We interrupt this mission to Mars for a word from our sponsors…

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Via Slashdot, here’s a paper at the Journal Of Cosmology (who need to hire a web designer, like, yesterday) that suggests such well-worn corporate PR strategies as sponsorship, “naming rights” and other licensing angles as a great way to finance a manned mission to Mars.

Sound familiar? So it should – Jason Stoddard did something very similar when he made a Mars mission into a reality TV challenge in his story-that-became-a-novel “Winning Mars” (free online versions are available; the book is in the production pipeline at Prime Books at the moment).

In a way, it’s a sad indictment of the post-modern nation state that the only viable funding methods for space exploration are corporate; a mars mission would be a terrible waste of taxes that could be used for more important matters, right?

  • The predicted cost of going to Mars: ~$145 Billion.
  • The cost of the Iraq war thus far: ~$739 Billion. [via MyElvesAreDifferent]

One-way ticket to Mars, redux

Paul Raven @ 04-09-2009

Earth-Mars montageThe one-way mission to Mars is becoming one of those hardy perennial stories, earning a mention here back in the spring of 2008 when former NASA engineer Jim McLane spoke out in favour of the idea.

Now it’s the turn of Lawrence Krauss, who sums up his attitude to Mars missions with the phrase “to boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again”.

The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the Sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.

There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

His arguments focus on finance (a one-way mission is far cheaper and more logistically simple) and anthropological pragmatism (the journey might well reduce the astronauts’ lifespans considerably, so why waste the remainder of their lives dying in an Earth hospital when they could be doing useful stuff on Mars?). It’s a very cold set of equations, of course… but as has been pointed out before, there’d probably be no shortage of volunteers, be they elderly scientists or younger bold adventurers. Hell knows I’d love to go.

Furthermore, Krauss is probably correct in suggesting that Congress and NASA would never take the political risk of a mission that could be seen as signing a definite death warrant for American citizens, even if they chose to go. So perhaps that one-way ticket will be supplied by a private company… if it’s ever supplied at all. [via SlashDot; image by Bluedharma]


A one-way ticket to Mars … or even beyond?

Paul Raven @ 06-03-2008

NASA-Mars-base-concept-drawing The technical obstacles and logistical difficulties to sending a manned mission to Mars are large, but by no means insurmountable. One of the biggest issues is the launch from Mars and subsequent return journey … which is just one of the reasons former NASA engineer Jim McLane reckons a Mars mission should be one-person and one-way only. [via SlashDot; image courtesy NASA]

“When we eliminate the need to launch off Mars, we remove the mission’s most daunting obstacle,” said McLane. And because of a small crew size, the spacecraft could be smaller and the need for consumables and supplies would be decreased, making the mission cheaper and less complicated.

While some might classify this as a suicide mission, McLane feels the concept is completely logical.

“There would be tremendous risk, yes,” said McLane, “but I don’t think that’s guaranteed any more than you would say climbing a mountain alone is a suicide mission. People do dangerous things all the time, and this would be something really unique, to go to Mars. I don’t think there would be any shortage of people willing to volunteer for the mission […] That will be the easiest part of this whole program.”

If you met the physical criteria for a mission like that, would you volunteer? I’d certainly consider it, I think, but in truth I don’t think I’m quite that brave.

And while we’re on the subject of planets in our solar system, there may be another one to add to the list. Via Warren Ellis comes news that Japanese astronomers believe they have located an as-yet undiscovered planet that is half the mass of our own Earth.

Of course, this “Planet X” is way out in the Kuiper Belt and orbits the sun about once every thousand years, so it’s not a very likely candidate for exploration. But it makes you wonder how much more stuff there is lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system waiting to be discovered.