futurism

Mars, the Red Planet: A Futurist Perspective

Today, I am going to go back to a subject that I started, but then life got in the way, and I didn’t go back.

I am going to talk about Futurism.

You see, I am a futurist. I admit it. I enjoy talking about the future and studying the future. I am excited about the future, and in my honest opinion, it is not coming fast enough. And I want my flying car.

But, enough about that. Today I am going to go to the popular topic.

Mars.

More specifically, can we colonize Mars and if so, how hard would it be? So first things first.

Why Mars?

When anyone talks about anything to do in space, it seems like everyone is always talking about Mars. Can we go to Mars? What rovers are on Mars?

Well, Mars has a 24 hr rotation, which is important. Cause it allows us, humans, to adapt to the planet that much easier. It is also cool enough to land on the surface,  unlike Venus. It requires less delta-v, (or energy per unit of mass) than any other planet other than Venus. Which is important because getting to and around space costs lots and lots of money. The last thing that it has going for it is that it has water.

With those advantages, scientists and the media have latched onto it. A few movies and video games later and it is easy to see why there is an interest in the red planet.

What are some major problems to colonize Mars?

1. Cost to get things into LEO.

The price to get anything into Low Earth Orbit ranges from approx. 10k to 40k per pound. That is depending on who is launching things into space. Space X can do it for a different price than the Russians, etc.

That means that for a two hundred pound person, it can cost from 2 million to 8 million dollars to get just the person to the edge of space. That is not to the ISS, that is not including essentials like air, water, a space suit. That is just to get the naked human up there. That is it.

The good news is that getting the cargo and crew from Earth’s surface to orbit is the part that costs the most. Getting things through the atmosphere is the killer. The trip from Earth orbit to Mars is pennies in comparison.

To colonize Mars with a serious and sustainable, long-term colony, that price will have to come down a lot.

SOLUTION

There are many ways to bring down the price of space travel. There is a lot of work on new engines that are more cost effective and faster to use. But the major hurdle is getting cargo and crew into orbit.

There are futuristic solutions that scientists and engineers are talking about. The most famous of which is the Space Elevator. But whether the futuristic space flight system we use is a Space Elevator or some type of Rail Gun, those are far from being a reality.

What is happening now is that we have a large number of private companies that are developing or have developed new space flight systems. They vary in size, scope, and functionality, but they all will help bring the price down until someone figures out the issues with the Space Elevator and such.

For Cargo launches, there are three main contenders. They are Orbital ATK with the Cygnus Enhanced that flies on the Atlas V rocket. Sierra Nevada Corp with the Dream Catcher on the Atlas V rocket. But the biggest one is Space X.

Space X has its Dragon and Dragon 2 capsules that launch on the Falcon 9 rocket. It is mostly reusable and has already started to bring the price down. But they aren’t done, they have recently announced that they are designing the BFR that will fly on its own reusable launch system.

And no, the BFR doesn’t stand for ‘Big Fucking Rocket.’ It stands for ‘Big Falcon Rocket.’ It is a heavy lifting multi-purpose rocket system that will be able to put cargo into orbit, take cargo to the moon or Mars. From what I can tell, it is the system that will be used.

For Crew launches all private space companies, save one, are developing rockets to go to the ISS. Only one is planning anything long term. Those companies are the Blue Origin with the Biconic Space Vehicle on the New Glenn System, Boeing with the CST 100 on the Atlas V, Sierra Nevada Corp on the dream catcher.

The company that is planning for the future is Space X with its BFR. It can be configured to hold up to 100 passengers for the trip. The founder and CEO want to bring down the cost to get a person to mars from its current 10 billion to a more reasonable 100 thousand.

In my opinion, Space X is the best short-term solution to the space travel problem.

Elon Musk is not the only person that is wanting to go to Mars, and he is not the only group that is developing missions to go. There is Mars One, Inspiration Mars Foundation, and Boing Affordable Mission as a few examples.

But there are many current private and public companies that are wanting to fund missions to Mars or to set up colonies. In Wikipedia, there are 23 listings since the year 2000. Some are defunct, some are not.

Now to close up today’s blog, you will notice that I did not talk about NASA. And there is a reason for it. NASA has a big problem, that will be a subject of a later blog post. But in short, it is a government department that doesn’t know where it wants to go.

It plans to go to the moon, then not the moon, then an asteroid, then mars, then the moon again. It’s all very confusing. They have the constellation program from 2005 to 2009 which was then canceled, then the Orion on the Space Launch System.

And I heard that they are planning a moon mission once more. For a permanent colony on Mars. I am not sure what to think, and I don’t trust them. I will believe a Mars mission from NASA when I see it.

Next time, problem 2. Psychology of Colonists. Because getting off the ground was the most expensive part, but not the hardest. That is yet to come.

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