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Mars And Beyond: Preparing For Man's Next Big Leap
Source: Open Talk Magazine 04/02/2011 02:55:00
Wernher von Braun envisioned it. NASA had created numerous proposals for it since the 1950’s. Even the former Soviet Union was planning to use it as an answer to the Apollo moon missions. The quest to send a manned mission to Mars has been the subject of careful study and analysis by many scientists, researchers and engineers for decades. Unfortunately, none of these proposals were ever put into action because of numerous political and financial factors, and also perhaps because we are just not ready for it.
Jumping into the 21st century, we are still at it. And with our advanced technologies, we now have the capability to plan out and envision actual missions sending people to Mars. Leading this 21st century space race, are the United States, the European Union, and Russia—each with individual plans and agenda for a manned space mission to the “Red Planet.”
One of the most comprehensive proposals of the United States for a manned mission to Mars is the “Mars Direct” proposal by NASA engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker. The proposal involves initially sending an Earth Return Vehicle that would collect all of the basic necessities available on Mars for the astronauts’ arrival and eventual return. After confirming the production of the basic chemicals needed by the Earth Return Vehicle, the manned Mars Habitat Unit would then be launched. After spending 18 months on the red planet, the astronauts would then return using the Earth Return Vehicle. This proposal is based on eliminating the burden of carrying all the fuel needed to go and come back, and is also centered on the absolute safe return of all the participants of the mission.
Several other proposals have been made that modifies one or two elements of the original “Mars Direct” proposal. “Mars for Less”, an alternative proposal by Grant Bonin, suggests the reduction of project costs using medium-lift boosters instead of developing a new type of rocket. Another alternate proposal, “Mars to Stay” by Dean Unick, suggests a permanent settlement to be made instead.
Other competitors in the 21st century space race have different plans in preparation for a manned Mars mission. Russian and European space agencies are now working together to develop the Mars-500, a facility that is designed to simulate a manned Mars mission. Inside the mockup spacecraft, astronauts will train to get used to a long duration spaceflight. Communication to the outside world will be limited, and all available communication links would simulate the 20-minute delay that they would experience on the actual mission. The Mars-500 facility is currently at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, Russia and is scheduled to be operational by the year 2011.
Despite the hype to conquer the red planet and beyond, there are still many concerns and criticisms regarding the actual benefits of a manned Mars mission. Some people say that our current space launch technologies should be improved first. Others point out that instead of spending billions on such space missions, the money is better spent on more important matters here on Earth. Still others raise concerns that a manned mission to Mars is not really that necessary. Nevertheless, scientists and engineers still plan to continue their research on future manned missions to Mars; to prepare man’s next big leap into outer space.