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A Manned Mission to Mars This Decade?

A private venture to the Red Planet may be possible.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

February 24, 2013 - 12:17 am
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Because of the huge expense and perceived need for gargantuan launch vehicles that don’t yet exist, the conventional wisdom in the space community is that a human mission to Mars is many years off, perhaps not to be achieved until 2030 or so. But space adventurer Dennis Tito is about to announce a plan to do one privately about five years from now.

What’s the catch? Well, first of all, there are no plans to land on the planet itself, which is one of the hardest parts of a Mars mission, due to its thin atmosphere, demanding a lot of propellant that must be hauled all the way there. In fact, there are no plans to even go into orbit around the planet, which itself would also be costly in propellant, both to enter and depart. The mission is much simpler — a two-person flyby on a so-called “free return” trajectory, allowing it to get back to earth without the need for an engine burn at Mars. The total trip time will be about a year and a half. It would be the ultimate human adventure to date.

Is it possible? Yes, in theory, if SpaceX delivers on their promise of the Falcon Heavy, the proposed launch vehicle for the mission. For a non-stop sprint to the Red Planet and back, one or two of them probably have adequate performance. The proposed spacecraft seems to be the existing SpaceX Dragon, which has only been used for cargo missions to the International Space Station so far, but is planned for crew delivery within three years. While those are low-earth-orbit (LEO) missions, SpaceX claims that the heat shield is capable of coming all the way back from earth-escape velocities (over twice the energy of a LEO entry), such as would be the case for a moon or Mars mission. The life support system will be provided by Paragon, which is the contractor for ISS crew delivery missions as well. Given that a Dragon is priced at about sixty million, and a Falcon Heavy flight at $120M, one can imagine a total mission cost of less than half a billion dollars, perhaps quite a bit less, putting it in the reach of many wealthy individuals.

The question is, will it be possible in practice? That’s more problematic.

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All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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If this was done in either of the ways described, I don't think it's true that there would be no scientific purpose. Any manned spaceflight that has never been done before will add to our knowledge of how to do it & how to do it safely. Especially if it's accomplished in a different way than what NASA would do.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Radiation shielding can be either in the form of water ice or some sort of a storm cellar. Tethering the capsule and module on either end of a rotating dumbell will work, though may be too dynamically unstable in vibration and torsion to survive a long trip without wrapping itself into a knot. Super lightweight truss would work and provide a path to move from one end to another. Cheers -
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This article and comments highlight why Mars is a complete dead end. Colonization without an economic driver is impossible - what product will ever be produced on Mars and sold for a profit on Earth?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
'Like a rich armour worn in heat of day, That scalds with safety.'

Safety from an extinction event on Earth.

A base for asteroid mining.

'X' the unknown.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Extinction event - agree, but not until it manifests.
A base for asteroid mining - asteroid resources may well go to Mars, but I don't think they'll ever come back. Now after the infrastructure in near Earth/Moon space is developed - you bet.
'X' - Just like the South Pole.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Funding such a mission would be simple. A billion lottery tickets at $10 each. The winner would get to ride along with the crew.

Also the rights to broadcast the mission videos should be worth another billion or so.

With that sort of money they could afford something larger than the Dragon capsule with better shielding to boot.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Was there anything in the press release that indicated they would NOT spin the spacecraft for g?

The upper stage will be going along anyway. Perhaps they might employ the old idea of using it as a counterweight on the end of a tether.

You might say that's far-fetched. But, to paraphrase Dr. Chapman in the 1950s film The Thing, "So is sending a man to Mars."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When they get back alive they will have the right to call everybody else wimps.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ain't no one flying to Mars for a gander in a cracker box with no radiation shielding. Unless they're from Tokyo. Then sleeping in a coffin-bed with plenty of atoms bouncing around would be par for the course.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I worked on a few Mars missions at NASA some years ago. We considered the free-return as an abort maneuver. One of the other problems with it is the trajectory took the vehicle inside the orbit of Venus. So considerable additional shielding was necessary. But regardless it would be insane to spend 500+ days in a capsule barely bigger than Apollo, and not even land.

What would be possible, that NASA could not consider but a private enterprise could, is a one way trip. Land and stay. Every 2 years send additional supplies and living space, and possibly more people.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
LEO still enjoys protection from the Earths magnetic field, 1.5 years outside of that protection will probably give you cancer. Shielding would weigh more than the payload and propellant. The company's claim is a sham.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As I said, the obvious solution to that is to offer the Mars flight to someone who already has metastatic cancer.

They've already got metastatic cancer, they don't have to worry about the radiation in space.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One question that was not addressed. Who is going to pay for the trip?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama is gonna raise taxes on the rich and solve that little problem don;t ya know!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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