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#1 2006-12-10 04:28:43

Registered: 2005-06-16
Posts: 3,230

Re: Q&A: A Missionary for Mars Exploration

Q&A: A Missionary for Mars Exploration

By Will Sullivan

Posted 12/8/06

When it comes to the red planet, Robert Zubrin is a true believer and has spent decades agitating for a more ambitious NASA. The 54-year-old astronautical engineer is the president of the Mars Society and author of The Case for Mars, in which he proposes a Mars mission for which the fuel for the return trip would be made on the planet itself. He was consulted before the unveiling of NASA's plans this week to build a permanent settlement on the moon, a move the agency contends is a steppingstone to eventual travel to Mars.

What is your opinion about NASA's announcement this week?

I'm very much a believer that NASA needs to have a central driving mission. Basically the manned space program has accomplished nothing since 1973 except for the Hubble Telescope. They're just doing things to do them. But this can hardly be regarded as bold, a plan to do 14 years from now what they did 50 years before. They're also doing it in twice the time it took to do the first time. We could be on Mars in 10 years without a doubt. The idea that your strategic goal is the moon as opposed to Mars I think is wrong. I think it's too timid. I think it's, well, un-American.

What did you think about the announcement from NASA of evidence of liquid water on Mars?

I'm very excited about it. What this means is if we send people to Mars, we won't just be limited to looking for fossils but for life. All Earth life is the same at the biochemical level. It's all the same bricks, it's just put together in different formats. But does all life have to be like that?

What makes Mars a better option than the moon?

Mars compares to the moon in the coming age of exploration as North America compares to Greenland in the previous age of exploration. It might take a little more to travel to North America than to Greenland, but it is easier to sustain a colony there. Mars has resources that can be used to support the base. You can make fuel there. You can get water. On Mars you have the elements of life and you have the elements of industry. On the moon, you don't really have either.

Would attitudes have to change at NASA for us to go to Mars?

I think that we as a nation are going to need to be much more accepting of risk if we're going to be able to settle on the moon or Mars. Because if people insist that these trips be safe, they're going to have to wait a very long time. These are ships of exploration going out onto stormy seas. It's not just NASA, frankly, it's the American political class and body politic. The space shuttle program has a 98 percent success record, and it's regarded as unacceptable. Now I'm not saying shuttle failures are good, but I'm saying no exploration program in the past had a 98 percent success rate.

How long would a voyage to Mars take?

It would take six months to get to Mars, and that's with current propulsion. Now, once you're there, then there will be a year and a half while you're there in order for the planets to line up to give you a favorable window to travel back, and then the voyage back will take six months. My dad went to World War II and he was away for three years and eating a lot worse food than these astronauts are going to eat. This would not be the first time that anybody's been away from home for three years.

Based on your research, how could a voyage to Mars best work?

First, you shoot the return ship to Mars and it starts making the fuel for the trip back. That goes to Mars with no one in it. At the next launch opportunity, the crew shoots out to Mars in their habitat module. They carry out their research program on Mars for a year and a half, then they take the return ship back and leave the habitat module. So each time you do this, you add another habitat for a base.

Describe the Mars Society's simulated bases?

We have a crew in our desert location right now; that's in southern Utah. We'll have another one in the Canadian high Arctic, on Devon Island. It's a polar desert, there are no plants, there are almost no animals. It's got very similar geography, people think, to what might exist on Mars. We decided that what we would do is set up a base there and then conduct a series of field investigations in as many of the conditions that people would experience on Mars as could be experienced by the crew. We say, "You can't go outside without a space suit on. Your duration out there is limited. You can't really talk to anyone. You've got to use the radio." They've got to do their own repairs on equipment. They've got to get along with one another.

How you ever gone?

I've done four [tours]. I've done three in the Arctic and one in the desert.

What sorts of people participate?

We send out a call for volunteers on the Internet. We've had at this point something like 1,400 people volunteer, and 300 people have served in one crew or another. Most of them are engineers. We've had professors, we've had graduate students, we've had undergraduates. Around 20 percent of our crews have been NASA or [European Space Agency] scientists or engineers.

Does NASA support you?

Initially this opportunity was privately funded. Now, we have begun to get some NASA money. I think we've gotten about $50,000 or so. Now, you can do this on the moon, but clearly if you can do it for 1/1,000th of the cost in the Arctic, then you can get 1,000 times the training done for the same cost. Only those things that need to be done on the moon should be done on the moon.

Let's go to Mars and far beyond -  triple NASA's budget !   #space channel !!    - videos !!!


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