Human exploration of Phobos and Deimos?

By Phil Plait | July 15, 2007 8:01 pm

How kewl is this? The Lunar and Planetary Institute and several other sponsors are holding a conference on The Exploration of Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars.


Well, sure, that’s cool. But what makes this kewl is the subtitle: "The Science, Robotic Reconnaissance, & the Human Exploration of the Two Moons of Mars".

Yeah, you read that right: Human Exploration.

Kewl.

It makes sense. We’re building bigger rockets to go to the Moon and Mars. When you get to Mars, you have to go into orbit anyway. If the orbit is the same height above the surface as one of the two moons, then by the laws of physics you’re moving at the same speed as the moon around Mars anyway. Rendezvous is easy. But it’s also easier going to the surface of the moon from there than it is to get down to the surface of Mars! To touch down on the red planet, you need retrorockets, parachutes, maybe an airbag or two, because Mars has serious gravity and an atmosphere.

But the moons are airless, and have very little gravity. A small retrorocket is all you need to get down. It’s thought (and it’s really pretty certain) that Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids, so this is an excellent chance to see an asteroid up close. We can get to near-Earth asteroids more easily, but if we’re exploring Mars anyway, this is almost a freebie.

There was a show on the Discovery Channel a few years ago about the moons in the solar system, and my old friend Dan Durda was being interviewed. They showed him mimicking what it would be like to be on the surface of Phobos. He said you could pick up a rock and throw it into orbit around the little moon. He’s right, and maybe, just maybe, by 2030 or so we’ll see that actually happening.

I’m of two minds about sending humans to Mars (the moon is closer, easier, and I think has more to offer in the immediate future), but I will not and cannot deny the kewl factor.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (53)

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  1. I think hitting Near Earth Asteroids is, in the long run, cheaper. Better yet- it gives us a warm-up for getting to Mars. Or maybe I’ve read _A Pale Blue Dot_ too recently. But the argument makes sense.

  2. High cool factor + in the neighborhood anyway = WINNER!!!!

    The thought ‘Don’t use the teleporters’ *did* cross my mind, but I’ve been playing way too much Doom again. ;)

  3. Ken G

    There’s no harm in thinking about it, but human exploration of Mars or its moons by 2020? That’s insanely optimistic. I plan to live to 2050, and I am virtually certain I’ll never see a human anywhere near Mars. There are quite a few extremenly insurmountable problems. We’re still shooting about 50/50 on much lighter unmanned missions to Mars, and they don’t even have to come back! We have to get up to at least 95% out, and 90% back, to even consider sending humans. We’re nowhere close. I think the length of time problem is the real killer, and until we’ve licked that, it’s science fiction not science. Let’s stick to robotic missions and stop kidding ourselves.

  4. Oh nuts. I meant to type “2030”. I’ll fix that…

  5. Not to mention that going to the moon in the short term is more important since we haven’t been there yet either!

    ***DUCKS ROTTEN TOMATOES CHUCKED ANGRILY AT ME***

    Just kidding! Just kidding!

  6. tacitus

    (IIRC) This post reminds me of a classic bit of Bad Astronomy. I seem to recall a scene from the pilot of “Space: Above and Beyond” set on the surface of Mars with the twin moons, Phobos and Deimos, looming impossibly large above the horizon.

    Then there was the impossibly cluttered Asteroid Belt around Vesta…

    It was the only episode I bothered to watch.

  7. Sam

    Wow! So could you jump yourself into orbit? Maybe if you got a running start?! That would up the kewlness even more.

  8. ABR

    Was the Space: Above and Beyond episode entitled “Maroons of Vesta” by any chance? Sorry for the mixed metaphor.

  9. Bigfoot

    Okay, let me preface my comment with a big thank you for all of the wonderful content this site shares with us. I am a big fan of BA and all in-kind efforts in the world that attempt to clear the fog of pseudoscience and superstition that still runs so disappointingly rampant in the 21st century.

    But, I am in disagreement about this subject. The mere thought of needlessly endangering the lives of some brave souls, and wasting our space science agency budget on giving them a fair shot at staying alive on such a prolonged, dangerous, and scientifically unnecessary mission, IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE, strikes me as just another flavor of pseudo-science.

    First, is there anyone here who objectively doubts that robotic exploration missions could accomplish far more, without endangering human lives? And at orders of magnitude less cost? (Which, by the way, would likely free enormous amounts of funding for, among other things, more scientific exploration!)

    I understand the drive we all have to expand the envelope of human acheivement, but we must do this in a responsible way. It must not be cloaked as first and foremost a “science” mission, but should be considered primarily a technology and engineering mission (as virtually all manned spaceflight has always been). And we owe it to the astronauts, their families, and to the world NOT to attempt this until our technology and engineering abilities, within the financial means available for such a mission, can virtually eliminate any foreseeable scenario of fatal mission failures.

    I look forward to the day when this is possible at a financial cost that is not irresponsible. And but we must understand that we undertake such missions almost entirely at the EXPENSE of (via budgetary competition), not to the benefit of, science.

    I will fervently hope for and cheer any success on a mission like this, no matter when it happens. But I do hope it does not happen until we are ready, and we are nowhere near ready to do this safely and with fiscal responsibility for at least the next several decades.
    BTW, I think we went to the moon too soon and for all the wrong reasons! I cheered them up and down the whole way, and I am proud of what was accomplished to this day. I am also eternally thankful that we did not strand any astronaut on or around the moon, or cast them off accidentally in space. But we came awfully close, and we owe far too much of our success to luck. 3 people gave their lives for our haste, and we are now up to 17 souls who have tragically given their lives in preventable accidents nearer Earth that were caused by our political and financial decisions taking priority over our technological and engineering abilitiies. This is never a good thing, especially when lives are involved!

    Perhaps I am expecting too much, and of course space travel cannot be guaranteed to be casualty-free. But I do think it should be free of casualties caused by poor political and financial decisions.

    -Foot

  10. autumn

    Earth won’t last forever (in fact, given current useage, it will be uninhabitable in a couple hundered years), and this forces us to face travel to other worlds head-on. It is difficult, people will die attempting it. No single mission will seem to be worth this sacrifice, but without those future, hypothetical sacrifices mankind will simply cease to be.
    I am not a big fan of humanity, and I do not think that our little species is special in any meaningful way but one: We are aware. We have the opportunity to be a repository of knowledge, even if it is only what we have discovered here, and in the immediate environs. If (a big if) any other sentient beings can possibly recieve our knowledge, it is our duty to preserve it, and the best way of preserveing it is to retain it. I may have gone way off-topic, but my point remains, we must seek the farthest shore, and as a species, we must do what we can to retain the last little bit of biodiversity we can, and in the long run…that’s us.

  11. Quiet Desperation

    Not going to happen. The way I see it, things are only going to get worse here on Earth, and I’m not even talking about the usual “hippie talking points” sorts of stuff (GW, peak oil, pollution, blah blah blah).

    It’s pure, simple degradation of the human condition and mentality. It’s some sort of growing memetic psychosis or something. I can feel it whenever I watch the news or bother to pay attention to current events. It’s like a tire on your car going out of balance, or those first light thumps of your clothes washer going into spin with an unbalanced load. That first gentle pulse of an earthquake that gets you alert. You savvy? Hard to put my finger on it.

    >>> I am not a big fan of humanity, and I do not
    >>>think that our little species is special in any
    >>> meaningful way but one: We are aware.

    You see, I actually think that makes us super duper extremely mega-special, so I’m even more of a disparing misanthrope because of how humanity fritters all that potential away on a daily basis.

    >>> in fact, given current useage, it will be
    >>> uninhabitable in a couple hundered years

    Not that I don’t think we have lots of problems, but statements like this seem to ignore the potential technological progress of those couple hundred years. That’s enough time to develop the nanoforge and bring about paradise.

    Wow. Where’d that out of character optimism come from?

  12. Crux Australis

    While I agree with Bigfoot in principle, do you remember when the Pathfinder etc probes landed on Mars? They travelled, like, 50 m a day and it was celebrated as a big-ass achievement. Big deal. Send a human and you get the job done faster, plus a human can make on-the-spot decisions and take in-situ observations without that pesky 40 minute delay.

  13. SCR /StevoR

    Bigfoot asked :

    “First, is there anyone here who objectively doubts that robotic exploration missions could accomplish far more, without endangering human lives? And at orders of magnitude less cost?”

    Well, yes, bigfoot. Me for one.

    Having a rover, however good is not the same as having a human geologist able to react a human scientific manner on the spot.

    Having an astronomer that can give the machine a thump on the side toget it going or brush off tehsolar panels or use the inginuity to create / discover, think and search in ways robots -however good cannot yet do.

    Magnitude less cost – well I presume here you arejust referring to money? There are other less tangible, perhaps more important aspects too.

    Without endangering huamn lives -well when arehuman lives NOT endangered?

    You can be teleoperating a rover from Earth and get run over by a truck crossing the road. In many respects – not least the threat posed by other humans – people may actually be far _safer_ on Mars than our globe.

    Will Human Exploration of Mars (HEM) cost money that could be spent on Earth saving tehpoor, etc .. Sure -but would thatmoney have reallybeen spent on that or thowrn away on other ebveven less constructive stuff like funding tennis tournamenst or golfing comps or politicians salaires or developing computer games or buying more military hardware or invading other nations pointless sly or ..etc ..etc ..ad nauseam.

    HEM is worthwhile. Its as worthwhile as Shakespeare’s plays, as scientific as theexpeditions of Douglas Mawson, Hubert Wilkins and Edmund Hillary.

    In my view we should stop the debate and start working on how to get there.

    Every year since the 1960’s it seems they keep saying “HEM is twenty years away ..” Well, stuff that, lets get another JFK type US President who inspires and leads as opposed to divides and destroys. Let’s have her – or maybe him – say to us we’re going by 2020 for example – preferably even less time – and lets get on with going there!

  14. SCR

    Given these choices what is better done and supported – for huamn lives and vast sums of money :

    1) Continuing an occupation in a nation undergoing civil war where defeat hasalready occurred but has yet to be acknowledged honestly?

    2) Providing massive funding & militaryand political aid to a nation that probably should never have been created, that brutally occupies another people’s land and is proabably destined for eventual annhiliation in a nuclear holocaust possibly taking much of the oil rich region with it having completely alienated all its neighbours who hate it for existing and you for supporting them and allowing them to attack everybody else inthe region? (Yes folks that means Israel!)

    or

    3) Human Exploration of Mars and the space program generally …

    No contest really isn’t it?

    Lets do it now – redirect all funds earmarked for Israel, Iraq and that planned war we’re soon probably going to have with Iran (a nation incidentally that hasn’t attacked anyone for thousands of years and surely has more to fear from Israel than vice-versa, rhetoric aside)
    and put them into something far better for a change!

    Just imagine aUS President saying :

    Sorry we can’t afford another Veitnam or Iraq or Bay of Pigs or supporting Isreal or other dictators – that money goes to space for science, acheivement and exploration instead .. Ah if only!

  15. StevoR

    Incidentally, back on topic, the Martian moons are in very circular and comparatively normal orbits for captured asteroids aren’t they?

    While asteroid-like in appearance I’m of the opinion that they may well have formed in situ around Mars rather than being captured as tehBA states ..

    PS. Regarding my above post – I love Amercia, I love its people, I just hate some of its foreign policies. Y’know the really destructive ones that destroy whole countries over having 2 skyscrapers destroyed by a small group of pathetic evil fruitcakes.

    I honestly think and am expressing mydemocratic right to say it that Islamic fundamentalism is highly overexxageratedand fasr less a serious threat to us than has been argued, shreiked and used asan excuse for causing us all sorts of real harm. OBL is almost certainly already dead and if not he soon will be. Al Qaida is NOT a nation, not a serious power just a bunch of criminal pyschoes and their capability and capacity is minimal.

  16. bassmanpete

    Not that I don’t think we have lots of problems, but statements like this seem to ignore the potential technological progress of those couple hundred years. That’s enough time to develop the nanoforge and bring about paradise.

    I’m sure technology will bring wonderful advances but it won’t stop fish stocks being plundered to point of extinction; kittens being dunked alive in boiling water so their skins can be removed more easily; dogs being beaten with sticks while alive to tenderise their meat; old growth forests being felled for wood chips so that all these wonderful humans can read who’s having it off with whom in the “celebrity” world or just so they can wipe their a**e.

    As you may have guessed, I don’t think much of the vast majority of humanity either. Present company excepted, of course :)

    The mere thought of needlessly endangering the lives of some brave souls, and wasting our space science agency budget on giving them a fair shot at staying alive on such a prolonged, dangerous, and scientifically unnecessary mission, IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE, strikes me as just another flavor of pseudo-science.

    But there are people prepared to risk their lives to do this who don’t consider it needless. And for all the talk of the lack of science in a manned mission, a properly trained human could do in a day what the Mars Rovers took months to do.

  17. Speaker of the Dead

    OOOooooh yeah. I was right there with you, excited about the whole thing until you said 2030. Who cares? That’s so far away that I’ll either be dead or too old to notice. Certainly too old to have a chance to ever experience it. Why wait so long? What’s going to happen between now and 30 years from now that we have to wait for? Start sending people into space, NOW. Whatever happened to that pioneer spirit? How else are we going to learn unless we DO something? NASA sucks.

  18. MattFunke

    Bigfoot: is there anyone here who objectively doubts that robotic exploration missions could accomplish far more, without endangering human lives?

    Yes. Compare the Ranger and Surveyor missions to Apollo. Consider which returned more information per dollar spent. (There’s more to exploring and returning useful information than taking pictures and sniffing the wind with automated instruments. That is useful as a first step, but if you want to explore something in depth, humans are irreplaceable.)

    Besides, since when does the potential for loss of human life count as a reason not to undertake something of tremendous magnitude? We go in as carefully and intelligently as possible — there’s no cause for the needless loss of human life — but people die all the time for the stupidest of reasons. Since death seems to be inevitable anyway, why not die doing something to promote the learning of all humanity? Is that really better than dying in a hospital bed?

    You almost make it sound like the idea that they may die in the exploration of space is, in itself, an abhorrent way to die.

    Bigfoot: It must not be cloaked as first and foremost a “science” mission, but should be considered primarily a technology and engineering mission (as virtually all manned spaceflight has always been).

    And what is science without experimentation? Is it better to go back to Aristotelean scientific methods, where we think we can understand the Universe through contemplation and without all that messy personal investigation?

    Bigfoot: And we owe it to the astronauts, their families, and to the world NOT to attempt this until our technology and engineering abilities, within the financial means available for such a mission, can virtually eliminate any foreseeable scenario of fatal mission failures.

    Why do we “owe” anyone a placid existence — especially if they’re willing to undertake a risk with full awareness? How safe is “safe enough” for you? Why should everyone use your metric?

    Bigfoot: I do think it should be free of casualties caused by poor political and financial decisions.

    IMHO, that’s never going to happen. Cars are currently cheap (compared to spacecraft), and the technology is fairly mature. Nevertheless, even though steps are made to keep things reasonably safe, lives are lost due to poor political and financial decisions with respect to automobiles.

    Poor decision making seems to be a human thing, not a space thing.

  19. Paul S.

    I have to agree with MattFunke re: robotic and human exploration. Robotic exploration is great – without it we would only know a tiny fraction of what we currently do about the solar system. Still, there are practical advantages to having actual people. The Apollo missions returned far more material from beyond earth than all of the robotic missions put together. They also showed that with the right equipment people could cover more ground in a few days than the best robotic probes could over months or years.

    Robotic probes do get a lot more capable with each generation, but I think they still have many generations to go before they can match human explorers in many areas. So, manned exploration does make sense from a scientific point of view – it might be more expensive and dangerous, but people plus robotic equipment are still a lot faster and more flexible at exploring than robotic equipment alone, and this is likely to be the case at least in the near future.

  20. OneHotJupiter

    In the 60’s NASA and the Apollo program had to endure the same pessimisim a lot of you so called ‘scientists’ throw around so carelessly , It’s hardly surprising that most of you ONLY can speak of what we as a nation CAN’T do , without regard of what is technically possible , some of you robot wielders think that somehow despite all evidence to the contrary that people are incapable of doing the things we as a species are notorious for doing . . . . succeeding in our endeavors , We shall go to Mars AND it’s moons , no thanks to the cowards that were too afraid to try!

  21. Tom

    Before arguing crewed vs. uncrewed mission, you have to set your goals. If your goal is a basic reconnaissance of the solar system: mapping planetary bodies, returning small samples, basic chemical composition studies in-situ, and perhaps awesome scientific papers, then ever-increasingly capable robots are your answer. If your goals are in-depth scientific study, resource exploitation, and eventual colonization, then humans are required.

    Agreeing on the goals is hard enough. Arguing means of achieving goals that aren’t defined gets silly.

    BA: with Mars surface rendezvous mission architectures, orbiting Mars is not a necessary step. The payoff for staying in Mars’ orbit for the mission is that you don’t need to climb back out of the gravity well from the surface to orbit for a return to Earth. That advantage is tempered a bit by the lack of easily-accessible raw materials for making propellants for the return journey. It’s a very interesting trade study for the mission planners.

    Also, to anyone saying there’s too much risk: I’d appreciate it if people didn’t fight to keep ME from doing something that THEY think is too risky. The use of public funds for a mission to Mars’ moons or the surface skews the debate, but about 10% of the people who try to climb Mt. Everest die each year. I feel secure in the statement that a crew that goes to Mars’ proximity would face similar risk for a much greater reward.

  22. Nolwe

    Was that episode the one hosted by John Lithgow? At least, it sounded like John Lithgow. I’m fairly certain I saw it.

  23. Mark Martin

    Sam Says:

    “Wow! So could you jump yourself into orbit? Maybe if you got a running start?!”

    A healthy set of human legs could generate enough power in principle. However, with the low gravity the coefficient of friction between one’s boots & the soil might be too small to actually get up that much speed by running. You’d probably end up showing off prematurely and just making meta-Olympic-class broad jumps the whole way around the asteroid. Shoving off vertically is technically going into orbit, but of course you’d just come back down and land on the soil (assuming you hadn’t shoved off TOO hard, in which case you wouldn’t come back down). Any liftoff not parallel to the surface will ultimately intersect the asteroid, a crash.

    The most effective thing would be to shove horizontally off some vertical surface, such as the fuselage of a tall rocketship. You’d then be in an elliptical orbit which would not intersect the asteroid’s surface. It would eventually intersect the structure off which you shoved, which would need to be gone by the time your path crossed that point again. If the asteroid is rotating, and your orbital plane is highly inclined to the “equator”, then you have more than one revolution before smacking into the rocket’s hull. The best thing is to shove off the side of a rocket scheduled to blast off real soon. That would be the one owned & operated by the the Rolling Stones. They’re always on the move.

  24. Greg

    Regarding going to the Moon vs going to Mars, have you checked out Robert Zubrin’s “The Case for Mars” (ISBN 0684835509)?

    It is a great read and he provides a very compelling case, mission profiles and vehicle design considerations, along with some good reasons why we should bypass the Moon and head for Mars instead.

    To cut to the chase, he argues that the Moon is so much less interesting than Mars from an exploration/scientific/geological/finding evidence of life/etc perspective and that Mars, unlike the Moon has all the raw materials needed for astronauts to “live off the land” while there (including being able to make their own fuel for the return journey and air and water while in-situ). Any permanent presence on the Moon will require very heavy and expensive lifting to constantly resupply the base with air, water and fuel.

    Anyway, he provides a very compelling case and backs it up by describing in practical terms how NASA could undertake such a mission with minimal new tech development and for a lot less $$ than previously costed proposals.

    Check it out if you are interested…

  25. Mark Martin

    tacitus Said:

    “Then there was the impossibly cluttered Asteroid Belt around Vesta…”

    Another thing which bugged me about that asteroid scene is that they had rotations of various rates & directions. Every now & then some isolated tumbling asteroid’s axis would just spontaneously change direction. Apparently the conservation of angular momentum is a poorly enforced law in that neighborhood.

    These goofy shenanigans can be enjoyed once again here: http://tv-links.co.uk/

  26. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> I’m sure technology will bring wonderful advances but it
    >>> won’t stop fish stocks being plundered to point of extinction;

    Says who?

    >>> kittens being dunked alive in boiling water so their skins can be
    >>> removed more easily; dogs being beaten with sticks while alive
    >>> to tenderise their meat;

    That’s assuming tech and food production don;t trickle to the third world, but they do. Eventually. Also, as cruel as those things are, they don’t make the planet uninhabitable.

    There’s also simple *current* solutions to many of these problems if you think even a little outside the box. Famine in Africa? Solution: elephant farms. They’re good eating, and once they become a commodity herd animal, they fall off the endangered list so fast you’ll miss it if you blink, so two birds with one stone there.

    >>> old growth forests being felled for wood chips so
    >>> that all these wonderful humans can read who’s having it
    >>> off with whom in the “celebrity” world

    Or read great classics. Or a science book. You can plant more trees, and young, growing trees consume more CO2.

    >>> or just so they can wipe their a**e.

    I really don’t want to live in the world where they don’t, truth be told.

    >>> As you may have guessed, I don’t think much of the vast
    >>> majority of humanity either.

    It’s the only logical attitude.

    >>> Present company excepted, of course :)

    But of course.

  27. Ken G

    To Tom and the others who say loss of human life is inevitable and invalid reason to try to go to Mars, I would say that you are asking the wrong questions. I agree that humanity has accomplished many great things that cost lives along the way. I also realize that there would be no shortage of volunteers even if the chances of success were only 50/50. But to all that, I have just two words to offer: Space Shuttle. Does anyone here thing that incredibly costly and useless program was worth the money and lives it cost? A trip to Mars is Space Shuttle times a hundred. When you have an accident, you don’t just say “oh well, they knew the risks”, you ground your fleet for years and back up all the science that you could have done robotically. And to those who say humans are scientifically valuable, do you mean dollar for dollar? And how would you know– we’ve never spent that kind of money on robotic exploration! Let’s face it folks– human exploration is 99% “gee whiz”. To deny that is just lying to ourselves. I’m not knocking gee whiz– it got Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest. But let’s just be honest about it, when we are conducting our scientific meeetings on the subject.

  28. Tom

    Ken-

    Human spaceflight is and will remain ‘gee whiz’ until we reach the point of doing it for something more than curiosity, and the last two reasons I listed in my first comment: resource exploitation and colonization, fall into the ‘more than curiosity’ category. Debates on whether the shuttle is teaching us anything useful should be reserved for another thread. If a forcing function (economic need, pressing politcal agenda) existed, shuttle would have returned to flight much faster.

    On the shuttle x100 argument, I’d say:

    1. My gut tells me it’s less than 100, though I have nothing to back that up other than Heinlein’s quote “Once you’re in orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere”.
    2. Going to Mars is not ‘going to the moon’ x100, and we (well, a previous generation) did that in the 1960s
    3. Saying that you lament the uncrewed missions that could have flown with the money spent when a crewed spacecraft was grounded is taking the crewed vs. uncrewed mission debate (which I discussed in my earlier post) to another, less useful, level of abstraction.

  29. Will. M

    It may not be the U.S./NASA which first achieves a Mars landing with humans. Other countries which aren’t involved in ruinous, warmongering folly, squandering resources to the detriment of their citizen’s health care, science programs, schooling, etc., are around: Japan, China, the EC nations – even Russia. So, once again, our national hubris that only we can mount such a manned mission may put us out of the running. I firmly believe that cooperation with other nations is the only way to succeed at such a mission. And I realize that I’ll be long dead before I read any headlines about a human landing on Mars. But that wouldn’t stop me from supporting such a mission, whether or not it was with the cooperation of several other countries’ efforts. And, as a people, we will go to Mars and beyond; it is in our genetic makeup to explore our environment – all of the environment.

  30. Ken G

    I suspect we will one day make a round trip to Mars, but only after solving far more pressing issues at home. It is quite unlikely that humanity will ever colonize Mars, for a billion years it will still be easier to solve our own problems here. And trying to go now will be a wasteful failure, pure and simple. And it *is* going to the Moon times 100– because you have to keep a crew alive in space for years to do it. Why are generally skeptical people so willing to accept fantasies when dealing as long as they are rooted in technology instead of magic?

  31. Tom

    For the same reason skeptical people become curmudgeonly when they perceive a loss of their science missions?

    Otherwise, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  32. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> I firmly believe that cooperation with other nations is the only
    >>> way to succeed at such a mission.

    You mean like the *International* Space Station?

    >>> warmongering folly, squandering resources to the detriment
    >>> of their citizen’s health care, science programs, schooling

    Not that I have any use for Bush and his war, but can you cite a reference that shows war funds were taken from Medicare or any other Federal health program?

    And schooling tends to be state funded, yes? Has there been a reduction in whatever federal funds are involved?

  33. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> It is quite unlikely that humanity will ever colonize Mars,
    >>> for a billion years it will still be easier to solve our own problems here.

    You’re kidding, right? I mean… you’re kidding?

    Most of the *human* problems we have today are the same ones we had when the first foundation stones were laid for Byblos in 5000 BCE. Without vast, planetary mind control devices along the lines of what Larry Niven’s Slavers had, you will never stop the rampaging tide of human idiocy, from the world’s alleged leaders down to the common prole. Endless jackassery.

  34. Ken G

    Quiet Desperation: I am not kidding. Although I admit it is hard to predict if humanity will even be around in a thousand years, let alone a billion, the basic truth will continue to hold that Earth will be a far better place for people than Mars. I am not disputing your point that we have a long way to go before we can claim to have “solved” much of anything, but that’s a separate matter. Why do people think we can solve the problems of colonizing another planet, but can’t quite figure out how to renewably use the resources we have here? Which is a more worthy challenge? The only reason we are even talking about Mars at all is that it is somewhere we haven’t been, somewhere otherwordlly. That’s all it is. Ask yourself this: why is there no society dedicated to establishing thriving human colonies throughout Anatarctica? Because it’s a lousy place to live. Mars? Please.

  35. Will. M

    Quiet_Desperation:
    Just google cost of the Iraq war. The loss of revenue at the federal level has repercussions throughout the national, state and local levels of governmentally funded programs. It is what CANNOT be purchased because of the cost of the war, not whether programs are cut TO fund the war. Those once-available before the war funds will be absent from ALL future budgets for the next decade, if not more. As for state-funded education: when property values or incomes decline (or whatever means a state uses to gather tax money for schools) or the economy gets costlier for the folks who pay for stuff, then schools suffer. Less income means less money. That coupled with the associated Bushco effects of NCLB on Federally funded school programs sure does wreak havoc with some State programs.
    And the ISS is up there, and it is working, and it is a boondoggle – but its a shared boondoggle.

  36. Irishscribe

    Although I am a huge supporter of a manned space program, and no one more than I would love to watch a human being set foot on Mars, I think perhaps that NASA–or anyone else, for that matter–is wrong to put even an aspirational date on a first Mars mission. The only way our technology will ever reach the level necessary where it would be feasable to send people to Mars with an acceptable chance of actually getting there safely–and then getting back in one piece–is through, for want of a better phrase, “practice in the field”. The first step in this is obviously the ISS, then the Moon. But there needs to be another stepping stone before we try for the Red Planet, and that is a program of missions to NEO’s.
    Think about it. They’re relatively easy to reach, and mission durations would be in the region of a year to fifteen months–though I would stand corrected there if anyone of more knowledge on such matters than I tells me otherwise. Such a program of missions would serve several purposes. Firstly they would teach us how to work and survive for long periods of time in the interplanetary enviornment, help us develop the technologies and techniques needed before we tackle such a huge project like exploreing another planet. These missions would of course also be of enormous scientific importance, but there is also one other area where they could be of even greater value.
    It’s one of the oldest cliches in SF…it might not happen for a thousand years, but it could happen tomorrow. One day, we ARE going to take a whack. If we don’t see it coming, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, but if we’re lucky enough to track a rock coming our way with enough lead time to maybe be able to do something about it, we’re going to need to know a lot more about these objects before a plan of action can be formulated. A series of missions to NEO’s would provide us with that knowledge.
    So I, in my humble opinion, think that’s where the manned space program should be heading. Otherwise I can see either of two things happening to a premature Man on Mars program. Having achieved its’ main goal of putting humans on Mars, it could suffer the same fate as Apollo–loss of public and political support. Or else there could be an accident involving the loss of human life, resulting in same said loss of support. I know the Challenger and Columbia disasters didn’t kill your space program, but I think the idea of people dying so far from home would have a very different effect on the human psyche. The shuttle astronauts died here on Earth, their remains were recovered and interned here, in the place where all of human life exists. If we lose people in interplanetary space, or even on Mars, they would be “lost forever”, but in a more profound way than any human beings before them. If such a disaster were to happen, I really think it could provoke a debate about the very morality of sendng human beings “out into the void”. Don’t think that couldn’t happen…never underestimate the power or numbers of the naysayers in our society.
    So, in conclusion. I say YES YES YES, lets go to Mars. But let’s do it properly, let’s do it with confidance, and let’s do it in such a way that, once a manned Mars program is started, it won’t stop in the way Lunar exploration ground to a halt after Apollo. And for all of that to happen, we need to learn a whole lot more about what we need to survive, to work effectively, to thrive, even, in an enviornment where human life as we have known it for all of our history and evolution is an impossible concept.

  37. Cheeky Kea

    A problem with Apollo was that we did not leave any stepping stones for us to reach the Moon again. Each effort to reach the Moon was as difficult as the previous one.

    This is why we need to learn from that mistake, and build a permanent infrastructure to allow us to return to Mars repeatedly. Otherwise we could expend a monumental effort to get to Mars, and then not return for decades.

    Stepping stones? Like a Low Earth Orbit space station, a mining station on the Moon. These items together make the eventual task of getting to Mars easier, and make returning easier for that eventual exploitation and colonisation.

  38. Ribozyme

    Has anyone read the Ilium-Olympos novels by Dan Simmons. I highly recommend them. They came to my mind because Phobos is used as a launching pad in the second novel.

  39. Quiet Desperation

    >>> Less income means less money.

    There’s a lot of ifs in there. I’ll stop there lest I go off on a libertarianish rant.

    >>> And the ISS is up there, and it is working,

    Well, on the good days when the computers are not trying to deorbit the thing. :)

    >>> and it is a boondoggle – but its a shared boondoggle.

    I wish we’d shared more of it. :-

  40. DenverAstro

    Anything we put into space has to be lifted out of Earth’s deep gravity well. It doesn’t matter what its destination is, the ISS, the Moon, or Mars. That first initial step is a doozy. Seems to me that this whole thing would be a whole lot easier if we had a better way to get stuff up there. Like maybe…
    A Space Elevator?

    Hey, don’t laugh. There are competitions going on right now, sponsored by NASA, to see if anyone can come up with the innovative technology to help make it happen. It’s kind of like the X-Prize challange. NOVA did a show on it not too long ago that I found fascinating. Of course the idea of riding a ribbon of some kind of carbon fiber that’s 22,000 miles long freaks me out a little, but once proven, the technology would make for a clean, safe, and very cheap way to lift all the supplies anyone could want to support the manned missions being discussed here.

  41. Bwian

    I would strongly recommend that commenters interested in the subject read “The Case for Mars”, where most of this is hashed over. Obviously the author came out in favor of Mars exploration :), although you might not be persuaded. I’m curious if the next Mars Society convention in Boulder can expect a visit from a now-local Bad Astronomer, too. I thought that was going to be in 2008, but I keep forgetting to check.

    Actual question on topic: I thought the Mars Direct plan called for using aerobraking to stop at Mars, in order to save on fuel. And then landing the entire mission on Mars, to remove orbital rendevouz requirements a long way from home. Would it really make sense to stabilize your orbit with aerobraking enough to check out Phobos or Deimos, with Mars sitting there beckoning below? Maybe after a few missions, but it seems like extra time spent on Mars would be more productive for quite a while.

  42. Paul S

    I was under the impression that with the technology that exists now, a Mars mission would not be more dangerous than Apollo was almost 40 years ago. Am I wrong about this?

  43. Well just for fun here I’m going to point out a few facts that might help frame this discussion into a more precise track.

    1. The cost of a payload landed on Mars from LEO is about one half the cost of the same payload landed on the Moon from LEO. With fuel from the Moon down to LEO, this mass advantage grows to a factor of 6! (see Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, vol 43, no 1, January-February 2006)

    2. Radiation loading on the Martian surface is significantly lower than on the Lunar surface, and the Martian atmosphere will substantially quench a solar proton flare that would kill you outright if you were on the Moon.

    3. Gaseous resources for crew support and return fuel require surface strip mining and high temperature baking on the Moon, but can be extracted directly from the Martian atmosphere. The full spectrum solar flux on the Martian surface is about 3/4 of our flux on Earth, this includes some energy rich UV which never makes it down to us here.

    4. If we could send “Commander Data” to Mars, then such a sentient robot could surely do the full exploration job. To date there is not even one serious research plan afoot to build such an artificial intelligence, there is not even a dismally rough estimate of such a project’s cost, and there is honest debate as to whether an artificial intelligence is even possible. A great deal of research suggests that a careful mix of humans and robots provides a very effective solution to typical surface exploration tasks.

    5. Standard costing models of the Mars Direct plan by independent teams put the price of a ten year HEM mission sequence at $25 to 50 billion dollars. On the scale of what we are willing to spend on adventures in the Iraqi desert, $500 billion or so, this is rather modest.

    In light of these facts and others, many are driven to the conclusion that HEM can be accomplished “safely, simply, and soon”. The relative science payoff at Mars greatly exceeds what more we can learn on the Moon, but the construction of dual use flight hardware can surely enable a healthy mix of both these enterprises anyway. The hazards of rocketry are about the same for both missions insofar as the greatest danger points are entering and leaving Earth. Martian EDL solutions can surely stand serious improvement but no radically new technologies are demanded. The technical solutions for essentially all of the elements of a Martian base are pretty well defined and we could profitably begin integrated testing any time.

  44. Ken G

    Many seem to be forgetting the difference in timeframe between going to the Moon and going to Mars. This is quite important not to forget! You can hardly send people before you’ve sent robots on the entire mission, there and back– at least into orbit and back. Each mission takes years, and you can’t send the next upgrade before the last one comes back, or until you’ve spent years studying why the last one didn’t come back. And even more, you have to find a way to keep people alive in space for the better part of two years. What’s the current record? And was it within the shield of the Earth’s magnetic field? Will that cosmonaut ever play sports again? I agree with pulsinpirate- it makes much more sense to concentrate on sending more and more sophisticated machines. It’s *much* cheaper, and if you fail, you shrug it off and try again. And have we even scratched the surface on the “virtual reality” capabilities of an instrument of that nature? I think an intelligent robot with vast capacity to “bring the experience home” would capture people’s imagination almost as much as actual humans, and actually have more to offer us back home. We just wouldn’t get that amazing sense of accomplishment, but that’s down the road.

  45. Cheeky Kea

    Space Elevator. Good idea, but currently outside our expertise. This does not mean that we should not study the idea. But should we stop space exploration in the hope that one is developed soon? My personal opinion is no. The need for cheaper launch systems does add to the infrastructure I mentioned above, and supports all sorts of missions. In the short term I suspect these will be rockets.

    “The cost of a payload landed on Mars from LEO is about one half the cost of the same payload landed on the Moon from LEO.”

    This seems counter intuitive to me… but then lots of things seem counter intuitive so lets accept this for the moment. 2 people can be sent to the Moon and back in quite cramped conditions. The payload to send people to Mars, and to keep them alive and healthy is considerably more.

    The dangers on the Moon from the sun can be mitigated. For instance hiding in a creator near the poles.

    At the end of a Mars mission what to we have. An abandoned science base and (admittedly) the memory of a grand adventure. Taking the stepping stone approach we have infrastructure in space for raw materials, and manufacturing, which frees us a little from earth’s gravity well, the ability to send large (safe) payloads to Mars, a grand adventure on the Moon with the possibility of one soon on Mars.

  46. “Each mission takes years, and you can’t send the next upgrade before the last one comes back, or until you’ve spent years studying why the last one didn’t come back. And even more, you have to find a way to keep people alive in space for the better part of two years.”

    On the Mars Direct plan, the full cycle time of a crew is about 972 days, with 455 days on the planet and transits of about 260 days. The provisioning for deep space segments is thus well shorter than “years”. Moreover the breathing gases, rocket fuel, and some food for the Mars-Earth return can be produced in situ from simple chemistry on the Martian atmosphere and a green house.

    “The cost of a payload landed on Mars from LEO is about one half the cost of the same payload landed on the Moon from LEO.
    This seems counter intuitive to me…”

    In long haul rocketry the cost of mission is mostly fuel mass in LEO. Because the landing on Mars benefits from aerobraking you need not pack nearly as much fuel for retro thrusters as you do for a Lunar mission. That is the factor two in mission mass for an equal payload. Aerobraking on the Moon is not a good idea.

    The point here is that while HEM demands longer dwell times and larger masses, the cost per kg of payload is significantly in favor of Mars. The relative safety of the missions favors Mars. The relative science payoff favors Mars. Once adequate component reliability is available for Mars — and this is not so hard — any sensible risk/reward calculus will heavily favor Mars as the target with “more bang for the buck”.

    “At the end of a Mars mission what [d]o we have. An abandoned science base and (admittedly) the memory of a grand adventure.”

    No, far more. At the end of a first decade of a Mars Direct class HEM what we will likely have is a clear basis for a permanent settlement, some valuable lessons on issues about extraterrestrial life, and an infrastructure in place to explore and monitor NEO candidates among the asteroids. That’s when we visit the little Martian moons as a warm up.

  47. Hank Roberts

    I’m sorry but the most important thing we could be doing (besides of course dealing with any impactor coming our way) is setting up for catch-and-release fishing for near earth passing objects.

    Who wants to set up a company dedicated to sending out a package that will intercept the path of any large hunk of anything coming our way, land on it (heck, spear it, grab it with a net of bungees, whatever) and survive with a solar panel, a transponder, and perhaps a deployable solar sail or ion engine?

    At worst we’ll know precisely where they go. At best we’ll be able to either steer them back into a useful position where they can be recaptured or at least send a precisely targeted and better set of equipment to attach to them for their next run.

    I’d invest — all the money I intend to benefit my nephews and niece’s grandchildren. It’s an obvious move. Why aren’t we doing this?

  48. Ken G

    pulsinpirate: Like I said, we need to learn how to survive years in space, and we have no clue how to do that. You don’t actually expect me to believe that the time on Mars “doesn’t count” because “chemistry can make air” there? Chemistry can make air at the top of Mount Everest too, but I don’t see anyone signing up to spend two years there just because no one else has yet.

  49. Nigel Depledge

    Ah, yes, I can see the recruitment posters:

    Manned Space Flight To Visit Fear and Panic!

  50. coolstar

    Pulsinpirate has got it exactly right. The Moon is a stepping stone to nowhere! The science doesn’t compare to a manned Mars mission etc and there’s no chance for sustainable colonies (without also exploiting the resources of NEAs, so why no do THAT first?) In fact, going to the Moon first (and again) will likely end the U.S.’s manned presence in space for the foreseeable future. WHY? IT’s DANGEROUS!! almost as dangerous as a Martian mission for little payoff. We’ll likely LOSE PEOPLE which will be a public relations nightmare and kill the rest of any manned program to the moon. Will we lose people going to Mars? Probably, in time, certainly, but the payoff may out weigh the public outcry while loses in going back to the moon will be impossible to justify.

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