Given a number of variables, a human mission to Mars is both feasible and affordable. That was the uniting idea behind a statement by a group of 60 government, industry and academic organizations who together reached what they called a "consensus on what is necessary to make human Mars exploration feasible, sustainable, and affordable within two decades."
The group, brought together by the non-profit Explore Mars organization includes, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the United Launch Alliance, the American Astronautical Society and others. "This is no small achievement," said Jim Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of AAS in a statement. "This is the first time such a diverse group has come together to agree that sending humans to Mars is both a priority and possible."
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The group said it evaluated a number of scenarios for what it called compelling human and robotic exploration of Mars, as well as the role the International Space Station (ISS) could play in moving a Mars mission along.
The group agreed on six core principles:
1) Sending humans to Mars is affordable with the right partnerships, commitment to efficiency, constancy of purpose, and policy/budget consistency.
2) Human exploration of Mars is technologically feasible by the 2030s.
3) Mars should be the priority for human space flight over the next two to three decades.
4) Between now and 2030, investments and activities in the human exploration of space must be prioritized in a manner that advances the objective of initial human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s.
5) Utilizing the International Space Station (ISS) is essential for human missions to deep space.
6) Continuation of robotic precursor missions to Mars throughout the 2020's is essential for the success of human missions to Mars.
As with other Mars mission ideas, the group recognizes a bunch of companies and organizations will have to come together in a relatively short period of time to make any Mars mission a reality.
"Careful coordination among stakeholders, NASA, industry/commercial, and potential international partners will be required. The human space flight stakeholders must initiate new and sustainable programs that will clearly advance the goal of landing crews on Mars by the mid 2030s. A logical, affordable architecture with a campaign of mission "stepping stones" and elements must be developed.
"From the start, such an architecture must incorporate management efficiencies and flexibility based on lessons learned from ISS, commercial programs and other past NASA programs, as well as from DOD and industry. Above all, political and budgetary stability is essential over a two-decade time span. Accomplishing the goal will require a policy and appropriate budget commitment over multiple US Congressional and Presidential elections as has been done for other major undertakings in history. Sending humans to Mars is far less an issue of cost than it is of commitment," the group said in a report on the mission.
Such grand plans have been espoused a lot recently. The Inspiration Mars group, lead by billionaire entrepreneur Dennis Tito detailed how his philanthropic group known as Inspiration Mars can get around the money details and get strait to the Red Planet by 2018.
"No longer is a Mars flyby mission just one more theoretical big idea. It can be done - not in a matter of decades, but in a few years. Moreover, the mission might just show the way for a new model for joint effort and financing. It would attract significant private funding, while enabling NASA to do what it does best, and confirm the United States as the unquestioned leader in space," Tito who is a former NASA Jet Propulsion scientist, told the House committee. "If I may offer a frank word of caution to this subcommittee: The United States will carry out a Mars flyby mission, or we will watch as others do it - leaving us to applaud their skill and their daring. If America is ever going to do a flyby of Mars - a manned mission to another world - then 2018 is our last chance to be first."
Basically what Tito and Inspiration Mars are proposing is an unprecedented partnership with NASA and other commercial space operators such as Orbital Sciences or Space X to launch a two-person spacecraft into space and make a 501 day trip to Mars where it would traverse 800 million miles, fly within 100 miles of the Red planet and return home. Another challenge is the launch window - between late 2017 and early 2018 - which would let the mission take advantage of a planetary alignment that occurs once every 15 years.
As part of the testimony Inspiration Mars released a feasibility study of the Mars trip which included specific details of the proposed mission.
For example, the operation would begin with two launches - one using NASA's still-in-development heavy lift rocket that would put into Low Earth Orbit the big mission components including "an [heavy lift Space Launch System] upper-stage rocket that will propel the spacecraft from Earth's orbit to Mars; a service module containing electrical power, propulsion, and communication systems; a [Orbital] Cygnus-derived habitat module where the astronauts will live for 501 days; and, for the last hours of the mission, an Earth Reentry Pod. This pod is derived from the work to date on [NASA's] Orion, but will greatly increase the entry speed for this new vehicle to be known as Orion Pathfinder."
"In the second launch, a commercial transportation vehicle (to be selected from among competing designs) and crew will carry the astronauts into orbit for rendezvous... The two craft will meet using docking procedures and systems that have been perfected in 136 spaceflights, by 209 astronauts, to the International Space Station. After the crew transfer and detachment of the commercial vehicle, the SLS upper-stage will ignite a Trans-Mars Injection burn to escape Earth's orbit and begin the journey. "
In the end Inspiration Mars concludes: "There are definitely challenges in developing the flight hardware and accomplishing the Inspiration Mars mission within the time constraint. However, there is an overwhelming belief that this mission is not only technically feasible, but programmatically achievable in the short time frame remaining We believe it is well-worth the commitment, resources and hard work to take advantage of this truly unique opportunity."
And in December yet another group Mars One said Lockheed Martin was onboard to build the spacecraft that would land a technology demonstration robot on the Red Planet by 2018. The Mars One group ultimately wants to establish a human outpost on Mars.
The lander robot would use technology Lockheed previously built for NASA's Phoenix lander which touched down on Mars in 2008. The Mars One lander will evaluate the use of the Phoenix design for the Mars One mission and identify any modifications that are necessary to meet future requirements. In addition, the mission would go a long way toward determining the cost and schedule of future missions.
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