REACHING THE MARTIAN SURFACE
Reaching Mars will not be an easy task. In fact it may take months of intense travel, fighting off the health problems of lengthy interstellar travel just to reach the Martian surface. Bringing enough supplies, oxygen, water and all the other life necessities to last the entire trip is another major problem, which has to be overcome. Fortunately, for every problem there is a solution, but how much will these solutions costs? Leaving Earth for the first time to travel to a new and far away land like Mars will be the hardest challenge yet to face humanity, but must be done sooner or later so why not now? We have the technology, the money, the resources, what we need is some motivation and a game plan: A plan that will ensure success to our largest mission in history.
Mars at its closest approach is about 80 million km far away from Earth. In comparison, our moon is only about 384 000 km away from us (Paton 1981). Traveling to Mars will take around 6 months, maybe even longer. A long time in space can be very dangerous because of solar winds, cosmic radiation, and zero gravity conditions. Although it is a long and hard journey, reaching Mars will be made a bit easier thanks to the Earths rotation around the sun. As the space shuttle will leave Earth to reach Mars, the Earth will give the shuttle a speed burst due to the 30km/sec orbital speed of our planet. But sending just one big rocket powered space ship to Mars is not too realistic. Instead a number of strategies have been created. The most promising and realistic mission is called Mars Direct. According to Zubrin, Baker and Gwynne of NASA Ames Research Center, the Mars Direct plan would begin with the launch of an unmanned Earth Return Vehicle, which would land on Mars, manufacture its own propellant, and thereby being extremely cost efficient. Within two years of the first shuttle launch, the first manned spacecraft and another Earth Return Vehicle will work their way towards Mars. The astronauts would head their shuttle to the first landing site, where as the unmanned shuttle launched with them would go and prepare for the next manned mission scheduled to arrive within the next two years. The Mars Direct plan can continue for years leaving behind strings of bases on Mars (2001). Astronauts would be away from Earth for approximately 3 years; six months to get there, two years of research and work, followed by another six month journey home to Earth. The Mars Direct plan is easily within our reach. No huge, complex space crafts would be necessary, in fact all the technology needed to make this mission possible is available presently. If necessary, we could reach Mars with the same relatively small spacecraft used to carry astronauts to the moon over 30 years ago.
Other missions to Mars have been drafted, but none as cost efficient, safe and realistic as the Mars Direct mission. Some of these possible missions include, the Exhaust-Modulated Plasma Rocket, the, Atomic-Bomb rocket, and the Anti Matter/Fusion Engine Rocket. The Exhaust-Modulated Plasma Rocket could bring astronauts to Mars within 90 days. The major disadvantages of this mission are it would be extremely expensive, and the astronauts may not survive the G forces they would be exposed to. Basically the Exhaust-Modulated Plasma Rocket is made for an extremely fast trip to Mars and the idea of it is to ionize hydrogen and to push it outwards with the help of a magnetic field. The Atomic Bomb Rocket would be just as fast, but extremely dangerous. Also The Atomic Bomb Rocket is forbidden because of the space-nuclear ban treaty. Anti Matter/Fusion engines are thought to the most expensive of all the engines and rockets, in fact, according to Dooling of NASA, “Right now, antimatter is the most expensive substance on Earth, costing approximately $62.5 trillion a gram.”
Unfortunately, we do not have this sort of money, but eventually the price will decrease for anti matter, and it may someday be in a realistic price range. Luckily, we don't need such exotic technologies to reach Mars, since Mars Direct would work fine and be far less expensive.
Using chemistry, and physics, supplies can be brought with the right technology to save billions of dollars. In order for this mission to be successful, a 6-ton load of hydrogen will have to be brought to Mars from Earth. The hydrogen will react with Mars’ atmosphere to produce water and methane. This process is called methanation. Methane is much easier to store than hydrogen. Methane is liquefied and then stored. The water molecule is then electrolyzed to produce hydrogen and oxygen. This resulting oxygen is then stored and the hydrogen is to be used again in the same process. As a result, 48 tons of oxygen, and 24 tons of methane are produced! To ensure stability a further 36 tons of oxygen have to be created. Breaking apart carbon dioxide molecules from the Martian atmosphere with the energy of a solar powered reactor can do this essential task. Within 10 months, there will be 108 tons of propellant. Over 18 times the original feedstock necessary to produce it! The return trip requires 96 tons of propellant, and leaves 12 tons for machinery and operation of the Mars rovers. As a result, much less mass has to be brought from Earth, saving energy, space, and money. Also, additional stockpiles of oxygen can also be produced. These stockpiles of oxygen can be saved for either breathing or for water, by reacting the oxygen with the hydrogen brought from Earth. This will greatly reduced the amount of life-supporting supplies that must be brought from Earth; once more resulting is dramatic decreases of money, space, and energy. A ten-year Mars Direct mission is estimated at costing between 20-30 billion dollars. Although it seems like a lot of money, being spent over the ten years, it will only take up 20% of NASA’s yearly budget, or slightly over 1% of the U.S military’s yearly budget.
Traveling to Mars with the proper equipment, and resources is possible with our current technology and mission plans. The Mar Direct mission is by far the most realistic and cost efficient plan to colonize Mars. Although it may take much longer than other missions, it cuts the costs down dramatically, ensures a safer journey, and higher success rate. The chemistry of creating oxygen, water and other important compounds through the process of methanation is essential in using the most from resources, saving space and reducing costs.
Here is a short table of "facts" that previously made a manned Mars mission impossible and how it is now made possible with Mars Direct.