There was an interesting conference in New York last week (that I would have liked to attend if it had been in my budget). It’s still hard to raise money for it, because modern philanthropists don’t know the history, and can’t conceive of anyone but NASA doing such things, but I think that this is the future.
Another demonstration of how fundamentally unserious we are about it, and what a fraud NASA’s #JourneyToMars is:
“Right now we are unconsciously setting ourselves up for a very difficult Mars program in the 2020s, because of all these immediate needs,” Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. “We don’t want to have a problem where we’ve prepared these samples and then they just rot on the ground because we’re unable to commit to bringing them back.”
Dreier argues that, above all, the most immediate need is the development of a new Mars telecommunications orbiter. Any future spacecraft we send to the Red Planet is going to need a way to communicate with mission teams on Earth. Right now, NASA has three operational satellites orbiting Mars, but only two — the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey — are primarily used for telecommunications. And these vehicles are getting old. Both orbiters have been at Mars for more than a decade and have lasted much longer than the span of their primary missions. By the time spacecraft are sent to retrieve samples from Mars, these satellites may have broken down and have stopped functioning. There are other orbiters circling Mars, operated by NASA and other space agencies, but these satellites are primarily aimed at doing science, and their orbits make them ill-suited for telecommunications, according to the Planetary Society.
But we have a giant rocket and a capsule in development that we don’t need to get to Mars, so we have that going for us.
This sounds sort of hinky to me (as is usually the case with Chinese space announcements). They’re going to bring an asteroid into cislunar space within a decade, but don’t think they’ll have the technology to process it until four decades from now? And how does getting artificial gravity from a spinning asteroid work, exactly? Also, pretty sure there will be some intense discussions about what kind of liability China will assume under the Liability Convention if they attempt this.
“The rate of loss of gas today is very low — slow enough that it would take billions of years to remove the equivalent amount of gas that is in the atmosphere,” principal investigator Bruce Jakosky said in an email. There is some CO2 left in the polar ice and in carbon-bearing materials, he added, but not nearly enough to warm the temperature significantly if it somehow was put back in the atmosphere.
“There isn’t a source of CO2 that could replenish the atmosphere — even outgassing of CO2 from volcanoes has got to be incredibly slow today,” Jakosky added. “If we wanted to put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to raise temperatures significantly, it would take something like 10 million kilometer-sized comets (if they were all made entirely of CO2). This is just not feasible.”
I think there are other possibilities (e.g., bombarding it with carbonaceous and other asteroids, and comets, and manufacturing the CO2 on the surface), but largely, I consider the obsession with Mars to be much more romantic than practical, at least as a new earth.
It’s obviously a lot harder mission than Europa, but it seems like going to Europa to look for life instead of Enceladus is like the guy who went to a different block to look for his lost car keys because the light was better there.