Why Mars? By BabelFish


The romance of exploration. Voyages of discovery, with intrepid heroes inspiring others to go with them or to pay their way . Columbus had Ferdinand and Isabella as his patrons. Lewis and Clark had Thomas Jefferson and, by way of his office, the people of America.

Perhaps it all peaks with the Apollo program landing humans on the Moon, in what can be described as a money is no limit program. A nearly pure expression of the Cold War. Let us also remember that Congress canceled funding for the last 3 missions. 

There have been a lot of thoughtful folks who believe that the Apollo program was in the wrong sequence. They saw the correct progression as moving from the X-15 and the Air Force DynaSoar space planes to a full time presence in Low Earth Orbit and then to the Moon. The Air Force was well into developing a Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) but it did not make the cut versus Apollo. NASA did come up with Skylab, post Apollo. That probably should have come first, according to the LEO advocates.

NASA tried to apply the “Can Do” magic to the Shuttle. Given the original objectives of a flight every one or two weeks, it was a miserable failure. Blasphemy you say? Let me use an old fashioned business term we uttered when someone proposed spending money on anything new. How do I get my bait back? How does this pay for itself? Fully accounted for with all program spending included, each Shuttle flight came out at $1.5 Billion USD. 

Did we benefit from the Apollo program? Did we benefit from the Shuttle program? Complex questions and answers. Where they worth it? IMHO, that is truly in the eye of the beholder. And the arguments get circular.

Sarcasm has it that we got the beverage Tang from Apollo and not much else. That would be wrong, both about Tang and the Apollo benefits for technology, education, program execution knowledge. I've linked in an older article about the subject that still rings true. The issue to argue about is could we have had the same benefits by building an big LEO space station first, thus making Moon explorations more affordable and sustainable? 

Was Apollo worth it? I believe the answer is yes, and that is despite our country giving up technologies like the Saturn series rockets and the F-1 engine that powered the Saturn 5.

Regarding the Shuttle, many feel NASA got caught flat footed by the early end of the Apollo program, felt the lash of threatened budget constraints and dreamt the right dream. IMO, they just got the scale of the technical challenge and the breadth of what to try to field very wrong. Was it worth it? I think the answer is no. And, yes, I worked on the program. $1.5 BUSD per launch! We did keep the solid rocket booster technology and the main engines (SMEs). The expense of the program prevented too many other things NASA could have started, IMO.

So, why a manned mission to Mars?

If you have the time, I would invite you to read Andy Weir's book, “The Martian.” Also a good movie but the book more thoroughly explores the subject of astronauts on Mars. It is a work of fiction, so items like the threat of wind pushing things around is fiction. The Martian atmosphere is far to thin to tip over an ascent stage.

Our Mars exploration to date has  been primarily focused on the search for life outside of our planet's environments. We have a sturdy robot travelling across the surface and multiple craft in orbit doing photography and science measurements. The next NASA rover is scheduled for launch next year and other countries are planning efforts. It is true that getting to Mars and landing or getting into orbit is notoriously hard.

It has been said that much of the past years of robot science activity on Mars could be done by an astronaut in a few hours. Perhaps true but the robot doesn’t care about radioactivity levels, micro or light gravity and other hazards involved in getting to Mars, staying there and getting back. The rovers, landers and orbiters require no life support or consumables, run no medical risks.

On the other hand, a human can fix things, troubleshoot, organize, plan and other tasks that our robots can not do. We have good examples from servicing missions to the Hubble telescope and some satellite rescues. We have good examples of fixes that could have been done with by an astronaut in a few minutes, had one been present.

One link below is to an intensive, very tech discussion on the hazards to humans on the surface of Mars and what should be done to accurately calculate the risks involved, perhaps even the viability of going there. It is most assuredly no “Roamin in the Gloamin!”. In particular, the radiation hazard is daunting, in both flight mode and on the planet surface. Many of the advanced discussions about long term stays on the surface include burying or covering any habitats and enclosed workspaces in Martian dirt (regolith). Even the rovers will have to be speedy to minimize exposure time. (Maybe a Tesla rover with a Ludicrous mode?)

My belief is that in discussing near term manned Mars missions, say by 2030, the U.S, Elon Musk, etc. are once again, like Apollo, trying to “hit a home run.” We can't even assure funding for the one space station we have and we are talking multi-billions for a moon gateway and a trip to Mars. I am truly not worried about  the sun going nova in a billion years and not inclined to panic about a dinosaur killer. I believe we should consider ourselves and all of the nations of Earth decades away from an attempt, probably many decades. If we go, we need to get over our peer and near peer rivalries and go as a consortium. 










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19 Responses to Why Mars? By BabelFish

  1. Avatar BabelFish says:

    You mean’t a Saturn 5, not an Atlas. There were more than one left over. We had one as a gate display at my workplace, the first stage at least.
    And, soley? Please be serious. Look up Skylab in Wiki and get back to us on soley.

  2. Avatar BabelFish says:

    Teflon was invented in 1938 by Roy Plunkett. It’s invention by NASA is another canard. Please read through some of the links. You may still disagree about the value project but you will be better informed.

  3. Avatar JJackson says:

    Where you still with NASA at the time leading up to STS125 (HST-SM4)?
    I followed the disagreements at the time and felt a number of the reasons not to launch were disingenuous. They seemed to be looking for reasons not to go which seemed to me – from the outside – to have more to do with budget than safety. Looking through the budget at the time President Bush’s re-tasking to a Moon mission was catastrophic to the Origins and other programs given the enormous costs associated with ISS and its resupply which could not be defunded. I would be grateful for any thoughts you may have on that period between the loss of Columbia and the change of Administrators form Griffin to Scolese. NASA has my sympathies in it suffers terribly with changes of President, and their Administrators and priorities, which occurs on much shorter timescales than those involved in planning and implementation of any space mission.

  4. Avatar BabelFish says:

    JJ, I was employed by Martin Marietta, at MAF, on the External Tank project. I had left by the time of the loss of Columbia.
    Your comments about the political football being disastrous for NASA are completely on point. It never got worse than “Faster, Cheaper, Better” which produced a cockeyed Hubble telescope and a lost mission to Mars.

  5. Avatar Barbara Ann says:

    “Why Mars?” (next) is exactly the right question to ask. A manned mission to Mars should clearly be on the list, but where on the list? A Mars mission means living there, as you say, essentially underground, for months and all up a mission years in duration. And when we have done it what – we lose interest for the next 40 years, as with the Moon?
    The progression you describe towards living in space sounds more like the Russian vision of Cosmic exploration and I think we may be best refocusing on this. Build expertise living off-world, perhaps on the Moon first where, for example, astronauts can at least hold a near-live two way conversation with loved ones back home (unlike Mars). And the way to get there is surely to encourage free enterprise to make travel to the Moon so cheap that people will eventually vacation there. If Trump Lunar is on that path, so be it.
    Overall, I’d echo Colonel Lang’s sentiments on his post on mining asteroids – space needs to become profitable. If we wait for our earthly peer rivalries to be set aside the first Earth mission should probably need to be called “Godot”. No, we are a competitive species and we are at our best when a race is on. Moon first and then who knows, the 2049ers may be staking claims in the asteroid belt.

  6. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    While many involved with SST seem to have their eyes on outer space,
    I find myself wondering about a problem much more down-to-earth:
    the problems the Navy is having with its CVN-78 Ford-class carriers, and the AF is having with its F-35.
    Good non-technical view of these problems are in
    “F-35 fighter embroiled in a sea of trouble” and
    “Naval Air: Fords Brace For The Worst”. .
    Two issues with regard to the CVN-78 carriers seem particularly interesting:
    1) It is claimed (in the second ref. above, and elsewhere) that when one of the four EMALS catapults is taken down for maintenance, all four are rendered inoperable, unlike the situation with the previous steam-powered catapults:

    “due to a basic design flaw, if one EMALS catapult becomes inoperable, the other three catapults could not be used in the meantime as was the case with steam catapults”.

    Was that known during the design phase, and accepted? If not, how was it missed?
    2) The Navy’s just-delivered CVN-78 and the still-under-construction CVN-79 carriers, cannot handle the Navy’s version of the F-35, the F-35C, without further modification?
    Given the time-lines for the development of both the carriers and the F-35,
    why was not suitability for the F-35C a design requirement for these new carriers?
    How was this missed?
    Don’t know if readers of SST have much knowledge of Navy development, but if any do, please comment on this.
    As to the relevance of this to space flight, it certainly makes me wonder about a decline of America’s technical competence.

  7. Avatar Lloyd D. Herod, Jr. says:

    You mentioned Andy Weir’s book. a bit less entertaining but perhaps the seminal book for the argument to prioritize the exploration of Mars is; The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. Also Dr. David Brin the noted SF writer and Ph.D. in Space Physics. supports a Mars priority. When you examine it, a Mars base presents a much better stepping stone to the Asteroid belt and the likely riches there. Besides, Mars presents a much more hospitable environment for humans.

  8. Avatar turcopolier says:

    Not very respectful of others’ interests. Is money spent on the space program not a good idea?

  9. Avatar BabelFish says:

    I have read Zubrin’s book and David Brin is a favorite. I would agree that Mars is better positioned for harvesting asteroid resources.
    Saying that, I believe the proper arguments still stand. A consortium of nations could undertake the exploration, after a long effort of R&D. We appear to not truly know how long a human can survive on Mars and stay helthy. IMO, we have a huge number of learnings to accomplish before it begins to make sense to try.

  10. Avatar BabelFish says:

    KH, but why was EMALS designed and installed? They have to get it right, of course, but clumsy program management doesn’t equal technical incompetence, IMO.
    On the F-35, the program appears to be on track to have delivered 500 aircraft by years end. Again, program selling and execution was awful but the 3 different airplanes the program produced appear to be delivering on their intent. One underestimated issue with this aircarft is that each model has no more than 25% in common with the other. They sold a one model for all but built three nearly unique jets.

  11. Avatar BabelFish says:

    KH, this is a good summary article of where the F-35 program is right now. Yes, it’s positive but I find it factual.

  12. Avatar Ricardo says:

    As a side note, Isabella, Queen of Castile, was the sole patron of Columbus, because Ferdinand, King of Aragon, thought that it was a very bad idea, and Asia too far to reach with the ships available.
    That’s the reason why in the Americas people speak Spanish (a.k.a. Castilian) and nobody speaks Catalan (Aragon): Only Castilians were allowed to travel to the Americas for the first 200 years since the Columbus travels.

  13. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    “Is money spent on the space program not a good idea?”
    I’ll give you my frank opinion.
    I think global warming is a real issue.
    We can read the reports of melting polar ice, and the reports of record heat year after year.
    Is it 100% certain this is due to CO2 emissions, etc.?
    Not 100%, but it sure seems quite likely, to me anyhow.
    And the effects on future generations, if these trends continue, will be disastrous, IMO.
    I think the U.S. should spend serious money on ways to stop the buildup of CO2, and other problematic emissions in the atmosphere.
    This is, to my mind, a far more important issue than sending men to Mars, etc.
    And far more important than finding a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or the other things NIH is spending $30 billion per year on.
    That’s my opinion, FWIW.

  14. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    Thanks for your replies.
    On the Navy carrier issue, I was and am wondering if there is any source for information on such Navy R&D issues analogous to Aviation Week, which certainly provided good coverage of AF issues (or used to, I haven’t read it in years).
    I used to be directly involved with some DoD procurement projects (specifically for some SIGINT systems), first as an Army officer and later as a civilian contractor, and know how extensive the design review process was for those systems, and also the interesting balance of technical capability and knowledge of operational requirements which existed between the contractor teams and the DoD COTR’s.
    Just curious about what the design review process was for those carriers.
    Were the EMALS issues known but not considered significant (maybe it was assumed that the EMALS would not have issues)?
    Seems to me that’s an issue worth learning about.
    Of course problems with new aircraft are not new — some older aircraft had their problems too.
    The F-4 was optimized for range and load-carrying capability, i.e. as a fighter-bomber, but not for agility, thus its poor performance in air-to-air combat. The F-15 certainly addressed that issue. The F-104 had its issues too (the Germans called it “The Widowmaker”). And so it goes.

  15. Avatar BabelFish says:

    KH, the F-4 was actually developed by the Navy as a fleet defender. Able to carry a big radar, plenty of gas and Sparrow missiles to kill Russian maritime aircraft. It was pressed into service as a multi-role fighter-bomber and they built a ton of them. As you say, it was not designed for air superiority as it had been optimized for beyond visual range intercept.
    The F-104 as a NATO aircraft was a bad decision, aided by liberal bribes. It was designed as a point interceptor and pressed into a role it wasn’t suited for.
    EMALS was designed to reduced manpower, as well as avoid the need to generate steam and the piping associated with it. Incomprehensible to me why the setting up a single point of failure. These ships are supposed to operate with battle damage.

  16. Avatar JJackson says:

    That is also my assesment.
    Earth observation statalites should be our priority at present. I also would be in favour of trying to understand our universe but that is probably more me than a human priority. The rate of spiecies extinction is truly scary and is proceding faster than any of the previous mass extinction events (normally deemed to be a species loss of 75% in a couple of million years) we are currently on target to achieve that in a couple of thousand.

  17. Avatar BabelFish says:

    My wife’s heritage is from Catalonia. When people in Barcelona saw her last name, she was greeted as a long lost but warmly remembered cousin.

  18. Avatar Ricardo says:

    Everything changed when the Borbon Kings replaced the Habsburg, and differences where removed among the different parts of Spain and the Americas.
    My heritage (and last name) is also Catalonian, although I was born in Castile. I have also been always treated marvelously when visiting Barcelona (they are the only ones not misspelling my family name). But I think they do the same kind of warm welcome to everybody, it goes with their wonderful personality.

  19. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    Above I asked “Is it 100% certain this is due to CO2 emissions, etc.?”
    I recently discovered a government report that makes the CO2/climate change connection seem almost certain:
    “Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” by Rebecca Lindsey, 2018-08-01
    Please note in particular the graph “CO2 during ice ages and warm periods for the past 800,000 years”
    Looking at that graph showing empirical data, combined with the theoretical analyses, absolutely convinces me that CO2 is almost certainly a major cause of the global warming problem.
    And must be addressed with the greatest urgency and emphasis.
    Enough with the “War on Cancer”, etc.
    What is needed is a War on Global Warming.

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