House panel discuses Mars 2021 manned flyby mission

Mar 03, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Mars. Image: NASA

(Phys.org) —The U.S. House of Representative's Science, Space and Technology Committee has met to discuss the virtues and possibility of asking NASA to assist a private foundation in conducting a manned spacecraft mission to the planet Mars in the 2021.

Nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by Dennis Tito, the first , originally planned to send two astronauts to Mars and land on the Red Planet in 2018. That idea has been scraped as the timeline was found to be too short. Instead, the foundation is now planning to send two astronauts (likely a ) on a flyby, in 2021. The years are chosen based on when the Earth and Mars are closest to one another.

To achieve that goal, the Foundation believes it needs help from NASA—specifically, they want a slightly different form of NASA's Orion spacecraft based on a design by Orbital Science's Corporation, with the addition of a front module for hosting solar panels. They'd also like the whole thing boosted into space by the Space Launch System, a big rocket that NASA is developing for several projects, one of which would ultimately be a trip to Mars.

Tito and his group have apparently convinced committee head Lamar Smith of the desirability of the plan as he testified at the meeting, suggesting that if the U.S. doesn't get to Mars in one of the near-window opportunities, China or Russia will likely get to the planet first. Other lawmakers at the meeting expressed skepticism of the short time frame while others suggested the cost of such a mission might be better spent on other projects.

Also at the meeting were experts in the field, many from NASA. Some supported the mission while others expressed reservations. NASA has plans of its own to get to Mars, but is looking at a longer timeframe. There are still issues to be worked out, such as how to protect astronauts from radiation during such a long mission (the Foundation's plan calls for a 501 day mission) and the development of support systems.

The committee didn't reach a consensus on the overall idea or the feasibility of the project, as it appears to be the first of many meetings—for its part, NASA itself has not commented on the proposal. For these reasons, it's not clear just yet if the Foundation's plan will be approved. It's likely many more details will have to be worked out before the idea can be seriously considered.

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User comments : 9

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JamesG
3.5 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2014
Any attempt to go to Mars right now is foolishness at best and suicide at worst. We need to settle the Moon to perfect the technology first. We're not ready for Mars.
GSwift7
4.5 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2014
The only problems I see are the timeframe and perhaps the amount of money they want from NASA (which the article didn't mention, but I assume they're asking for some).

This is really something that NASA is already working on, with their own time schedule, so it's not a big deviation from what we already have planned. If they want to wait and buy an orion and pay for its launch, then that wouldn't need this kind of meeting. That leads me to believe they are asking for NASA to fund their tourist trip, which I would be opposed to.

Also, at 501 days, they must be looking at a free return, which means just one loop around the far side of Mars and then back home. Not much of a trip. I think NASA should try an orbital mission for the first trip with people, maybe do some close-up inspection of the Moons. Then actually do a burn to get back home. That would accomplish a lot more towards preparing for the next step, landing.
Osiris1
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2014
Not gonna do it with kerosene fueled artillery shells with people/sacrificial victims to the oil companies ...inside. We will have to find a better propulsion system. VASIMR qualifies. Power it with very large solar voltaics that will do double duty. On the one hand they generate power for thrust..and on the other, they can make a decent solar sail. The Japanese tested one such, Ikaros, that sailed by Venus after speeding from earth in record time. Look up both on the web.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2014
very large solar voltaics that will do double duty... Look up both on the web.
-Ok, I will...

"... a VASIMR-powered spacecraft could reach the red planet within 40 days if it had a 200 megawatt power source... one kilowatt (kW) of power per kilogram (kg) of mass... DARPA science lab hopes to develop solar panels that can achieve 7 kg/KW, and stretched lens arrays might reach 3 kg/KW... good enough for VASIMR to transport cargo around low-Earth orbit and to the moon... The 75 to 90 kilowatts of power for the ISS is supplied by an acre of solar panels."

-So you would need 20-30 acres of solar panels which do not make good sails because they are brittle and heavy and need support structure.

"The U.S. only ever launched one nuclear reactor into space... it achieved just 50 kg/kW... TOPAZ-II reactor [soviet] can produce 10 kilowatts..."

-So you would need the power of 200 russian reactors to get you to mars with VASIMR, not figuring for all that mass.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2014
Dont forget, the VASIMR works under constant acceleration for half the trip and constant deceleration for the other half, so your sail would either have to produce more thrust than VASIMR or you would need a rigid structure working under compression to connect the sail and the engines.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2014
Human lost to robots in chess, jeopardy, and countless less glorious fields already. By 2020 we'll certainly lose some more. So, we need glorified and ridiculously expensive technicians on Mars... why?
Osiris1
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2014
Then there is Dr Winglee's M2P2 Mini Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion, using fields to generate a field of ionized plasma local to the ship that becomes a solar sail of kilometers of area. The plasma here is only used to 'catch the wind', which dutifully accelerates the M2P2 craft to up to a 800 kilometers/second. It takes a while to do this, but such a craft could drive anywhere in the solar system up to including the orbit of Pluto. Probably have to do a lot of 'tacking' to come back inward. See demo: http://earthweb.e...se_4.avi
verkle
not rated yet Mar 04, 2014
We send all of these astronauts to the ISS, who do very little actual "work", mostly just upkeep work. Why not send a couple to Mars to attempt something big? I agree that it is way too early to try to land people on Mars now. Need at least 10-20 more years.
Arrowstone
not rated yet Mar 11, 2014
Money, money, money. Our excuse for not doing things. Money is, literally since 1971, nothing. Time, time, time. Our excuse for not doing things. Move interesting things into the far future. Wait for a congress who will spend money. Wait for a people with the will to do interesting things. Maybe our silicon successors?

There are many who would undertake the trip without being daunted by the current zero-risk attitude of society. There are vehicles which can take us there. Why people? Because we are people. That's it.

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