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A New Path to Mars?

A new workshop suggests humans to the Mars system might be affordable after all

Posted by Casey Dreier

02-04-2015 6:04 CDT

Topics: Space Policy, Future Mission Concepts, events and announcements, human spaceflight, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, Mars

The Planetary Society has spent a lot of time and energy on advocating for NASA’s robotic program over the past few years. Not only was it a strategic way to focus our efforts, but it was a program that truly needed a public advocate. And we’ve seen some real dividends from this decision in the form of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been added to the robotic planetary program over the past three years and the addition of two major planetary science missions: Mars 2020 and the Jupiter-Europa orbiter.

But, historically, The Planetary Society is more than just robotic planetary exploration. Go back to nearly any point in our history, and you see an active role in promoting a vigorous, scientific program of human planetary exploration. And specifically, the human exploration of the planet Mars.

Hubble's view of Mars on October 19, 2014 (color)

NASA / STSci / Ted Stryk

Hubble's view of Mars on October 19, 2014 (color)
Ted Stryk created this rough RGB-processed version of a Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) image of Mars taken on October 19, 2014, during the flyby of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring.

So I’m pleased to announce that we’re starting a new initiative within our Advocacy program focused on getting humans to Mars. We will pursue a two-pronged approach to our advocacy and policy: promoting a sustainable, executable, and affordable pathway for humans to Mars, as well as maintaining our existing focus on a vigorous, balanced, exciting program of robotic solar system exploration. Both efforts share the same core vision of promoting space science and exploration, expressed in different ways.

It’s very exciting.

As our starting point for our new advocacy initiative, we convened a workshop with diverse group of representatives from the aerospace industry, scientific community, policy world, and NASA itself.

We called it “Humans Orbiting Mars,” which, as you might guess, explored the idea of taking an orbit-first approach to an extended program of human exploration of the red planet. This isn’t orbit-only, but looking at the idea of intermediate steps within a long-term program as a way to constrain the cost. The questions we were exploring during the event: is it possible that this approach is affordable within a plausible NASA budget for the next 15 years (i.e. 2% - 3% growth to match inflation)? Would it be valuable scientifically? Would people find it engaging?

We believe we have initial answers to these (yes, yes, and yes), but it’s just the start.

This workshop itself was chaired by two highly respected individuals in the space community: Dr. Scott Hubbard, former Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and the first Mars Czar at NASA who proposed the hugely successful “follow the water” strategy, and Dr. John Logsdon, the founder and first Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. Of course, Bill Nye, our CEO, and Dr. Jim Bell, our President, helped lead key parts of the workshop.

Ultimately, we were able to achieve a group consensus that yes, an orbit-first approach (which includes an opportunity to land/dock with the martian moons) is viable both politically and monetarily.

More details of this are in our press statement, which includes links to the workshop program, and the key consensus points reached by the end of the workshop. I recommend reading this, particularly the consensus points.

I also recommend browsing through our workshop program (linked to at the press statement) which shows the amazing lineup of speakers and panelists we had, as well as the general topics we talked about. (The workshop itself operated under Chatham House Rules: everyone is free to discuss the content of the workshop, but without attribution to the individuals without explicit approval—a rule crucial for an environment of open, engaging, and exploratory thought).

Over the next few months, we will work to publish as much of the content presented at the workshop as we can. And later this year, we will release a report based on the discussions and feedback from this meeting formalizing our thoughts and ideas on this path forward.

But that’s just the start. We’re not doing this to drop off a report and then walk away—this is the beginning of a long process of engagement on the human spaceflight question. And that process will include a substantial level of outreach and feedback from the most important group: the members of The Planetary Society. Members will be hearing a lot more from me later in the year.

I feel that we are at a truly exciting time. I think you may feel this, too. There’s something in the air. The vast potential presented to us by a new generation of private and public launch systems and crew vehicles, new technology, new space-faring countries and potential international partners, and a growing public consensus that NASA and others should explore deep space. There are challenges, absolutely. But we should begin to face them head on.

We, as members of The Planetary Society, should take this opportunity to guide and nurture these new opportunities to achieve the full potential we see before us. It’s an exciting time.

There is much, much more to come. In the meantime, if you have questions or thoughts about Mars, email me at or leave me a comment below.

See other posts from April 2015


Or read more blog entries about: Space Policy, Future Mission Concepts, events and announcements, human spaceflight, Planetary Society Political Advocacy, Mars


David Frankis: 04/02/2015 07:04 CDT

That link doesn't work.

David Frankis: 04/02/2015 07:06 CDT

...and now it does. Weird.

Borklund: 04/02/2015 07:08 CDT

Fantastic initiative, save for the broken links in the post. In trying to post this comment, I can also note that the member login and profile management links and functionality appears broken (using Chrome on a Windows 8.1 PC)

Arbitrary: 04/02/2015 08:04 CDT

I don't like the "orbit-first" idea, at all. Going to Mars without landing on Mars will not get much public or political support. Astronauts floating on Phobos would be so strange to see, I don't think it will sell. People like Mars because of its similarities with Earth and normality. I'm sorry for them, but Mars' moons live in the shadow of Mars. First trip to Mars must land on Mars, that is a necessary social requirement and nothing that NASA can do anything about. And I doubt that orbit-first is really rational. It was right for the Moon because it could be done within a week. But orbiting Mars would mean the longest stay in space ever, and it would cost alot. I think that the first human mission to Mars must deliver maximum return on the investment. What about this idea? Instead of first sending an orbiter, and follow up with a landing mission years later, why not send both at once? That would give full redundancy to handle any emergency, and synergies between orbit and ground. It doesn't cost more, it's just a change in schedule.

Europe Clipper: 04/02/2015 10:36 CDT

Being a non-US citizen not living in the USA, I am particularly interested by the "politically viable" statement. Does it mean that the proposal is able to get a Democratic+Republican majority, or does it mean that the politicians will agree upon working with other countries/organisations? Because something is obvious: nobody in the world is able to go to Mars on his own, not even the USA... And NASA's reliability on this matter is close to nil.

MarkNuclearman: 04/02/2015 02:24 CDT

Need to spend the available budget on better i.e. nuclear propulsion and develop in Earth-Moon system. Once reliable, unmanned landers to ship supplies to Mars and manned missions to Moon to prove life support etc.When all working, unmanned crew ship to prove ascent stage and Mars orbit rendevous then manned mission. Fast propulsion is key - chemical propulsion too slow for development and manned journey

LoboSolo: 04/02/2015 05:09 CDT

Mars Direct by Zubrin would be the cheapest and fastest. Otherwise, work on a nuclear drive ... thermal and/or electric (NERVA, TRITON, ion). Build a Nautius-X like craft. With those two, SLS might not be needed. Dump the ARM errand. Dump the ISS.

Douglass33: 04/02/2015 05:46 CDT

It's about time "human presence" at Mars was, in our technologically advanced era, understood to mean "humans close enough to Mars to allow real-time telerobotics". In that situation, with powerful imaging systems, mobility, and dextrous manipulators, it will (especially in twenty years) be not that much different than having boots on the ground. This initiative recognizes that understanding and, perhaps for the first time in a high level meeting, admits it. Putting boots on the ground will be nice, but we will be able to do so much by having human "presence" there, if not human boots. Certainly, astronauts in orbit around Mars will be able to control surrogates at many different sites, and biological contamination of the planet can be straightforwardly avoided.

Jonathan Ursin: 04/02/2015 05:48 CDT

Sounds like a good plan to me. I think landing on one of Martians moons as a first step is a great idea. Imagine the images of astronauts walking on Deimos with Mars hanging above the horizon behind them. Given it's low orbit Mars as seen on Deimos would be gigantic compared to Moon from Earth or (Earth from Moon for that matter). Maybe the first mission could leave supplies/fuel for the longer more difficult landing mission.

Keith Hearn: 04/03/2015 12:31 CDT

I want to see us go to Mars. I've been waiting for it since the end of Apollo. The surface of Phobos and Deimos are both closer to Earth in terms of delta-v required than the surface of Earth's Moon is. It's far, far easier to send a mission that orbits Mars and visits the moons than it is to actually land on (and launch off of) Mars. Both probably contain significant amounts of ice. If an initial mission set up automated ice extraction equipment, future missions could have a supply of water (which means fuel) waiting for them, significantly reducing the mass that needs to be sent from Earth.

antonio: 04/03/2015 03:16 CDT

I totally agree with Arbitrary. The "orbit-first" approach isn't exciting at all and not needed at all. If you want to go to Mars, go to Mars, don't go to orbit. Also, Mars surface is much safer than the orbit. You have gravity and some radiation shielding, you can obtain water, you can produce rocket fuel and oxygen, ... And you can do a much much much useful work than in orbit. It's a waste of time and money to travel hundreds of millions of kilometers to only stay on orbit. For that matter, better stay in the ISS.

antonio: 04/03/2015 03:26 CDT

Keith Hearn wrote: "It's far, far easier to send a mission that orbits Mars and visits the moons than it is to actually land on (and launch off of) Mars." Actually, the opposite is true. You need much more fuel for that than for landing and returning from Mars. With aerobraking, you almost don't need extra delta-V to land on Mars. And then, in the surface, you can use ISRU to produce the fuel and oxydizer for the return trip. If you don't land on Mars, that fuel and oxydizer must be carried from Earth (and the fuel and oxydizer to transport it, etc.).

rand: 04/03/2015 02:08 CDT

A fun discussion. As has been found time and again, a program's organizers have learned from bloggers what failed to be included in the founders' previous discussions, until now. All the good arguments astronauts have and are not allowed to propagate with adequate frequency are the benefits of a Moon first approach to develop and successfully deploy solutions for deep space HSF, as in this of the cuff desire for orbiting Mars. Designing a lunar robotic insertion, fuel and/or oxygen mining and manufacturing capability with; not sample, but product return for orbit recovery, could become a marketable solution for future HSF. Solution can be deployed to planets like Mars & other moons. It's only cost effective though to develop capability from our Moon.

lost2u: 04/03/2015 09:02 CDT

We have sent plenty of robots to mars. It is time men plant both feet on solid martian ground for peace and growth in the universe of stars! Man's destiny is not to sit in his earthly rocking chair till death.

Keith Hearn: 04/03/2015 10:22 CDT

One very important reason that we're not going to have a manned landing is biological contamination. It's simply impossible to do an EVA without spreading Terran microorganisms around on the surface. Remember all the concern when it was revealed that 3 drill bits on Curiosity were not as well sterilized as the planetary protection requirements called for? For more info, see Even if we were willing to ignore NASA's requirements (and the international agreements on planetary protection) it is still far easier to do a Mars moon mission. You need a lot of fuel to get back into Mars orbit. No one has ever landed and then launched a ship from that deep of a gravity well. Escape velocity from Mars is over 5 km/s (almost half of Earth). From Phobos it's 11 m/s (that's meters per second, not kilometers per second) and from Deimos it's only 5 m/s, 3 orders of magnitude lower than Mars. I can throw a baseball hard enough to escape from Deimos. Heck, I can throw a bowling ball that fast. Just landing on Mars is non-trivial. You can't aerobrake the whole way down, and parachutes don't have as much effect in Mars' thin atmosphere. You have to burn rockets just to land on Mars, and a whole lot more than 11 or 5 m/s. So you need significantly more delta-v to get to Mars' surface, and a whole lot more to get back off. ISRU is easy to type, but a lot harder to implement. Do you want to completely rely on an untested ISRU system to get the crew back home? By doing a moon mission that doesn't depend on ISRU, but does set it up on a moon, you can be sure if it works before sending a mission that would absolutely depend on it. But based on the planetary protection requirements, I don't expect to see a man set foot on Mars in my lifetime :(. That is, unless someone like Elon Musk decides to give the global scientific community the finger and just goes ahead and does it. But I hardly think the Planetary Society wants to be a part of that.

lost2u: 04/04/2015 12:04 CDT

We are going to Mars and beyond...... You can stay if you like, but I am going places!

Antonio: 04/04/2015 07:13 CDT

I will reply to several posts in one. No, a Moon base is totally unnecessary for Mars travel and landing. It's totally non sense. And aerobraking is not so difficult. NASA is currently developing an aerobraking system for heavy Mars landers:

Antonio: 04/04/2015 07:41 CDT

Keith Hearn wrote: "One very important reason that we're not going to have a manned landing is biological contamination. It's simply impossible to do an EVA without spreading Terran microorganisms around on the surface." Every year, around 500 kg of Mars meteorites enter Earth atmosphere. Also, a fair amount (less, but not neglibible) of Earth meteorites enter Mars atmosphere. So no, contamination is not a real problem. "You have to burn rockets just to land on Mars, and a whole lot more than 11 or 5 m/s. So you need significantly more delta-v to get to Mars' surface" The amount for landing is small compared to the delta-V needed to reach Mars and of course to land on the Moon: "ISRU is easy to type, but a lot harder to implement. Do you want to completely rely on an untested ISRU system to get the crew back home?" Mars' ISRU is XIX century's technology and was already tested in 1993 under Mars conditions with pretty good efficiency: Also, under the Mars Direct plan, astronauts will not travel to Mars until the fuel and oxygen are already produced by a previous, unmanned ship, and they are accompanied, two months later, by another unmanned ship with ISRU capabilities. Also, they have enough supplies to survive on Mars until the next launch window from Earth, when another unmanned ISRU ship can be sent.

jwebster: 04/04/2015 06:07 CDT

While I commend the effort to develop a practical path to human missions to the surface of Mars, the timeline proposed is unlikely to be viable from a political and public outreach standpoint. Simply put, waiting nearly 20 years to conduct an orbital mission is too far in the future to attract much interest (or funding), especially since any landing apparently would not take place for nearly 25 years. A near-term Mars-Venus flyby mission along the lines of the one proposed by Dennis Tito could be a much more viable option. A successful fly-by mission in the early 2020s would help to generate the interest and funding for an orbital mission well before 2033. We can't keep putting the first Mars mission 20 years away and expect the public to stay engaged and supportive.

Antonio: 04/05/2015 02:56 CDT

Yeah, 20 years are too much. First launch must be done in 8-10 years after approval of the mission, like it was done for Apollo. When governments change, they can discontinue the previous government's plans. So it must be done in at much two legislative periods, not more.

Torbjörn Larsson: 04/05/2015 05:48 CDT

I congratulate Planetary Society in changing (adding, rather) gears to promote the Augustine commission plans and testing their validity. It looks promising! To respond to some responses in short: - Technology This plan, or something like it, will make progress. Nuclear propulsion is neither politically possible, nor technically near term to say the very least, and is now known to be unnecessary. (As per the Curiosity RAD measurements.) - Strategy "Mars Direct" and similar strategies have had decades to prove themselves. Apparently they don't work either, probably for much the same reasons as the techno fantast ideas. - Environment Landing has to moot artificial "planetary protection requirements" some way or another. - Time The article does a a good job showing why time horizon isn't a different concern from the ones in "following the water" or other robotic exploration. Such missions have a time horizon of 20 years from planning to end, yet they capture the scientists and public interest and make it through US elections. Coupled with international and private interests the plans, like the environment concerns, have to moot the particular US political cycles some way or other.

Potawatomi13: 04/06/2015 07:52 CDT

What a ridiculously STUPID idea! What sense does it make to spend months of training and travel in a glorified claustrophobic can only to have to orbit and NOT LAND? Not a single chance to stretch our legs and actually do some real science and hands on work on Mars. What a colossal waste of money and effort and it just stinks as yet ANOTHER delay in getting humans on the red planet.

Potawatomi13: 04/06/2015 08:08 CDT

To Keith Hearn and any who insist on the Chicken Little approach to planetary "contamination" I must add my voice. It's a NON ISSUE! Earth is already contaminated by mars and so is Mars. Live with it! And forget it!

Arbitrary: 04/06/2015 09:32 CDT

Maybe very imaginative and irrational fear of backward contamination is the explanation of the Fermi paradox? Or maybe the aliens come here, but just to orbit us for a while and then go home again? I fear that the orbit-first strategy will be reduced to some anonymous NEA mission, because it is more "affordable", and no human will come close to Mars. For God's sake, Mars is special! The stereotypical space nerd is afraid of kissing the girl, but astronauts traditionally are not. What was the fighter pilots' input in this workshop?

Antonio: 04/06/2015 10:50 CDT

Torbjörn Larsson wrote: ""Mars Direct" and similar strategies have had decades to prove themselves. Apparently they don't work either, probably for much the same reasons as the techno fantast ideas." Apparently? What is your basis for saying that? That NASA didn't use it? NASA didn't use other kind of manned Mars missions either. That proves nothing. Scientific hypothesis are proved or disproved by reasoning and experiments, not simply unfounded opinions. The proofs for Mars Direct viability are detailed in a lot of scientific papers and Zubrin's book "The Case for Mars."

Bob: 04/06/2015 02:14 CDT

Hasn't Curiosity confirmed that the surface chemistry of Mars is extremely toxic to human life? Would any humans going to the planet's surface have to go through an extensive cleaning process every time they returned to their living quarters to ensure that not even the smallest particle of Martian soil came in with them? For decades I've been an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of human travel to the planets, but one by one, they've all turned out to be death traps over the years. First it was Venus turning out to be, not a swampy prehistoric world teeming with dinosaurs, but the very vision of hell itself (yes, I'm that old!) And I can still recall my bitter disappointment when Pioneer 10 flew past Jupiter and we learned that the Galilean Moons were bathed in lethal radiation. Then the lunar scientists at the University of Arizona concluded that long term exposure to lunar regolith would be extremely hazardous to our lungs, but to the microscopic and near-microscopic glass particles in the mix. (And I would assume that goes for any airless world out there.) Now we learn that Mars is pure poison. Perhaps the people I've been arguing with for the past 50 years (who held that robotic exploration made more sense) were right all along. We just don't belong out there (in person, that is)! I wish I were wrong - somebody please convince me I am!

Bob: 04/06/2015 02:16 CDT

Typo! That should have read, "due to the microscopic..." not "but".

Joe: 04/06/2015 07:57 CDT

@Bob - We've nominally solved the problem with dust being brought inside with the latest human rover designs - space suits stay on the outside of the rover and are entered through the back. And it might be worth pointing out that LEO is at least as deadly to humans as the surface of Mars, and we've lived there continuously for about 15 years now. As far as testing our systems on the Earth's Moon, is it absolutely necessary to land on Mars? Probably not. Would it be a good idea to use the Moon as a test bed? As a software quality engineer who understands the amount of testing required to make complex systems work correctly, I can say - absolutely it's a great idea. Would I want to go to Mars in a system that wasn't vetted first on the lunar surface? Probably not. The lunar surface is the best analog we have, and unless a system can be tested in conditions as close as possible to the conditions in which the system will be utilized, you have very little reason to have any confidence in the systems.

dougforworldsexplr: 04/06/2015 10:13 CDT

Hi Bob; although you are probably right about the Moon and Venus and maybe the surfaces of Galilean moons I don't think Mars is as bad as you are saying. When you say that Curiosity has shown that Mars' soil is pure poison do you mean that it has found more evidence of perchlorates or what other things? If it is perchlorates I remember they were first found by the Phoenix lander but I am quite sure scientists still said that the soil there would still be suitable for growing some earthly vegetables including I think asparagus. Isn't it true that if Mars' soil could grow vegetables it couldn't be too poison or too much a deterrent for manned exploration or colonization especially this was the same soil where perchlorates were first found. I don't know if any of the Mars soil where Curiosity has sampled would be suitable for growing any vegetables or other food but if some parts of Mars are suitable then some other parts could be too although probably not all the surface. Also Curiosity has definitely found emissions of methane around Gale Crater which most likely means that Mars can currently support some type of microbes under the surface around there or the methane is being emitted by the process of serpentinaztion where liquid water passes over some rocks under the surface and results in emission of methane but this could still indicate the possibility of at least microbes under the surface of Mars since there would be liquid water and some shielding from radiation. Also this could be an indication of accessible water for any future astronauts. I think these methane results also confirm the previously doubted methane results from Mars Express etc. so perhaps things aren't quite as bad as you are thinking about possible current Martian microbial life and the possibility of Mars supporting future astronauts.

Antonio: 04/07/2015 03:27 CDT

Bob wrote: "Hasn't Curiosity confirmed that the surface chemistry of Mars is extremely toxic to human life?" ??? First time I hear that. What are you referring to? Joe wrote: "Would it be a good idea to use the Moon as a test bed? As a software quality engineer who understands the amount of testing required to make complex systems work correctly, I can say - absolutely it's a great idea." It's a stupid idea. You can't test Mars' aerobraking in the Moon, because it has no atmosphere. You can't test Mars' ISRU in the Moon, because it has no CO2 atmosphere. You can't test Mars' greenhouses in the Moon, because it has no carbon, and almost no water. Also, it has a 708 hours day instead of a 24 hours day like Mars and Earth, and climate is more extreme than in Mars. Also, having no atmosphere, greenhouses must be much more strong, heavy and thick than in Mars. You can't test Mars' search for life in the Moon (drilling the soil to reach subsurface liquid water, searching for fossils in sedimentary rocks, etc.). Also, it's more difficult for humans to live in the Moon than on Mars: lower gravity, more cold and heat, a 708 hours day, more radiation, ...

Arbitrary: 04/07/2015 04:41 CDT

Toxic Mars has been in the news: And worse, there's Hydrogen sulfide there too. It is a bit toxic too, however the really bad news is that it stinks like rotten eggs. Fortunately, it paralyzes the sense of smell, but first impression of Mars will be bad in a way we hardly even have any language for. Everything in our environment is biological or has biological origin. The soil, the minerals, the air, even every snowflake is full of microbial life. We never get in touch with anything that hasn't biological origin. Until we go to space. There we are shocked by, for the first time in a billion years of evolution, getting in touch with something non-biological.

Bob: 04/07/2015 03:18 CDT

"Arbitrary" already linked to the article I first heard about the Marian surface being poisonous. This quote from it kind of says it all: The high levels of perchlorate found on Mars would be toxic to humans, Smith said. "Anybody who is saying they want to go live on the surface of Mars better think about the interaction of perchlorate with the human body," he warned. "At one-half percent, that's a huge amount. Very small amounts are considered toxic. So you'd better have a plan to deal with the poisons on the surface." Any humans exploring Mars, Smith said, will find it hard to avoid the finest of dust particles. "It'll get into everything…certainly into your habitat."

Enzo: 04/07/2015 04:32 CDT

Scientifically, a human mission to Mars makes little sense for the money spent (some $100B+). That is, if your objective is scientific knowledge of Mars. The reason is the huge inefficiency : the largest majority of the money will be spent to keep humans alive, land them safely, return them etc. Only a small fraction for the science. Think of the kind and the quantity of probes to Mars one would get if one was willing to spend $100B+ on it. Also, again from the scientific point of view, a human mission to Mars makes less and less sense every day that passes. While in the 80s robots were not very good, in 2030-35 will be very good indeed, getting better the more we delay the human mission, at the same cost. Please spare me the platitudes of "humans will always be better etc.". Possibly, but you are missing the point. It doesn't have to be better, it must be able to do a decent job at 1/100 of the cost. So much for science, does the mission makes sense politically ? Judging by the fact that it is always about 20 years in the future since the 80s, I'd say no. The race to the moon happened for ideological reasons that no longer exist. There was no grand plan to better humanity and expand into space: as soon as the objective to show the Russians who was boss was achieved, the program was cancelled. Finally, I can see some value in humans in space, as long as it's done with the intention to stay (for various reasons, including insurance for the future). What I don't see is an effort to make closed, self sustaining systems (a bit like Biosphere but done properly) that allow that. All the current focus is to get there. Fifty years after Apollo we still seem to be at the stage of going to a place and collect a few rocks that robots could retrieve a fraction of the cost. If there is an intention to colonize space, this is not it : the ISS is completely dependent on Earth for supplies.

Paul McCarthy: 04/08/2015 01:11 CDT

Good on you Enzo for being the first to spell it out in these Comments : humans to Mars doesn't make current sense, for exploration, science, or habitation. Do the science economically, and leave the humans till we can (at least partially) terraform the place -- which will surely come. Anyway, it seems very unlikely that politicians will buy into these lethal, prodigiously expensive, current schemes.

Antonio: 04/08/2015 08:02 CDT

Enzo: Manned missions to Mars are totally neccessary: And it isn't that expensive at all:

Joel: 04/08/2015 02:56 CDT

As a potter, I use "Red Iron Oxide" powder in my pottery glaze recipes. I'd love to see what just a few grams of the dusty Mars iron oxide would do, fired at 2400 F in a kiln and melted onto a pot! Guess I would need to be a billionaire to get ahold of some?

Arbitrary: 04/09/2015 02:25 CDT

@Enzo Does your household budget make sense? Do you spend all of it on increasing scientific results, or do you use some of for stuff you just happen to think are fun or nice, or maybe interesting with some yet unknown future potential? If science is the only goal, you might be right. But exploration is wider than that. We humans on Earth want to see humans on Mars. I don't really know why, but we do. Maybe we'll find out why we want it once we do it.

Enzo: 04/09/2015 07:22 CDT

@Arbitrary That's a good point and that's why I specified clearly, "scientific knowledge of Mars" etc. If enough people want something, then it should and will happen (as long as it is possible and a human mission to Mars certainly is). After all, a lot more money is spent in the world for things that just bring enjoyment, like professional sport. The trick is to find enough people that share your interest to make it happen. Given its high cost, for a human mission to Mars (HMM). it's just a bit hard and that's why it's always 20 years into the future. Having said that, there are some troubling downsides to a HMM. 1) NASA has a human space program and a planetary exploration program. The human space program is much bigger and that's fine by me as it reflects its larger popularity. Unfortunately NASA planetary exploration program is strongly biased in favor of Mars missions and the only logical explanation of this is HMM. NASA apologists will try to hide behind byzantine budget allocations and self importantly named committees but for me it's just a travesty of justice : if the human space program could afford a $100B ISS, it can bloody well pay for extra Mars missions that it needs without plundering the planetary exploration budget.The reason why we don't have an Europa mission or why after 2017 there will be no missions operating or even launched to the outer planets is not that there was no money in the first place, it is because it was overspent on Mars. This is also the reason why missions to Enceladus, Titan, Uranus , Neptune etc. etc. are pushed more and more into the future. So, even though HMM is always 20 years into the future, its effects are felt right now.

Enzo: 04/09/2015 07:23 CDT

2) Whatever the cost, at $30B, $100B or $450B, HMM is very expensive for a very narrow focus goal :putting people for a short time on Mars. It looks to me like Apollo on steroids, a hit and run that brings the question and then what ? I'm concerned that because of its narrow focus it does not foster the creation of infrastructures to actually stay in space. Creating colonies might result in a space economy and, ultimately, make space more accesible and our future a bit more secure. I'm concenrned that spending so much money just to go to Mars will actually detract from the creation of tecnologies for self sustaining colonies. A HMM is unlikely to be self reliant : most likely they will bring all the supplies with them for the mission. This might be counterproductive for long term goals. Apologies if the latter is not that clear : it would be very long to treat in detail.

keith: 08/05/2015 09:32 CDT

I think orbiting Mars first is a good idea, will be supported by the public, and will capture the imagination of the world. The way this mission will be staged was outlined in the June 2015 issue of the Planetary Report by the Planetary Society. As far firing the imagination of the public and the USA at large it would be the only game in town. There is only one provision I make which is the possibility of Russia and China attempting to get to Mars first. Since neither have gotten to another planet I don't think this is a likely scenario. However, I would not count them out either. The only other reservation I have is the need to provide artificial gravity (via rotation) on the 8 month trip and the issue of radiation sheltering. While NASA is working this issue I don't see much talk about results yet. However, this proposal sounds like the only way of achieving a manned Mars mission (by say 2030 to 2035). If artificial gravity is not provided I would be concerned about the crew suffering a heart attack during reentering the Earth's atmosphere. But, that aside, we should start working this mission which will reinstate our commitment to a manned Mars mission. For what my opinion is worth I really believe this.

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