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Wednesday, May 24, 2017


  Steve Cole's thoughts on traveling to Mars.
 I have, of late, watched a lot of Mars Society videos on YouTube (there are dozens, all worth a watch) and can see a lot of frustration and exuberance in the speakers.
1. NASA isn't going to Mars, even if it says it is. Their whole culture is geared toward what the vendors want to sell to the government and there isn't any short-term profit in Mars. There is also the problem that whatever program is started by one session of congress or one president often doesn't survive into the next one.
2. I have heard talk of a Mars Flyby mission, sending people on a year-long trip to drop by Mars without landing. (They might orbit a few days.) The point is that dragging along everything they will need to land, stay some period of time, and take back off will require a much bigger and more expensive space ship. This mission seems worthless to me. They cannot accomplish anything from orbit a robot probe cannot do, and it would have to be very risky and frustrating for the astronauts. Everyone remembers the first man on the moon; nobody remembers six earlier people who flew past it.
3. The single key point about Mars is the gravity, which is 38% of Earth. Nobody knows, and nobody has tried to find out, what happens to the human body with prolonged exposure to gravity of that type. We know that a year in zero gravity causes no end of medical problems, but would 18 months (the planned stay) in 38% gravity destroy a human body or would the human body tolerate it fairly well? We could find out with an orbital centrifuge (and 18 months of a few astronaut lives) but nobody is even planning that kind of mission. The problem is that once you spend six months en route (maybe faking gravity by spinning the ship with an empty rocket stage on the end of a wire) and land on Mars, you don't know if 18 months in 38% gravity is going to leave you capable of climbing back into the rocket ship at the end.
4. Olympus Mons is so high that it extends out of the atmosphere of Mars. Someday, tourists will take a train to the top of it so they can say they have been in outer space.
5. While we're talking about Mars, let me take a moment to discuss the current robot rovers. These things were not expected to last very long because it was expected that dust would cover the solar panels. As it happened, windstorms wiped off the dust and the rovers continued for years. What I don't understand is why they weren't designed with "solar panel wipers" that would wipe the dust away?