I believe a current senator recently stated it as "the ultimate high ground" and although I believe he was using his arguements to raise spectors of the cold war and instill fear to keep NASA's HSF program going, he's not necessarily wrong. Thoughts? I'd also be curious to see hear any thoughts you have in space policy's role in globalization, if it has any that is.

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGregory Lemieux

I'll second Gregory Lemieux's recommendation on Greason's recent speech. I think you'll find it well worth your time as an introduction to the issues facing American space exploration, and in particular those facing commerce.

June 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJay Dugger

"...you have to ask "What did they accomplish"?..."

Well, let's see. How about fuel cells, advanced instrumentation/telemetry, and advances in materials, computers and electronics that are the very core of our information age economy?

As for Mars, I suspect we would see advances in those same areas, plus what I would call the emergence of "sustainability science" where the chemicals would be mined, renewable energy food and water systems developed to last the duration of the mission. All of those technologies would have high applicability here on Earth.

Since the first and second launches would be unmanned, they would require advances in robotics and communication necessary to provide more real-time control on the Mars surface and orbiter.

And finally, the actual footsteps of a man on the moon became a compelling, galvanizing event that brought the world together in wonder at what mankind could achieve. You simply cannot create that wonder with unmanned missions, regardless of the scientific value.

I agree with the premise that the near-Earth missions have been counter productive. What was once an awe-inspiring exploration organization was turned into a labor-intensive trucking company with a poor safety record.

NASA is at a crossroads where it must grow (scope and excitement of missions) or go out of business.

June 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichard A Davis

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