The Symphonic Case for Mars

By Phil Plait | June 9, 2010 7:00 am

The Symphony of Science strikes again! This time, it’s The Case for Mars:

These songs are very catchy and ethereal. And what fun to see my friends Brian Cox and Penelope Boston in this one! Penny is made of win. She rocks.

Having said that, I have some comments. In general I agree with the general thrust of these videos, making science cool and interesting and even — dare I say it? — fun. But this is the first one where I’m not sure I agree with the premise.

I don’t think Mars is the next logical step in manned space exploration. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it! What I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re quite ready to make that huge a leap yet without taking a few smaller steps first. It’s hard enough getting to the Moon; Mars offers problems that are far more difficult. The length of the trip is one major issue. We simply don’t have the technology right now to keep astronauts alive that long. Well, to be more clear, we have the tech, but it’s still in its infancy. We need to test it a lot more thoroughly first.

Radiation is another issue. It’s a six month trip, and the crew needs protection. There are some clever ideas about this (I like encasing the ship in water ice; it acts as a shield you can drink!) but we’re still a ways away from working it out.

I suspect the best way to do this is in multiple stages, with considerable overlap in time between the stages:

1) Develop a big booster that can lift enough tonnage to orbit. Constellation was the program working on this, but it may be canceled. The Europeans and Russians have heavy lift capability, and we should definitely partner with other countries. But a lesson learned from building the space station is that we’ll need backups and such to make sure this works. An American heavy lift rocket is crucial.

2) Go back to the Moon. What we’ll learn from that will be vital for going to Mars.

3) Visit some near-Earth asteroids. Again, this will help with tech and experience in going to Mars, and has the added benefit of being awesome science, and learning about potentially life-threatening objects. I’m all about literally saving the planet. This should be done in tandem with going to the Moon.

4) Once we learn how to stay in space for months at a time, and have reliable methods and engineering for it, we can start building manned Mars probes. A lot of the work will come out naturally as we go to the Moon and asteroids, so that can be incorporated into the Mars shots.

This won’t happen overnight. It’ll take a while, but that’s the way things are. Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society and featured in the Symphony of Science video, says we can do this much more quickly. He’s right, but he’s wrong. He’s right that we can do it, in that it’s technically possible. But it’s not politically possible. It just isn’t. I’ve read Zubrin’s books, and he’s a smart guy. When he writes about engineering it’s solid stuff, but I find his politics to be naive. There is simply no way the government will spend billions to change the entire space program and develop his plan. At the very least, it assumes that the President, Congress, and NASA will all align themselves in the same direction — and we’ve seen how that has gone recently — that this direction is the one Zubrin wants, and, most critically, it stays pointed in that direction for the several decades it will take to make this work.

That’s why I think trying to go to Mars next is the wrong way to go about this. I’m willing to entertain arguments against me, of course. I certainly want to see humans exploring Mars, but not necessarily as the very next thing we do in space. But what I want most fundamentally here is a permanent and expanding human influence in space. Given the technological barriers, the political barriers, and the financial barriers (which are not independent and are in fact highly non-linear) I suspect the best way to do this is to keep in mind the long range goals, plan for them, but start with an achievable set of goals, one that maximizes their probability of getting done before the political winds blow in a different direction once again.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Science, Space

Comments (43)

  1. Blaze Morgan

    I agree 100%. I’ve debated this stance at a few of the local space society meetings, but it seems a minority dream. These people, even relatively level-headed science loving folk, get impatient waiting two years for the sequel to their favourite summer blockbuster movie. Decades to see landings on Mars is unthinkable.

    As one of my friends who favours “Moon first” strategy says, “The problem is this: Mars is in colour. The Moon is black & white”

  2. Robert Carnegie

    Other than roleplaying our favourite science fiction, why do we WANT to send human beings to Mars? We have human influence on Mars now. Little robots. Human influence by remote control.

    Politically I suppose that you want to be the one nation (not mine) that can put people on Mars. But didn’t you kill, and nearly kill, enough astronauts getting to the Moon, to see that this isn’t necessarily good PR? Apollo 11’s lander nearly wiped out…

    Also: WE ARE NOT GOING TO THE STARS. EVER.

    And the planets are, frontierwise, lousy.

  3. drow

    we can and will go to the stars. its just a few theories of physics which constrain us. no big deal. the bigger challenge will be political. so its a good thing that the nation-state structure is waning. maybe in another generation or two, we won’t need it anymore at all, and can get on with the corporatization of humanity. weyland-yutani for the win!

  4. @1 The simple answer is: because it’s there. The expanded answer is science, exploration, colonization. I guess it’s that most humans wish to simply live out their lives. A very few don’t settle for that and push the limits. The limits now are vast and difficult to push. So long as humans live, you will have people that want to do this. Despite the loss of life in our space program there is no shortage whatsoever of people wanting to go into space.

    The Universe is different place to us compared to even 50 years ago. I mean, in that we have seen more and understand more about how it works. There is so much much more to understand. Yes, we have placed probes and rovers on or around Mars. It’s not enough to just look at it though. We want to touch it and feel it. That’s what makes us human.

    Yes, if we do NOT destroy ourselves AND if we avoid *Death from the Skies!* :-o then one day, we can and will “venture to the stars”.

    NOTE: I meant avoiding death from the skies in a literal sense, not a literary sense :)

  5. Jon

    The only thing that will prevent humanity from visiting the stars would be our extinction. Everything else just takes time.

  6. John Silver

    What powerful Russian and European boosters? The Boeing Delta 4 heavy booster has a low earth orbit capacity equal or better than the Russian Proton or the French Arian 5: 50,ooo lbs. We certainly need a bigger one. The Augustine Committe called for creating one with a minimum Leo payload of 60 tons. Incidentally the Obama administration’s NASA plan actually gets us a heavy booster sooner than Constellation did. What’s interesting is how on-orbit refueling allows a heavy booster to put about three times as much payload into an escape trajectory.

    Second point: Isuggest listening to the breakout sessions which NASA held in conjunction with Obama’s address at Cape Canaveral. If we really intend to explore the solar system, a lot of basic engineering needs to be done.

  7. Peter Davey

    As the late Robert A Heinlein famously said: “The Earth is simply too small and fragile a basket for the human race to continue to keep all of its eggs in”.

    A couple of years ago, as you may have seen, the BBC ran a series on the various catastrophes that had helped shape life on this planet.

    One of them was “Snowball Earth” – the globe covered with thick sheets of ice, with a few patches of life hanging desperately on, waiting for warmer days.

    An Americans scientist, interviewed for the programme, suggested that the human race could as soon lived on the surface of Mars, as on the Earth as it was then.

    Should history repeat itself, we might well now have that second option – and possibly other, better, ones.

  8. Phil,
    You are of course realistic. But if you don’t have someone who is idealistic pushing hard, the realistic goals get moved farther and farther back.
    If experts of the world are saying 50 years, the politicians feel perfectly good with discussing 75. But if there is a push to 10, we can keep the politicians in 20 to 50 year range.
    Its pathetic, ridiculous and true.
    _________________
    I was musing about how for hundreds of years exploration was mostly done by one or two men, who raised some money, got the equipment and men and took off at their peril. Now it takes the concerted efforts of not just one nation, but many nations. It was easier when it just took one very determined and idealistic individual.

  9. @Lord_Kayne

    I understand the passion of wanting to set foot on Mars in our lifetime.. but I also think the moon is the next logocal step. We need to return there and establish a permanent base.

    We could even assemble the needed materials there to make it a waystation for interplanetary exploration.

    Also.. chew on this.. what if we were to build an observatory on the moon.. like the hubble but 1000 times the size with a permanent albeit rotating staff.. imagine the views of the universe we could capture with a telescope bigger than anything we could build on Earth thanks to the reduced gravity and no atmospheric or light pollution?

    Mars will come in time.. baby steps.. the universe is in it’s infancy.. plenty of time for the species to propogate outwards.

  10. TWKArtist

    I’m with Dr. Krauss (Arizona State U., I think) who says that it’s real easy to cut the cost of a Mars mission drastically — don’t bring the astronauts back. If you don’t have to worry about a return trip, it becomes relatively cheap, he says. And that doesn’t mean abandoning people on Mars — it just means manning up, going with the purpose of staying, taking what you need to make the colony self-sufficient and then sending more — and then more — and then more people. Pretty soon you have cities on Mars. Don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime (I’m 54) but if it doesn’t happen for our children then it just means we’re being lazy..!

  11. @ TWKArtist – I agree. Particularly if we send up a large enough group and include sufficient numbers of both sexes. The team must be able to reproduce. And of course be of sufficient diverse expertise.

    @ Lord Kayne The idea of a telescope and science base on the moon is awesome as well. Frankly I also think we need to build some really serious space stations. Ones that can hold a community of scientists.

    I think in 300 years we could have an entire space culture. People who just live in space their whole lives. Recognizing we have LOTS of hurdles to overcome, I think they can be overcome. But probably not until someone can make some money going into space.

    We are such a greedy race, that our biggest motivation will always be money.

  12. Sarah

    These are getting steadily more musical. This one sings a much better melody. Perhaps the author(s) should redo the earlier ones.

    And, yes, I think we all agree going to Mars is a good thing. Nowhere in the musical does Zubrin say we shouldn’t go elsewhere or not take first steps elsewhere… he’s just impatient! 10 years, not 50!

  13. 'neathCobaltSkies

    In his speech at Cape Canaveral, Obama said this:

    “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”

    The capability to have humans live permanently in space in a way that is self -sustained is what I’ve come to believe is the most noble goal of human space flight. If we can do this, we can go anywhere.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    That isn’t a strategy that lays a case for Mars, it is a mere program that assumes it “is the next logical step”.

    A strategy needs to be clear on the goals (cases), so it can formulate the steps (tactics).

    A space strategy could have the following inclusive starting frame:
    – to research
    – to explore
    – to exploit

    and the following inclusive goals:
    – research Earth-Moon system (how did it come about)
    – explore Earth-Moon system (NEO dangers)
    – exploit Earth-Moon system (sub-LEO & LEO & Moon tourism, Lagrange points and NEO resources)
    – research terrestrials (comparison with Earth-Moon)
    – and so on. [I like the medium term “not all eggs in one basket” risk dispersion goal myself.]

    Tactics out of that:

    – When and if we come to terrestrials, Mars is indeed the easiest goal among them.

    – Pure research would be cheapest with probes though. (Except maybe thorough search for fossil life, which is still beyond unmanned technology.)

    – If we illogically go to Mars, bypassing nearer exploration, Moon is not the “logical next step”. We can’t afford both NEO and Moon exploration in the near term, at least on a national basis.

    And there is nothing “vital” for Mars exploration to learn there; space base management is easier and cheaper explored certainly on Earth, perhaps in LEO and certainly on NEOs providing H2O for fuel without climbing unnecessary gravity wells.

    Btw, what is wrong with one or more NEO bases, herded to convenient orbits or not, as staging posts if the Lagrange points are without helpful resources? (I don’t think we know that yet: more exploration, dudes!) As Non-believer notes, the natural time frame will have to be centuries, not decades, and the natural driver will be ROI on exploitation, not science.

    [I want to go to the Moon for answering of “how did it come about”. But not as an unnecessary and costly prop for “logical steps”, of which there are none defined or testable.

    Strategy and tactics OTOH are definable and testable, that is their reason to be. Invented by the military, a bunch of practical men before science and modern engineering.]

  15. whomever1

    Annoying that my school district blocks Youtube, so I can’t show any Science Symphony to students, but I’m looking forward to seeing symphonic Mars when I get home.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    One of them was “Snowball Earth” – the globe covered with thick sheets of ice, with a few patches of life hanging desperately on, waiting for warmer days.

    Snowball Earth is a hypothesis which is very hard to test. There is one (AFAIK) remaining observation standing up. (Of, putatively non-mountain, glaciation near the equators, as measured by remnant magnetization, an iffy proposal as beast AFAIU.)

    However, it is nowadays discussed in terms of “Slushball Earth”. No global atmospherically driven state to recover from, I think, but a potential supercontinent state among others.

    Should history repeat itself, and assuming it was history, it will take a while before it happens again. Considering supercontinent cycles are ~ 500 My, that we are in the middle of one (dispersed continental plates), and that the minimum amount of biosphere remaining time before the Sun slowly going red giant cook away the oceans is estimated at ~ 200 My, I say we have more urgent concerns.

    [Insert non-PC blog exclamation here], we would probably welcome a putative “slushball” then! :-D

  17. Pendragon

    The Sun going red giant and cooking off the planet will not happen for several Billion years.
    Relax. Enjoy the ride.

  18. Bob

    If a con is the opposite of a pro, is congress the opposite of progress?

  19. Lonny Eachus

    I agree with Phil here. We need to establish a long-term habitat on the moon, and learn how to exploit its resources.

    Earth’s Lagrange points, as some have suggested, are a waste of time at least for the present. They are too far away, there are no local resources, and engineering and construction are too difficult and expensive in microgravity. (Note that I refer here to Earth’s Lagrange points, not the moon’s.)

    Establishing a base on the moon should not be as difficult as it used to seem. The moon has oxygen! And water! Minerals and metals. Even large quantities of uranium.

    THAT is the next logical step: put a manned base in a nearby shallow gravity well. If we can learn to exploit the local resources, then it will get ever cheaper and easier to go onward and outward!

  20. Gene

    I’m in agreement with Phil as well. I’ve been telling friends for years that a manned mission to Mars isn’t feasible until we establish some type of manned presence on the Moon, I think this would necessitate construction of orbital vehicles that are entirely space based, the dV required to reach orbit is just not efficient when you start talking about interstellar travel. Even the shuttle, engineering marvel that it is, is only a low earth orbit vehicle and relies on reduction of mass through fuel consumption just to get into space.

  21. Your Name Here

    Wish the people in Congress would hurry up and give NASA the funding they need.

  22. Mike K

    This is precisely the kind of rational, level-headed argument that, had it prevailed, would have resulted in our having not yet landed on the moon.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have the specter of the Cold War to provide the national alignment of purpose that we were able to bring to bear during Apollo. I wonder if, around the time that Chinese astronauts are walking on the moon, we might be feeling a bit different.

    The only hope I’m holding out for Mars at this point is a private group with a radical design. Basically, the sort of thinking that built Space Ship One. Perhaps the prize element would be beneficial here, too. $1B Mars Prize anyone?

  23. shawmutt

    I’m waiting for T-Pain to pop his head in. Sorry, I find this “music” extremely annoying.

  24. The moon is a lousy place to practice colonization on Mars. Mars has:

    Air (protection from micrometeors, aerobraking, weather)
    2x gravity of the moon
    color
    normal day/night length
    more water (LOTS more)
    possibility of life
    spectacular geology (Areology?)
    weather
    arable land (?)
    terraformable
    mitigated temperature swings
    public interest

    I’m sure there are some more, but a better choice for practice would be Biosphere II. If you want to go to a dusty, B&W, unprotected dead world, why not Phobos?
    KP

  25. ChrisG

    Sorry people, dues must be paid first. To the moon it is. And the sooner gov’t is out of the picture the better.

  26. I agree almost entirely. Moon First. Mars Next, not “Eventually”.

    The one part of the Obama NASA proposal that I think we should adopt: Robotic Precursors for Lunar Exploration. Because manned landings may be delayed due to federal budget limits, we should send remote-controlled exploration robots to begin exploration in advance of a 2025 manned landing date. When manned landings begin NASA should also initiate a lunar equivalent of COTS for commercial delivery of supplies to the lunar surface.

  27. Mike K (#22): And are we still on the Moon? Nope. It was the goal to get there first, not to stay there. Had we been looking ahead a little better, we’d still be there.

    Kim Poor (#24): I agree with you up to a point, but I’m not claiming that the missions to the Moon will correspond one-to-one with a mission to Mars. And going to Phobos is still far harder than going to the Moon. It’s a six month trip, versus three days to the Moon.

    My point is that going to the Moon will yield technological bounty and experience that will be used to go to Mars. If we go to Mars first there are a thousand unknowns, but if we go to the Moon first, there will be far fewer.

  28. Phil,
    It’s six months to Mars with chemical rockets. We’re going to Mars on ion engines. Mark my words.
    A side effect of using plasma propulsion might be to shield from solar radiation. Another is to cut down flight time to WEEKS. The trick is to slow down once you get there.

    Ion engines have already been used on TWO interplanetary probes. Deep Space 1 and Dawn (which will visit mega-asteroids Vesta (2011) and Ceres (2014)). It’s already way beyond Mars. Ion engines only use a few pounds of Xenon as propellant.

    I agree we have to colonize the moon, sometime. Maybe make it a penal colony.
    KP

  29. Davros

    We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

    President John F. Kennedy

    edit to add

    You do not do it because it is easy do it because it is HARD
    People are their Best when Pushed to do what is Hard not taking the easy choice

  30. Allen

    Personally, I’m banking on VASIMR to be perfected by the time we attempt to make a go at Mars. That should help greatly reduce the amount of time needed to spend getting there.

    I, too, agree that we should make our way back to the Moon before making a go at Mars. A Lunar colony can have some benefits, such as building immense greenhouses and using it as a giant farm. Quite a bit of water on the Moon, and after we start to visit near-Earth asteroids and learn how to harness their resources, there won’t be a shortage of water.

    Going to Mars has a lot of benefits as well, but many of them can possibly be done on the Moon for far cheaper, and less time. Any scientific knowledge that can be gleaned from Mars we can discover with probes and rovers, which we’ve been doing.

    Also, I think if we want to really go to Mars so badly, we could eliminate much of the costs by using private enterprise. I think and hope that in the coming years, space exploration will be picked up big time by private companies. Their combined resources far outstrip that of the government’s.

  31. Yup, gotta agree with Phil. 50 years would be about right.
    Sorry Bob Z. Nice idea, but if we do it in 10 years it won’t be a Mars colony, just boot prints and bringing rocks back. We want a colony. We want babies born on Mars.

    Meanwhile we go back to the Moon, go to Phobos even, and learn how to do it in a proper stepwise fashion. The worst PR disaster would be to have colonists on Mars who starve or freeze to death. Then the dream dies forever. The Mars colony is too important to botch it. It has to be done right. Let’s not screw it up in our haste.

  32. DaveS

    About the Symphony of Science itself, I don’t think any of them beat the first one. A really good speaker like Sagan has a certain appealing rhythm to their speech, and when you autotune it, it makes a nifty turn of tune. Brian Cox has it, as does the aforementioned Sagan. Many of the other speakers in the SoS creations unfortunately do not, and it’s really cumbersome.

    As for the moon vs. Mars, I think a long-term mission on the moon, or L5, or anywhere outside the magnetosphere of Earth would go far toward proving the human radiation protection technology to send Man to Mars and beyond.

  33. Grand Lunar

    @ 28. Kim Poor

    Ion engines are fuel efficent, but they don’t have much thrust.
    While the provide constent thrust, it will still take you a long time to get anywhere.

    VASIMR, a plasma drive, appears to be the way to go, with fuel efficency and thrust. Of course, we need reactors to get the required power levels.
    Both politics and fear mongerers act as a stumbling block to that.

    In response to your entry Phil, our choice of heavy lift ought to be obvious; the Jupiter rocket (246, 244, or 241).
    100 tons to LEO. At least.

    What I haven’t seen much talk about outside of a few articles is the concept of the Aldrin Mars Cycler.
    Seems a good way to keep going at regular intervals.

  34. Grand Lunar

    @ 2. Robert Carnegie

    “WE ARE NOT GOING TO THE STARS. EVER.”

    Quotes like this remind me of other historical quotes made in similar fashions.

    People have said that ships would never cross the oceans without sails.
    It was said that steam navigation could never be used to cross the Atlantic.

    And people have said we would never go to the moon.

    Don’t underestimate human ingenuity.
    Sure it stagnates at times and falls victim to political whims.
    But that shouldn’t stop us.

    Who was it that said “Impossible is often the lack of will to do it”?

    We ought to keep that in mind.

  35. I’ll preface this by saying I’m a huge fan of KSR’s Mars books, so I might not have the strongest footing here.

    But. I agree both with the ‘spirit of exploration’ and ‘not wanting all our eggs in one basket’ reasons for going to Mars.

    As an amateur, it seems like the best route would be: construction of a manned base on the Moon, building a colony ship in space using automined and robotically manufactured parts on the Moon, and sending it over to simultaneously start a colony on Mars and to build a base on Phobos.

    Given we’re a bit behind on the required technology, maybe the first focus should be on figuring out a cheaper and more efficient way of getting stuff up into space in the first place.

  36. Count me in amongst the throngs of people agreeing completely with Phil on this matter. Mars is exciting, to be sure, and we should absolutely push for it — but so is the Moon! All one needs is a Galileoscope and a tripod to see how fascinating a world it is. It is not far from that sense of wonder to start imagining domed cities in the craters, and the capacity to travel there yourself.

    In spite of the lower gravity and lesser resources, a colony on the Moon is a far more practical possibility than one on Mars. If nothing else: consider that there will be problems with manned exploration, and bigger problems with colonisation. The Moon is three days’ journey (by chemical rocket) away, and communication with it has less than a 1.5-second lag. For Mars, the figures are six months at best and anywhere from about 5 to 15 minutes, respectively (depending on orbital position). Homesick colonists on Mars will be miserable, and emergencies will have to be dealt with locally. What happens if something goes drastically wrong on Mars, the colony must be evacuated, and it is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth? The Moon offers a manageable intermediate.

    Actually, I would like to see more action take place on even-closer intermediate: Earth orbit. Yes, we have people there (and have had continuously for some 10 years now, thanks to the ISS), but orbit is still the province of the specialist and the exceedingly rich. Even the “affordable” suborbital flights planned by Virgin Galactic and their competitors will be beyond the reach of the average person. (Yes, I know that the prices are expected to come down to $20,000 for a ticket, but that is still comparable to a new car: not a casual outlay for the middle classes!) Personally, I think even colonisation of the Moon will have to wait until we have the ability to get to and from Earth orbit with the same convenience (or lack thereof) as we do getting from one continent to another. Only after that can we expect the average person to be comfortable with the notion of living on the Moon and all that it will require.

  37. Not 50 years, but maybe not 10 either. Perhaps 20. I’ve always been annoyed at the gung ho attitude that might well bypass important safety and scientific issues. We need baby steps before giant leaps. (I remember an old Flip Wilson routine about the congregation agreeing with the preacher about growing and accelerating growth. First we crawl, then we walk…. blah, blah blah. The congregation was all worked up with enthusiam when he came to the call for everyone to run! And then he passed the plate for a contribution and the congregation began to yell, “Crawl, Rev, crawl!”) Anyway, let’s go to Mars, but let’s not rush it. (I also have a funny story related to one of the people in the video, but can’t tell it here!)

  38. Jon

    Phil, I don’t understand why you didn’t respond to any of Zubrin’s arguments for going to Mars first or why we don’t need to go to the moon to go to Mars. You just skipped over those points and went right to arguing that such a program is politically infeasible, which is a highly subjective opinion and not really your forte.

    And I’ve never understood the idea that after the moon the next destination should be asteroids or the Martian moons. Sure, they’re interesting, but not enough to justify the cost of sending humans to them. Why not send probes there and men to Mars? And while it may require less delta-V to leave an asteroid, it will require much more fuel to accomplish that mission in general. You have no capability to manufacture fuel in-situ and no ability to aerobrake so fuel must be burned to enter and leave orbit. This fuel has to be carried from Earth, taking the place of much more useful equipment or people.

    We should go back to the moon. Not as a stepping stone to Mars but as a destination in itself. To colonize and explore. We go to Mars for the greater challenge and use its challenges to lead us further into space.

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    That. Was. Beautiful. :-)

    Splendid. :-)

    Stunning. :-)

    Wonderful. :-)

    The very best one of these “Symphonies of Science” I’ve ever seen. :-)

    I didn’t even find the voice warping synthesiser thingy grating – which I usually do with these.

    That was just .. wow. Magnificent. :-)

    I agree with Robert Zubrin – we should do it in 10 years and not 50. At the very least that should be our goal and something we really focus on & work towards.

    We did this with Apollo. We can do it again – if the will and the funding are there.

    I’ve heard Robert Zubrin speak in person, I’ve read his book and I think he makes a very convincing case. Zubrin has a plan and I think a great one & I would absolutely love to see him placed in charge and given the full support with everything necessary to give his vision a red-hot chance of becoming reality. :-)

    @38. Jon :

    We should go back to the moon. Not as a stepping stone to Mars but as a destination in itself. To colonize and explore. We go to Mars for the greater challenge and use its challenges to lead us further into space.

    YES! Seconded by me – that’s spot on.

  40. @#33 Grand Lunar

    Agree with much of what you say. Ion engines DO take a while to get going, but there are certainly ways around that. Boosters, for example. An ion engine would be ideal for an Aldrin Cycler.

    Reactors in space? Why not? There are no trees to hug there.

    I think the public (at least Americans) will get behind a Mars mission rather than the moon.
    KP

  41. Robert Carnegie

    See, I watched Star Trek, sure, and particularly in the newer series the Starship Enterprise would roll up most weeks to a planet full of people who were PERFECTLY HAPPY TO STAY WHERE THEY WERE. And you know what? They were right. They didn’t get shot at by the Klingons. Or cloaked Romulans. Or Ferengi. They weren’t assimilated by the Borg (usually). Maybe a Federation world has a cosmic disaster happening like the nearer moon about to crash into the planet and they need the Enterprise’s help somehow, but if they’d never heard of the Federation and weren’t paying membership dues, they’d have a budget to solve the problem themselves. A federated starfleet costs big, you know.

    And that’s just the episodes that we saw. Most of Captain Picard’s logs at the start or end of a show are about just coming from somewhere or going somewhere to make some diplomatic visit and really really boring speeches, quite unnecessary and vastly expensive with 1,000 souls riding along, crew and civilian, who don’t need to be there. If they showed those stories – uncut – there would be way fewer fans today.

    As for colonising, you know what happens when the Enterprise visits a colony planet. It’s never good. Probably everyone’s dead. Sometimes the place is scoured smooth down to bedrock. If there are any survivors at all, they only live long enough to contaminate senior officers with what ever it is that did them in. Maybe there’s nothing but a mysterious machine there, or a deactivated android. Well, LEAVE IT ALONE. And set off a solar flare instability on the local star when you leave. (Although maybe you should check that that isn’t what’s going to set it off.)

    Space colonies: good story setup, bad investment opportunity.

    Anyway. *I* am not going to the stars, even if I wanted to. Neither are you. Probably the last humans will be accidentally digested by their own robot household vacuum cleaners having never crossed the heliopause, and is that so bad?

    What if we’d spent the same money up to now on colonising the sea? Had people able to live and work at, oh, 5000 feet below sea level? With the know-how to do business down there? Maybe those would be useful people to have around just now, hey? But no, no, the ocean floor is about as accessible and well understood as in [The Abyss]. Which is why [The Day After Tomorrow] crossed with [The Road] crossed with [Waiting for Godot] is now happening you-know-where. You’re watching, but it isn’t entertainment.

  42. itskurtins

    One thing we have going for us is our President. In case you haven’t noticed he does have the charisma that no President since John Kennedy had. Now all we need is to see that he gets a brave congress to go along with his plan, and then he can say:

    “We choose to go where no man has gone before, and we choose to do it in this decade. Not because it’s a race, not because it’s a political coup, but because it the next rung on the ladder Hominids have been climbing for 3 million years.”

    Actually this sounds like the plot for 2001. That was a movie from the sixties. I first saw it in a first run Cinerama theater in New York. But before you were born. HaHaHa

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