Mars – the New World!

Mars is SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s stated goal in space…

SpaceX aims to put man on Mars in 10-20 years

…though the “10-20 years” is how long developing the means to get there will take, not a firm time-line from Now. Robert Zubrin made similar time-scale remarks ever since he began publicising his Mars Direct architecture in 1990/91. I think SpaceX needs to prove the safety of its “Dragon” manned vehicles and the reliability of its Falcon Heavy before it can embark on flying people to Mars. But, as explored here in a recent post, the Falcon Heavy can send payloads sufficiently heavy to Mars to support both Mars Direct (NB: different link, more details) and Mars Semi-Direct architectures. What’s not currently available is low-mass, high-power nuclear power-sources sufficient to support either architecture – the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) of Mars Direct and Mars Ascent Vehicle of Mars Semi-Direct both make fuel from the atmosphere via a process powered by a small reactor.

Could we do without the nukes? Mars Society Australia certainly thought so when they designed a non-nuclear version, using conservative solar-power specific-power assumptions…

Mars Oz – Mars Semi-Direct Solar

…which might be overly conservative as that’s a decade old solar-tech being assumed. I suspect more power for the same mass assumed will be available and so the outlook is even better than they assumed.

Once we’re there what can we do to improve the place? Apparently Mars is already undergoing changes of its own accord…

Dramatic changes in Mars’ atmosphere found

…the possible extra ~80% of atmosphere would help, but the surface pressure would still only be 10-12 mb (and about ~20 mb at the bottom of Hellas Planitia) which isn’t habitable, but is enough make Mars a nicer place for some lifeforms.

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