The Red Planet

I posted this on my Facebook feed earlier:

I’m sorry, but Mike Pence saying “we will put American boots on the face of Mars…” is really ill-informed wishful thinking!

I’m not just saying that because I am anti-Trump.

I’m not just saying that because Mike Pence’s views on “religious history” of the age of the Universe are at odds with the scientific fact that the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

I’ll admit: I complain A LOT about the aura of “anti-science” surrounding the Trump administration…

…but this is something that I have been saying since before Trump even considered running, so this is not an anti-Trump rant. I want to clear the air on this right off the bat…

This is a long, LONG… rant about how sending astronauts to Mars is basically a slow, horrifying death sentence.

I believe that landing on the Moon was the greatest achievement in the history of mankind. Back in the days of the Apollo Program and the shuttle era after that, America was the leader in manned space flight.

Since President Obama cancelled funding for the shuttle replacement (Constellation Program if my memory serves), America has taken a back seat — literally… hitch-hiking at very high cost on Russian rockets.

Now… consider for a moment that the Saturn V rocket is currently the most powerful rocket ever made and that only had enough thrust to launch three astronauts and two weeks worth of provisions (food and water) to the Moon and back.

To send astronauts to Mars is a much larger endeavor. Given orbital alignments, at their closest points, our best estimates are that it would take between 4-6 months to reach Mars from Earth.

You would need to design a rocket that could launch (say for example…):

-Three people,

-Enough fuel to make the trip and return journey — with reserves for course corrections,

-Enough food and water for a year-long round-trip plus reserves,

-Rowing machines and the room to allow the astronauts to exercise in order to prevent muscle deterioration due to long-term exposure to zero gravity,

-Enough entertainment to keep their minds occupied during a year-long round-trip since “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”,

-Backup components in case systems on the vessel fail…

-And other supplies I probably haven’t even considered, but you get the point…

Even if you “Science the shit out of this” to (appropriately) quote The Martian, and grow food and make water inside vessel, what are you going to do? Ask three people to eat potatoes for a year? The novel was very clear on the math for space requirements (no pun intended) to farm enough food to survive, and IT IS A LOT!

Either way: any rocket powerful enough to get three people to Mars and back would be too big to be feasible.

If we did send people to Mars, to keep the weight down, it would probably be a one way trip, and it is morally wrong to order astronauts to die in the name of “progress”.  

A slow death due to starvation and dehydration (not to mention probable radiation poisoning, more on that in a bit) is one of the most drawn out ways to depart this life that I can imagine. It’s really scary to me that we could conceivably ask people to accept this fate.

I get that the only limits that exist are the ones that we accept for ourselves. But at our current level of technology, this is too big of an ask.  

At least President Kennedy set a timetable when he committed that we would set foot on the Moon and return safely to Earth.

In the case of Mars, it seems to me like we are blindly pushing forward with no real understanding of just how large of an endeavor this really is.

We are developing the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with “the intention of manned missions reaching Mars” and capsules…
seriously, CAPSULES? We built the space shuttle, and we are taking a step back 40+ years to the days of Gemini and Apollo… Capsules? I’m sorry but HOW CAN YOU FIT ENOUGH SUPPLIES TO SURVIVE THE TRIP INTO SOMETHING THAT IS PLANNED TO BE ONLY SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN THE APOLLO COMMAND MODULE??? Seriously? The idea that we are planning on using a capsule to reach Mars seems really poorly planned out.

Let’s say that you store the provisions for the trip to Mars in a separate module attached to the capsule, you would require astronauts to make daily spacewalks to get supplies in an area where they have none of the protection from radiation that Earth’s magnetic field provides. That’s that horrible radiation poisoning I mentioned earlier…

What we really need to do BEFORE we commit to Mars is to build and properly test a new reliable Shuttle with large cargo capacity and fuel cells sufficient to make the trip. That’s a tough challenge in and of itself considering that the retired shuttles used up half of their fuel just during the initial ascent to reach the altitude of the Hubble Space Telescope approximately 380 miles above the Earth.

But let’s say we figured out a way to solve THAT problem. Then, you could launch the supplies to make a year-long round-trip into orbit. Pick them up in the new shuttle… and then head to Mars and back.

The success of Apollo 11 was achieved with baby steps from all the preceding Apollo and Gemini missions. Each one tested a vital component of getting to the Moon and back. The Gemini and Apollo missions are actually really interesting as far as how each mission detailed a different procedure leading to our first steps on the Moon, and I encourage you to check out the series “When We Left Earth: the NASA Missions” to understand those small steps in the process.
I just don’t hear a plan like that when we discuss the potential for going to Mars now. And THAT is why I say the statement that we will land “American Boots” on the Red Planet is ill-informed wishful thinking.

Sorry for the long rant…

Best wishes,


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