116 thoughts on “Men (Or Women) To Mars This Decade?”

  1. I thought Tito said no choice of launch vehicle had been made. Such missions are also possible with EELVs. Well, apart from costs that is. But if commercial crew and Bigelow succeed, it’s not inconceivable prices will come down by enough to make EELVs attractive too. A long shot either way, but really great if it happens.

  2. I disagree that there would be no scientific benefit to such a mission. The data that could be derived of the long term effects of deep space travel would be invaulable. Of course the crew has to get back alive.

    1. To say that the plan should be for the crew to get back alive is probably ok but the usefulness of the data does not require the crew to live. This is especially true if the data includes the causes of each death. Either way there is much that can be learned by such a mission.
      I would hope that they return alive and well enough to enjoy all the attention they would justly deserve for their efforts and risks.

      1. Axtually it would be very useful indeed to have living astronauts back for the medical folks to poke and prod and take samples from to find out what the voyage has done to them.

        1. Thank you, Dr. Mengele.

          Jeepers! What an adventure! Cooped-up in something less comfortable than an economy-class flight for a year and a half! Well, call me Buck Rogers and sign me up!! I wonder: would the idjits who volunteer for such a thing be more likely to die from radiation or from suicide? How long before they totally lose it and decide to open the door to let in some fresh air? Oh, but think of the bragging rights!

          1. “I wonder: would the idjits who volunteer for such a thing be more likely to die from radiation or from suicide? How long before they totally lose it and decide to open the door to let in some fresh air?”

            Mike Walsh,
            you should get your comment to the Brits somehow. They could break it out and put odds on it.

          2. “Jeepers! What an adventure! Cooped-up in something less comfortable than an airmail plane for thirty-three hours! Well, call me Wiley Post and sign me up!! I wonder: is Lindbergh more likely to die from the cold or from the crash? How long before he totally loses it and decides to land his ‘Spirit of Saint Whatever’ on some mid-Atlantic swell? Oh, but think of the bragging rights! 5,809 kilometres to Paris in a fabric-covered single-engine airplane!”


          3. Space travel differs from (write irrelevant historical analogy here) by several orders of magnitude. But the fanboys will invoke such analogies just the same, against all reason, to prop up their brave religious fables. For that is the point of all the hoopla about human spaceflight: it is a thin religion for technophiles, who find it somehow gives their lives meaning to imagine a human spacefaring destiny. (Pssst: Star Trek is not real.)

          4. Space travel differs from (write irrelevant historical analogy here) by several orders of magnitude.

            And yet, you invoke dopey analogies (“an economy-class flight… Buck Rogers”) as the basis of your screed.

            Do you have any *rational* basis for your opposition, or is it simply that can’t abide someone else something that Mike Walsh doesn’t want to do?

          5. People, like you, who can not imagine the living conditions most past explorers/adventurers endured to accomplish their goals, who put comfort before accomplishment, cannot understand the hunger for adventure and accomplishment that another kind of person feels. Your kind are a large part of the problem.
            We have always known that Star Trek is not real but we also know that we can become a spacefaring people if we try hard and smart enough.
            Some will lead then others will follow.

          6. Space travel differs from (write irrelevant historical analogy here) by several orders of magnitude.

            Our capability to do stuff since (write relevant historical analogy) has also improved by several orders of magnitude.

            I wonder: would the idjits who volunteer for such a thing be more likely to die from radiation or from suicide? How long before they totally lose it and decide to open the door to let in some fresh air? Oh, but think of the bragging rights!

            Depends on the scheme. Historically, they’ve ranged from well planned and executed to half-baked and unprepared. To spout such claims in ignorance just reflects poorly on you.

    2. They could get long-term zero-g data from spending a year and a half in LEO; that wouldn’t have the radiation effects and really wouldn’t be much more informative than spending the time in the space station. They could get zero-G plus radiation by spending a year and a half in GSO or a bit above. There’s not an awful lot of delta-V difference between that and a full-blown Mars trip, but it’s a lot easier to change your mind and go home.

      I’d like to see them get a long rope and tie a couple of Bigelow modules together and spin them and see what happens to people long term in that environment.

  3. What’s this in your PJ article about knowing about the proposal next _sunday_? I must be misreading something.

    More to the point here, it now seems inevitable that NASA will be on the CR for the remainder of FY’13, which means that CCiCap will be mothballed for the fourth quarter of the FY. So how’s that going to help getting Dragon ready for anything, let alone this kind of flight?

    I’ve also a suspicion that Tito may “offer” to use the NASA Orion, not Dragon, thereby keeping the human flight heritage within NASA. Not a good thing IF Commercial Crew is put on ice.

    I agree if this proposal is anything like what we’ve been hearing it’s dicey at best given the supplies and volume of _any_ projected capsule system. And the eyesight problem is trivial compared to the psychological issue – not even counting the effects of getting your brain torn apart for 500 days by cosmic radiation particles because of inadequate protection.

    1. You’re assuming average life expectancy, Charles.

      At any given time, there are a number of unfortunate individuals whose life expectancy is not much more than 500 days, who would be risking very little.

      Even if this was a one-way flyby, you would find volunteers willing to make the trip.

      1. I’m not sure I’d like to go on a 500 day trip with a person whose life expectancy was 501 days–there’s a pretty good chance that the last 100 days would be pretty darn messy. If they had one of the dread soap opera diseases where they cough a bit one day and are dead the next it wouldn’t be so bad.

        1. I’d go to Mars with Ali McGraw’s character from Love Story. The closer to death she got, the better-looking she became!

          Interplanetary travel means never having to say you’re sorry.

  4. It would have been better to say, “with limited scientific benefit” rather than no.

    I would expect they’d attach a clear balloon to the hatch for more room and a great view. You already know I think six in a BA330 is a better idea (and about the same per person cost.)

    I think this guy got it right.

  5. Would NASA have enough of a tin ear, and be hypocritical enough, to lambast a flyby as a useless stunt, when they did the exact same thing with Apollo 8? (and even moreso – Apollo 8 was an ad-hoc mission, conceived on the fly just months in advance due to a lack of a LM to test, and the feat that the Russians would launch a crew of a lunar free-return trajectory to become “the first to the moon”.

    As for the feasibility of the mission, I think it would only be feasible with a module of some kind attached to the capsule (and Bigelow seems like the best choice, when it comes to weight-to-volume. Why, though, would it take an extra FH launch? Something like that could go up on a F9 or other midsized LV, though my guess is that to launch the assembled craft to Mars, it’d take a dedicated FH launch to lift the trans-mars injection stage.

    My guess… if they try this with just a Dragon for the sapcecraft, it’s either a crew of one, or this will not end well.

    As for the radiation issue… I think that pretty much makes it mandatory that they’ll have a module of some kind going along. I wonder if water, plus MRE packages and perhaps an outer payer of high-density foil (lead?) would make an adequate radiation shield? If the main danger is high energy protons, they’d be coming mainly from the direction of the sun, so that means you need your shielding in one direction. Keep the empty Trans Mars Injection stage attached, and also put all your food, water, and supplies, between it and the spacecraft, and orient the craft so that the TMI stage engine bell is orientated to the sun?

    Hrmmm.. That would solve the issue of solar protons, though not of galactic cosmic rays. I wonder of the latter could be mitigated by a multi-layer foil barrier with spaces between? Like a Bigelow module?

    1. Apollo 8 did enter lunar orbit and complete 10 revs. It also was the first manned flight of a Saturn V and the first manned flight to leave LEO. It allowed NASA to test long range navigation and communications. In short, it more considerably more than a stunt and helped fill a gap in time before the first LM was ready to fly. Without Apollo 8, it seems unlikely they could’ve laned on the moon before the Fall of 1969, which would’ve given them very little time before the end of the year in case the first attempt failed. It was a pretty gutsy call, one I doubt the current NASA would have the balls to make.

      A Mars fly-by wouldn’t return much science about the planet itself but it could be very useful in testing out long duration life support systems, human adaptability to very long periods of weighlessness and confinement as well as other psychological factors of being so far from home with no chance of significantly shortening the mission or getting help in an emergency.

      1. I chose my words poorly. I didn’t mean Apollo 8 was a PR stunt, just that it bears many similarities (minus entering orbit) to the Mars fly-by (which i think is well worth doing). I’d like to think that NASA would not slam a manned Mars flyby as a “stunt”, though sadly, it would not surprise me.

      2. I think CJ said it correctly the first time. Apollo 8 was ad-hoc, and done so because of delays with the LM. This is well documented. That Apollo 8 tested the Saturn V, trans-lunar injection, and communicating with a lunar orbiting craft was all great, but it did provide insurance to making the claim that Kennedy’s “we choose to go the moon is this decade” was met in some fashion. It wasn’t a stunt, and the lessons gained did help with the eventual landing. But let’s not forget if Apollo 8 had Apollo 13’s oxygen tank; Lovell wouldn’t have had a LM lifeboat to make it back. Apollo 8 was not a full up dress rehearsal of all systems, and many of its accomplishments could have been done with Apollo 10.

        A Mars fly-by is useful because getting there is a problem, but staying there is a much larger problem. We need to study both problems. There’s nothing disgraceful or unscientific in working each problem individually.

        1. Apollo followed a rushed but incremental approach to testing.

          Apollo 7 was the first manned mission & it tested the SM and CM in Earth orbit (Oct 11-22, 1968)
          Apollo 8 sent the SM and CM to lunar orbit and back. (Dec 21-27, 1968)
          Apollo 9 tested the LM in Earth orbit. (Mar 3-13, 1969)
          Apollo 10 (May 18-26, 1969) tested the LM in lunar orbit as a dress rehersal for Apollo 11. (Jul 16-24, 1969)

          Had they not flown Apollo 8’s mission the way they did, they might well have decided that Apollo 10’s mission profile was too ambitious. I doubt anyone knows for sure but that would’ve been putting a lot of firsts on a single mission. Flight testing is normally more incremental than that.

          What I find interesting is that all of those flights took place in a span of 8 months. That was really pushing things.

          It’s true that if an Apollo 13-like accident had happened on the way to the moon on Apollo 8, they would’ve died. Likewise, had it happened on the return flight of any of the lunar missions, the crew likely would’ve died because they had no lifeboat. Those guys came from a generation where taking big risks was part of the job description.

  6. I can’t believe all the grouchy-ass naysayers there are for this project. “No scientific benefit.” Really? Who gives a damn? Not me. I don’t care if they spend the whole trip playing spades. It’s thrilling! “It’s a stunt.” So what? Apollo was a stunt. Columbus’ first voyage was a stunt. I don’t give a hoot if it’s a stunt. It’s great drama! “They’ll go nuts/get cancer/die.” WTF? Has this nightmare world we’ve created squeezed all the romance and adventure out of Americans?

    Yes, they very well might go nuts, get cancer, or die along the way. And if they do, THEY BECOME LEGEND. I don’t know about you, but the knowledge that I would be remembered by history as the most daring explorer since Ferdinand f–k–g Magellan would go quite a ways toward taking the edge off my knowledge of my own impending death.

    We are each of us going to die. But there’s dying and then there’s dying. Die in bed of old age and no one gives a damn. Die while flying a flaming missile to Mars and back and they name a G–d—n aircraft carrier or asteroid after you.

    What happened to the spirit of Amundsen, Scott, Peary, Picard, and Lindbergh? If these guys die during or after the first effing voyage to the Red Planet, they die as heroes. And what happens to heroes when they die? VALKYRIES TAKE THEM STRAIGHT TO VALHALLA, that’s what.

    “We got one last radio message from the crew before they augered in, sir.”

    “What did it say?”

    Je ne regrette rien.”

    To hell with the sissy vote. I say Godspeed Dennis Tito, and damn the critics. Hell, if I didn’t have small children, you could give me a one-in-ten chance of making it back alive and I’d take the trip myself.

    “They can’t do it.” What the hell kind of thing is that for an American to say? What the hell is wrong with people these days?

  7. Take a BEAM along for extra space, and perhaps more importantly, a door between travelers:


    It doesn’t answer all the issues, but could cover some of them. Artificial gravity using the spent upper stage and a tether would also help, though it’s unclear how much modification would be required on Dragon to operate in more than micro-g.

    Trent’s right that money will be they key factor, but this is much more exciting than anything coming out of government space!

    1. That was tested during Gemini and didn’t work out well. You really want to have a rigid structure, not a tether, no matter what Zubrin says.

      1. That was tested during Gemini and didn’t work out well. You really want to have a rigid structure, not a tether, no matter what Zubrin says.

        Rigid structures have their own problems (such as higher mass and assembly or fairing size issues) and you can’t really rule out a technology on the basis of one test. Especially, a test that worked (perhaps, as you say, not “well”, but it did work):

        On 13 September at 9:44 a.m. EST (24:02 GET) the Gemini cabin atmosphere was evacuated and the hatch opened to begin Richard Gordon’s scheduled 107 minute EVA. He was out of the hatch at 9:51, attached by an umbilical cord. He set up a movie camera and retrieved the micrometeorite experiment. The next task, detaching one end of the 30 meter tether from the Agena and attaching it to the Gemini spacecraft docking bar, proved to be exhausting and overstressed Gordon’s life support system. After attaching the tether, Gordon stopped to rest astride the GATV, but the heavy perspiration inside the suit obscured his vision and finally blinded his right eye. Conrad ordered him to cancel the power tool evaluation and return to the cabin. Gordon returned to the cabin at about 10:12 a.m. and closed the hatch at 10:17 a.m. so the cabin could be repressurized. At 11:19 a.m. the hatch was opened again to jettison some excess equipment.

        Following the sleep period, the Agena primary propulsion system was fired for 25 seconds at 2:12:41 a.m. EST on 14 September, raising the docked spacecraft apogee to 1374.1 km. (A record altitude for an astronaut mission that would stand until Apollo 8 went to the Moon.) After two orbits the Agena was fired again for 22.5 seconds to lower the Gemini-Agena back down to a 287 x 304 km orbit. At 7:49 a.m. Gordon opened his hatch to begin a 2 hour 8 minute standup EVA during which he conducted photographic experiments. The hatch was closed at 9:57 a.m. and shortly afterwards the spacecraft were undocked and Gemini 11 moved to the end of the 30 meter tether attaching the two spacecraft. At 11:55 a.m. Conrad initiated a slow rotation of the Gemini capsule about the GATV which kept the tether taut and the spacecraft a constant distance apart at the ends of the tether. Oscillations occurred initially, but damped out after about 20 minutes. The rotation rate was then increased, oscillations again occurred but damped out and the combination stabilized. The circular motion at the end of the tether imparted a slight artificial “gravitational acceleration” within Gemini 11, the first time such artificial gravity was demonstrated in space. After about three hours the tether was released and the spacecraft moved apart. A fuel cell stack failed at 4:13 p.m., but the remaining stacks took over the load satisfactorally. At 4:22 a.m. on 15 September a final rerendezvous maneuver without use of the rendezvous radar, which had malfunctioned, was accomplished.

          1. You can’t rule out a technology out based on one data point, but you can rule it in based on zero?

            Well, yes given that the data point doesn’t actually rule out the technology. We have a demonstration of working artificial gravity. We know of various well-used ways to dampen oscillations.

            Until we actually do some work with tethered rotation and see what works well and doesn’t, I don’t see the point of arguing about this. There’s not enough information to support your claims.

          2. Maybe you should just use a Star Trek gravity field. There are zero working demonstrations of that, too.

          3. Edward, I don’t see the point of your posts here. You gave us the Gemini example. The space tether did work in that example. It didn’t work well, but it did work. So that is one more working demonstration than Star Trek gravity fields have.

            Here’s my take. We have a fairly simple design with a sound theoretical basis (again completely unlike the Star Trek example). And we work a lot with cables already on Earth. This is far from an exotic technology.

            And if it works in practice, it satisfies a fairly important need. So yes, in that situation, I would “rule in” a technology that has no working examples of it. Most of our inventions passed through at this stage at some point. Someone thought it possible and had good reason for thinking so, but no one had actually gotten the technology to work yet.

        1. Losing crew to the health consequences of long periods of weightlessness is a huge failure mode. I guess it’ll depend on the length of the trip and how big a risk that ends up being.

          1. ken, it’s worth noting that we’d only had a handful who’ve been in zero gee for anything like the length of time this Mars mission is supposed to last.

            That link is to a list of the ten longest stays in space. Place #6 is already less than half the duration of a Mars flyby mission (about 500 days from what I’m gathering). So I don’t think there’s been much opportunity to lose people from such things.

            I think it’s doable to spend that much time in zero gee, but there may be health problems such as osteoporosis which could be very risky on the return journey (say during a high gee aerobraking maneuver during the final stages of a return from Mars).

        1. That’s one possible issue. Add to that the complexity of performing necessary thruster firings for course corrections. For 2-axis (spin) stabilized satellites, they use pulsed thruster firing to impart delta-v. How well will that work on a tethered vehicle? Or will they stop the rotation, reel the pieces back together, perform the maneuver and then separate-respin to perform manauvers? Also, will the rotation make it more difficult to perform navigation?

          And let’s not forget the possible failure modes. There have been a few tether experiments in space and IIRC, more than one tether failure. Tethers have their potential but also their complications.

        2. Even on ISS, exercise machines have to be isolated to prevent repetitive vibration from damaging the structure.

      2. Please provide a reference reporting that the Gemini test didn’t work very well, because I haven’t seen that and would like to read it. Popular literature doesn’t describe big problems, and Dick Gordon didn’t mention them when I talked with him. I know there were some (at the time) unexplained tether dynamics in Gemini 11, but most of those damped out quickly and were less of an issue in Gemini 12 (which focused on gravity gradient stabilization rather than rotational). Considering that only small amounts of gravity were generated and there was no damping in the system, I’d consider it a stretch to call it conclusive.

        Gemini 11 tether summary:


        On other comments, I acknowledge it’s another potential failure mode, and kind of mentioned it when I said I didn’t know how the Dragon would have to be altered. It’s all trade space.

  8. So right. I’d take the second seat. Just so some would give more consideration to my freedom and ownership agenda. Live or die, it would be worth it.

    Trent, I imagine it would take one FH making the cost about $200m and expect Tito could pay for that himself.

  9. Nice article, but I’m still steamed about what PJM did to the comments section. It looks like it was created by a 20-year-old Facebook addict. I can’t register using the name I’ve been using for years. It says “that name is already in use”. Well duh. Since no one is actually posting comments with it at the moment, how about letting me use it?

    Every time I refresh a page, it defaults to newest comment on top. I absolutely hate that crap. And no more time stamps. Plus the “show more”, which forces me to click it to see two more lines of text.

    Also, now we can no longer include links in the comments. Oh wait, I already comment at Ace of Spades so I’m used to that, er, “feature”.

    But what really takes the cake is that comments made under the old system are no longer viewable. How many thousands of man-hours of comments have literally disappeared down the memory hole? This is the worst thing I have seen in the entire history of the internet.

    Somebody needs to explain to the clowns at PJM that “new” and “improved” are not synonyms. In fact, I’ve yet to discover one single thing that is “improved” about the new system. Oh, avatars. That must be it.

    1. I’m having the same experience at PJM. May whomever it was that created that abomination share the especially unpleasant corner of Hell with the idiots who messed up the Office 2007 user interface.

      As Obama proves, “change” is not always for the better and change poorly executed is without fail for the worst.

  10. I thought the announcement was scheduled for the 27th? Isn’t that Wednesday?

    If I were doing this (warning, I am not an aerospace propulsion engineer) I would use two Dragons attached to a BEAM.

    I would launch the first cargo Dragon(stuffed with supplies and containgin exercise equipment) TMI just ahead of the other. Once the burn was confirmed, the other one would be a few minutes behind.

    The second would have the crew and a BEAM in the trunk. The BEAM would have the opposite docking adapter attached to the top of the upper stage. The Dragon would seperate and the seperation maneuver would extract it from the trunk. Then it would turn and dock with the BEAM and at that point, it would release the upper stage.(this means no grapple arm is necessary to attach the BEAM.

    At that point, it catches up to the cargo Dragon and docks. All the shit stuffed in the cargo Dragon excep the Exercise equipment is moved into th einflated torus of the BEAM.

    Alternately, this could be assembled and check-out at ISS and then a low-boil-off Centaur is used for the TMI stage after the crast rendevoyuz with is in ISS orbit (not at ISS itself).

    The sec

  11. This would give each crewman one whole Dragon to themselves and the torus wyould be stuffed with cargo. The tunnel of the BEAM would thus be a ad-hoc storm shelter.

    And the crew should be one man and one woman who are both in a committed relationship to each other, for obvious reasons.

    1. A crew of two, one man and one woman, in a committed relationship… Interesting idea! That might be the best option to cope with living in such confined environments for so long.

      I’m not sure how committed they’d have to be though… as I doubt that infidelity would be a major risk under such circumstances. 🙂

      1. After 500+ days, assuming survival, I expect SOMEbody would be likely to be committed, even if the relationship is not… 😉

  12. The second Dragon could be cannabilized for parts if necessary and if really necessary, if the seats are so-designed, they could be broken-down and transferred to it if the other one goes tits-up.

  13. 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. IcePilot,

      But its MARS! A real planet, with real water. Another Earth with only a little terraform effort…

      Yes, the fixation with Mars is interesting to watch. A true dead end for human expansion in space, but folks still cling those those visions from the 1950’s of a Mars inhabited by humans. Ever since H.G. Wells made it the home of his Martians it has created a certain fantasy which has attracted amateur space pioneers no matter how much research shows its really unsuitable as a home to humans, a place where even the soil is more poisonous than a toxic waste dump.

      That said, if you are going to do a fly-by Venus would be much more interesting and accessible, or if you are really ambitious go for the gold and do Venus and Mars in one flight.

    2. The same types of products that are sold between the USA and places like Europe without passage on a boat or airplane. Granted, distance is an extremely limiting factor but the possibility for commerce exists.

      1. I agree, except that it won’t happen until the space economy and infrastructure expands beyond LEO/GEO. Earth’s immediate neighborhood has all the positives: free, endless energy, materials to exploit and no gravity. Mars is a long, long way away just to get to the gravity well. IOW, near space and the Moon have almost all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of Mars. Mars won’t happen until the cost of space travel is reduced by several orders of magnitude.

    3. 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?

      There are two that spring to mind: knowledge and experience. Billions a year are spent merely to learn more about Mars. It’s not a huge market, but it is something. Experience is the primary driver behind tourism. We want to know what it’s like on another world and are willing to pay somewhat to find out. Tito apparently is willing to spend a considerable amount to do so.

      1. Kudos to Tito, best of luck and I’ll be glued to the TV when the first video comes back. I just don’t see how how that business plan will work.

  14. Isn’t the BEAM that Bigelow is making for NASA meant to fit into the unpressurized space of a Dragon?

    That seems like it would be ideal for extra space during the mission.

  15. Instead of a BA-330 module, why not use a Genesis II sized container. Not great for space but better than a Dragon alone. The mass is lower so less fuel needed. Might be a nice compromise.

    1. I looked up the specs on the Genesis II and it’s too small. It’s interior volume is only 11.5 cubic meters (406 cubic feet) which isn’t that much bigger than a Dragon capsule at 350 cubic feet.

      I think a BA-330 might be too much for the mission but perhaps the earlier Sundancer would be just about right. It’s pressurized volume is 180 cubic meters (6,357 cubic feet) and has a mass of a little more than 6700 KG (19,000 pounds), about half of a BA-330. That includes life support, electrical and propulsion systems. The Wiki article says Bigelow has stopped work on the Sundancer but I’d wager they could build one fairly quickly if the money materialized.

  16. Just a question, but why are you all assuming it will be SpaceX?

    Excalibur Almaz owns the two partially completed Almaz space station modules as well as as some of the Merkur spacecraft designed to go with it. The Almaz was the basis of the Zarya module that was the first element of the ISS. The launch vehicles to support the Almaz are still available from Russia which has a long history of interest in Mars as well as a history of working with Dennis Tito. And U.S. dollars go far further in Russia than the U.S.

    It is easy to imagine Dennis Tito with a Russian crew riding an Almaz/Merkur on the mission, and an option much more likely than using the Falcon/Dragon which are tied up in NASA contracts for COTS/CCP/Commercial Crew for the ISS.

    1. Just a question, but why are you all assuming it will be SpaceX?

      Because that’s what Tito and his co-authors state in their paper?

      A better question would be, why are you assuming it’s not?

      1. Edward,

        Neither the Press Release or existing website mention SpaceX. That info is only from accounts of a paper that some in the media say they have and that they link to the venture.

        That said, if Dennis Tito is going with SpaceX then I really do wish him luck as he will need it. SpaceX has a very poor record of getting projects done on their original schedule. Just look at Falcon 1, Falcon 9, COTS, CRS, Falcon Heavy, Dragonlab. SpaceX is learning Cheops Law the hard way.

        By contrast for this mission to work it MUST launch in a narrow launch window that opens in 2018 and then closes again for over a decade. Missing that launch window leaves you with a lot hardware and nowhere to go. That is why Exclaibor Almez is probably a safer bet since they have access to proven Russian hardware.

        And that is not even taking into account the likely road blocks NASA and FAA regulators will likely toss in his path. By contrast Russia would likely receive him with open arms and clear the path forward since it fits with their geopolitical goals of demonstrating their power as a space faring nation.

        1. I didn’t say it was in the press release or on the website, Tom. I said it was from their paper — the one they’re delivering at the IEEE conference, according to Jeff Foust.

          1. Edward,

            While ignoring that the authors of the paper themselves are claiming SpaceX hardware is only used in the paper for purposes of analysis, probably because so much information is available for it on its website.

  17. Question: why is there an assumption that this would be a mission of around 2 years? That makes no sense to me for a flyby. For a flyby, wouldn’t a shorter mission duration be better, assuming the same delta-v from fuel? Actually, less fuel than a direct Mars flyby?

    Launch from Earth for a Venus gravity-assist close pass, which would give a fairly high-speed transfer orbit to Mars. At Mars, do a very close pass to achieve some light aerobreaking, with puts you on a course for earth intercept. Mission time; 475 days. (Venus encounter at day 169, Mars encounter day 350).

    The documented needed earth departure velocity is 4.43 kms, vs. 5kms for a direct flyby with a 728 day mission time.

    The above figures came out of a 2002 free return abort mode study for manned Mars missions.

    1. OOps. I misread, it’s said to be a 501 day mission, so what I posted about a 475 day mission doesn’t save much, and adds complexity.

    2. Maybe my orbit programs need revising; I get a burn of 2.95 km/sec for a Earth/Mars Hohmann transfer ellipse, a burn of 2.50 km/sec for an Earth/Venus Hohmann transfer. My program assumes circular orbits in the same plane, which was simple to write but not all that accurate. Still, it should be close enough for back-of-the-envelope calculations. An Earth-Mars Hohmann has a period of around 518 days, the Earth/Venus/Mars/Earth transit is going to be pretty variable. 2.95 km/sec requires about .38 km/sec over escape velocity for the Earth/Mars Hohmann, 2.5 km/sec about .28 km/sec over escape velocity for the initial Earth/Venus Hohmann.

      I don’t see a great deal of savings in delta V for the Venus encounter. The Venus encounter is going to be a bit more rare–you have to get all three planets into the proper configuration, as opposed to just two for a Hohmann. The Earth/Venus/Mars/Earth configuration requires two close approaches to tweak the orbit, which ups the squirm factor a bit.

      A two-planet flyby I guess is more fun, but it seems much more complicated.

  18. Why is there no desktop interface here. I’m only seeing the mobile phone interface?

    wodun: Curious as to the effects of passenger’s movements on the structures

    None, otherwise we could have a working Dean drive.

    IcePilot: …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?

    Let’s say none (that’s two for two) Get ready, I’m about to expand your consciousness… What product produced on earth will be sold for profit on mars? Don’t be too quick to answer (it would be the wrong answer.)

    Thomas: the fixation with Mars is interesting to watch.

    Thereby proving that watching is not necessarily learning. What mars is, is an economic sphere. Try to think of it as the desert of Las Vegas and you’re Bugsy.

    the soil is more poisonous than a toxic waste dump

    Name a poison. None biological of course. That leaves elements from the periodic table. Radioactive? No more than earth.

    Mike Walsh: Cooped-up in something less comfortable than an economy-class flight for a year.

    Keep in mind the LEM has walls as thick a foil in places. They could have as much space as they like with a good thickness of puncture resistant clear plastic. I know one company that would be GLAD to have that contract.

    After 500+ days…

    I could do 500 days standing on my head… well, assuming it was zero g. I just did 500 days in Springerville.

    1. Ken – In trying to understand the system you seem to be describing, I’m trying to figure out how you’re going to get Ben Bernanke to be the first man on Mars. He’s the only guy I know who can make money appear out of thin air. Unfortunately, he can’t create wealth out of even thick air, which I fear we will all learn too quickly. Regardless, I don’t see how a system works if the flow of wealth is all one way. Unless the Earth receives wealth from Mars, no long-term flow of wealth to Mars is sustainable.

      1. IcePilot,

        All wealth is created out of thin air. Perhaps somebody could direct you to a Bill Whittle video? (He talks about spears and baskets.) If you don’t know that, you can not speak intelligently about economics. That’s because all wealth comes from trade.

        You may think you understand that, but you don’t if you think that trade must involve two planets. Here’s the secret you don’t get. Wealth can be created by trade anywhere, including between two people on mars.

        This is very profound and you must allow it to sink in to understand it.

        Now if you understand what I just wrote, you also understand why ‘everything’ is the incorrect answer.

      2. The irony is Tito’s adventures follows Clarke’s laws perfectly. “It can’t. It wont. I said it would all along.” Thank you Tito. This is why we need frontiersman.

        I meant to say, the MOST incorrect answer. The few items they actually need from earth will be small high tech items that newer colonists will bring in their travel mass allotments.

        The most important import will be people with the skills the colony lacks. But that’s not the kind of product we were talking about.

    2. Ken,

      [[[the soil is more poisonous than a toxic waste dump
      Name a poison. None biological of course. That leaves elements from the periodic table. Radioactive? No more than earth. ]]]

      Below is a link to a study by the National Academy of Science. Reading this repost should be mandatory reading by all potential space settlers and investors.


      Actually Las Vegas proves my point about the Moon. Las Vegas is so successful because of its proximity to Southern California, a drive of only a few hours even in Bugsy’s day. Today the majority of Californians who leave their money in Nevada still travel by auto, just look at the parking lot I-15 is on holiday weekends when the cash registers are ringing in Las Vegas.
      Reno, separated by the Sierra Nevada mountains from the bay area, is less successful because of the impact of winter weather and so is much smaller than Las Vegas even through it predates it.

      By contrast Elko where I work is too far for any population center to have an economy based on entertainment. In the 1990’s a local casino tried to break in customers with a chartered b737. It was a flop. As a result, and thanks to its location on I-80 and the transcontinental railroads, its economy is based on mining and government subsidized ranching not entertainment.

      1. Ok Thomas, you can’t name one, but you can link to a report which…

        Given the unknown nature of the Martian dust and soil, the committee believed it was prudent to err conservatively by assuming a worst-case scenario.

        Seems fair enough, so what did they come up with?

        it identified certain toxic metals as the worst threat to humans

        Gotcha. Don’t eat the fish.

        Strong oxidants in the soil and dust are also potentially hazardous to astronauts

        Oooh, peroxides. Mix with water and you get oxygen. Yes, oxygen is poisonous. It kills bacteria in our lungs.

        The committee concluded that the threat of asbestos-like materials being present in Martian dust and soil is not significant

        So the soil is full of white paint pigment (Titanium Oxide) and kills bacteria. This makes earthside hospitals sound like distributors of the plague in comparison. Try again.

        1. Ken,

          The problem with heavy metals is they build up in your system, the longer you are on Mars the worst it will be. And one of the results is to impact your ability to make decisions. Read up on the Franklin expedition. Mars dust is going to be a major problem that will restrict times on the surface.

          1. Thomas,

            Did they even understand lead poisoning in 1848? (Don’t answer.)

            I’ve worked in toxic environments (beryllium oxide dust) with no space suit, you use over pressure to keep the air free. That’s difficult on earth where the air pressure outside is high, but we did it. On mars, that is trivial, because your habitat will always be greater pressure than mars normal.

            It’s also the boogie man. There is no evidence that heavy metals are any problem on mars. Like on earth they are oxides.

  19. Does Mars have even a single advantage over space?

    Neither energy nor resources or even gravity. Nada.

    The right answer – Lagrange points, NEOs, near/far Luna.
    If you want to get froggy, go for where the resourses are, Mercury.

    1. Mars does have resources and is one of the few places that we know of which could be made completely self-sufficient (Earth is another such example). And it’s a smaller gravity well than Mercury which is pretty far down the Sun’s gravity well.

      1. Never said that Mars didn’t have resources, just that they are at the bottom of a gravity well, not in bite sized chunks, and will be harder to find and extract. Roger the sunward gravity well, but would counter with solar energy density, no atmosphere, 24 hr sunlight at the poles and newly discovered water.

        1. Harder to find and extract

          Impressive handwaving of the first order. First, it hasn’t, for several thousand years, been mined out in either case by people already.

          Now we know how to mine stuff on a planet. The hand waving is suggesting that mining a rock with almost no gravity is a trifle issue.

    2. Does Mars have even a single advantage over space?

      No. It has a multitude of advantages, many shared with another planet we call home. If you are not blind, you could list them yourself.


      A perfect example of blindness. You look a solar energy and say see… space wins. Well no. You have to make collectors which means mining. On mars, they will not even have to mine. They can gather thorium from soil and generate more electricity than you could in space from solar panels too big to hold their own structure.


      Well, no again. Yes, the solar system has more than just mars alone. The problem is you have to gather them. As I said, it’s in walking distance on mars (but they will drive.)


      This we don’t know. However, we do know that spinning gives ya headaches. We will just have to find out.

      I wasn’t counting any of the above in the multitude by the way.

      1. Energy – Yes, I’m so blind that I didn’t recognize that solar energy density is a cubed function. With nighttime and atmosphere, Mars receives barely more than a tenth the energy as in near Earth space. Since space collectors don’t have to work against gravity, structures can be simpler, lighter and less costly. And space has every resource that Mars has, only likely to be easier to find, and in higher concentrations. Good luck on that Thorium reactor. You can copy the design from that working reactor in ….. Oh wait….

        Resources – Bite sized chunks, easier to find, higher concentrations, greater variety in space. And of course, ten times the energy available for processing.

        Gravity – “This we don’t know.” ??? Would this be willful blindness? Because I know – zero to whatever you want. I’ll let you expand your own conscienceness to figure out the headaches. It’s not difficult and you can take as long as you want.

        1. E- Why are you focused only on solar when I already agreed with you that space has better access to it than mars (I guess I just answered my own question.) Mars has enough to start industry, but industry will surpass that energy concentration with the first methane engine before they even get to nukes.

          Do you understand the economic reason we have more nuclear power than solar power here on earth? Do you understand that will be true everywhere… well, except space because of that nasty heat problem. How many panels will you need to equal the power output of a lawnmower? (a small engine) How many panels to equal a single 2000hp engine? A single nuclear power plant?

          Thorium reactors have been built as early as uranium reactors but they don’t produce material for bombs. It’s political, not technical. But if you want, mars has uranium as well and it’s easy to find although it requires processing that thorium does not.

          If you read my links you would have come across developers that state that with thorium, nuclear power was the easy part. The problem is that those guys were scientist and not industrial engineers. They could easily produce great amounts of heat but didn’t know how to turn that into power. Sounds like the same kind of blindness you run into at your favorite blog.

          R- Structures can be simpler, lighter and less costly AND huge to equal one reactor. You know why my avatar wanted to blow up the earth right? Because it was getting in the way of his view of venus. Now imagine the size of the array you would need?

          Space has every resource that Mars has, only likely to be easier to find, and in higher concentrations.

          You do realize you’re cherry picking concentrations? Somebody once told me that space has this attribute… What was it again… BIG. We’re aren’t talking about the cartoon asteroid belt where every rock is a foot away from every other. The best description of the density of the asteroid belt is… What’s that other word… vacuum. You have to expend fuel to get to those nuggets of concentration. Once you do, you end up with the exact same concentration as on mars… it’s called rock.

          Easier to find? On mars, you’re standing on it. …and each and every martian is equal to one spaceship in terms of individual choice of movement.

          G- Yep. Willful. It will have some affects but I think we’ll be fine.

          Nobody has ever died from zero g, but they have lived through more than a year of it. We have no data on 0.38g.

          The headaches come from simply twisting you head. It does depend on individual sensitivity and rotation rate. But that’s not a problem since *your kind* [evil grin] never look any direction but one.

          1. Oh, not just expend fuel, match velocity once you get there. Oh, and that rock is tumbling. Oh, and that rock doesn’t have enough gravity to help you. We will mine asteroids, but don’t gloss over the difficulties.

            There will be difficulties on mars as well, but no where near those of asteroid mining.

          2. You seem to describe a colony springing to life on Mars, creating an intra-Mars economy that creates enough wealth to not only be self-sustaining, but growing. That’s certainly possible – sophisticated 3D printing and nano-technology might allow you to arrive on Mars with just a survival system, your computer, production high tech and a change of socks. I just don’t think the folks that actually have to spend the cash will drop it down that gravity well when the opportunity to make greater returns investing a lot less money are so much closer (from a cost/energy/distance standpoint) than Mars.

            All of your arguments in favor of Mars apply equally to the Moon.

            Please cease your attempts to educate me on nuclear power; Rickover was there waaay ahead of you.

            Huge structures – you say that almost as if you think being huge negates the advantages of being simpler, lighter and less costly. It doesn’t. I don’t think that solar photovoltaics will be much involved in space industrial processes, it will be mirrors.

            “You do realize you’re cherry picking concentrations?” – this is the one that made me laugh out loud. Do you want to not pick concentrations? Isn’t that the first step? I imagined this conversation the day after you land on Mars, “We need Thorium! Where shall we start? We’re not going to cherry-pick concentrations, just start digging!”

            I think that same “somebody” told me the same thing about space being BIG. Lucky for me, the conversation continued and he went on to explain that distance is not the critical parameter when discussing space travel. Space has this funny property that once you get going the direction you want to go, you keep going. And I’m not talking cartoon keep going, I’m talking Isaac Newton keep going.

            Energy is the critical parameter, giving space a two-Mars-gravity-well advantage.

            “..with the exact same concentration as on mars… it’s called rock.” – this is simply false. Or else the two private ventures that are investing money to exploit NEO’s are wrong, and the mining on Earth isn’t being conducted at meteor strike locations. “standing on it” just makes it harder to find and extract.

            G – Geez. (and a sigh). Space can provide any g level you want. The coriolis induced dizziness is a trivial issue that disappears with a bit of diameter. Mars has only 3.8 g and up.

          3. Gravity helps, gravity hurts. In the end, I think that no gravity will have the advantage. I agree that rotation is a huge problem, but assume that it will be avoided initially by selecting non-rotating bodies. I gloss no more than you; perhaps considerably less.

          4. Ken,

            That is why mining the Moon will predate both. It has enough gravity to allow terrestrial mining systems to be adapted to it, but unlike Mars, is far closer to Earth, close enough to make it possible to apply the telebotic mining systems that are already being used in terrestrial mining.

        2. Mars receives barely more than a tenth the energy as in near Earth space

          Uh, no. First of all solar energy density is an areal density in units of watts/m2.

          Second of all, the energy at Mars is about 780 watts/m2 vs 1364 watts/m2 at the top of the atmosphere on the Earth.

          1. Thanks for that. I probably should stop trying to cube distances in my head. I thought that it worked out to about a factor of 0.14 and fudged a little due to atmosphere. But night & day would cut your Mars numbers in half, wouldn’t it?

  20. I’m trying to understand the system you seem to be describing

    Since I take you at your word, I will help you understand. It’s simple.

    * People will buy something if they perceive the value is more than the cost.
    * If that something is under a hundred dollars it could be an impulse buy.
    * Those impulse buys are more than enough to fully fund a colony on mars.
    * While that is sufficient it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the wealth.

    TRILLIONS of dollars of wealth is available now if people will just realize that cost is only one side of the equation.

    There’s more, but let that sink in.

    1. Thank goodness! Since you do realize both sides of that equation, nothing will stand between you and those TRILLIONS.

      1. When transactions get to the level where I can personally get involved? You bet, I will be first in line.

        You think you’re being snarky regarding trillions. You are not. I was just talking about a partially developed mars that leads to faster and further development of the solar system. Do you know the value of a single asteroid? What value do you suppose to put on a developed solar system? Do you suppose that value is more than just one earth?

        Laugh and lose, sucker. (Forgive the pejorative… that just had to be the line.)

  21. Another advantage often not considered…

    Mars is a huge heat sink. In space, heat is a huge problem.

    You can extract energy from the heat differential from a nuclear heat source. That’s a big problem in space.

    1. And on this we agree, although I’m not sure that the atmosphere on Mars is thick enough to provide that much more heat transfer than space, and it is warmer.

          1. I’m not sure how easy it would be to pump heat into an asteroid. If they are rubble piles there’s not going to be that much thermal contact between where you’ve inserted your heat sink and the rest of the asteroid.

          2. Daver – agree. Which is why the efforts of the two private NEO development outfits is to first characterize them. Which is pretty easy to do (in space) and why comments like “you’re cherry picking concentrations” is absolutely correct.

            Because we can.

  22. Mike Walsh writes:

    “Space travel differs from (write irrelevant historical analogy here) by several orders of magnitude. But the fanboys will invoke such analogies just the same, against all reason, to prop up their brave religious fables….”


    If you are talking about the technological differences between space travel and terrestrial, Age of Exploration sea travel, for example, there are significant differences. Although I will say that the concepts of re-supply, repair, protection from the elements, and knowing when you have sufficient progress in the technology to make the trip workable are fairly timeless.

    But if you are talking about human nature, then historical analogies are completely relevant and useful to remember:

    Nobody went anywhere just for fun. There was always an economic imperative and without the economic imperative, the boats stayed tied up to the quay. There was also a military imperative.

    After a multitude of sales pitches, Columbus could not get the financial backing to make the trip because the overland routes were open. Twenty minutes after they were closed, the money people called him back for another conference.

    The technology had matured to the point where Lindbergh had a reasonable chance of making the trip and the market for trans oceanic travel ( by boat) was well established: the money was obvious. The market possibilities if you can cut the travel time down by using aircraft was obvious.

    These days we do have individuals with enough money to do something for fun. That’s why Tito went to ISS. But a trip to Mars is a one or two off thing – you will have as many manned swings around Mars as you have people with the money and willingness to take the risk. It’s a limited market. A failure on a Mars joyride would have a chilling effect on future joyrides although it may not end them. There would be questions as to whether or not the design and technologies had matured enough.

    The “man’s urge to explore” rationale is a non-starter. The “we can all be wiped out” rationale is, for our present mindset, a non-starter as well: just as the money holders in Columbus’ time weren’t forward thinking to the day the overland route would be shut down, very few of our present population entertain worries on asteroid destruction for more than a half hour after the spectacular youtube video is watched.

    All the above have to do with human nature. And those lessons are timeless and as applicable now as they were when the Vikings landed in Greenland.

    1. Gregg,

      I agree 100%.

      That is why Antarctica was discovered by sealers and Arctic explorers who followed in the trail of whalers and fur traders.

      Columbus was something of an out layer although some claim English firms already were conducting commercial fishing operations in Newfoundland under strict secrecy and Columbus ran across stories of them on one of his trips to Iceland/England as a merchant sailor giving him the idea of finding a shortcut to Asia.

      The entire problem of space is that exploration was led by science rather than the usual situation of scientists following business adventurers.

  23. That should be:

    “That is why Antarctica was discovered by sealers and Arctic explorers followed in the trail of whalers and fur traders.”

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