A fellow by the name of Dennis Tito is making news in my little corner of the space-geek world with a plan to send a manned mission to Mars. One of my favorite bloggers, Alan Boyle of Cosmic Blog, wrote up an interesting summation of events so far.
I’ve long been a proponent of robotic missions over manned missions for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to get into today. What I do want to discuss is the nature of this particular plan and whether it is sheer madness, a great idea, or something in-between.
The broad plan itself is simply to send two astronauts to Mars on a trip that would circle the red planet and return to earth in a total of 501 days. As Earth and Mars rotate around the sun there are only certain times when the round-trip can be accomplished so quickly. The next such alignment occurs in January of 2018. This means the technology has to be ready to launch at that time. Five years is a remarkably short period to make this happen.
The detailed plan is extremely sketchy but the basic technology is understood and certainly not impossible. They would have to use a rocket that is currently incomplete but scheduled to be finished by that time. A major stumbling block is the speed at which the returning vessel would enter Earth’s atmosphere. There are other pressing problems that currently have no solution but the entire concept is possible.
The funding for the operation is to come largely from donations and Tito’s own personal wealth.
Is the plan a worthwhile endeavor?
As I stated earlier, I’m of the fairly strong opinion that robotic exploration is the most useful method for finding out information from Mars, the moon, and other places within the solar system. Humans are just too frail and concerns about radiation exposure, food and water, waste disposal and other barriers make human space exploration a waste of time and money. We’ve already sent plenty of robots into orbit of Mars. Landed them on Mars. In this case we’d be spending billions of dollars to send two people on a round trip to Mars for no good scientific purpose.
So, at this point you probably think you’ve got my final conclusion all figured out. You’d be wrong.
If Tito wants to raise the money and make this a reality, I say go for it. It’s his money and his donor’s money. The astounding publicity of the event will certainly make millions of people as big a proponent of space exploration as am I. In the end it might create more money and science dedicated to robotic exploration.
Personally, I’d prefer that he use his considerable charisma and effort to help NASA fund missions that have been cancelled because of lack of funds. To that Tito might tell me to do what I want when I’ve made a few billion of my own, and he’d be right!
I applaud Tito’s spirit and wish him well. Although I would offer one major criticism. Don’t say The Right Stuff times ten ever again. Such a thing is impossible. Thank you for your courage and sacrifice Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton.
Now, if only I could get a few million people to purchase my books maybe I could fund one of those cancelled missions!
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
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Great post! Just like you I prefer robotic to manned missions for scientific purposes and I agree with you that it would be a better idea if Mr Tito would donate his money to NASA or similar agencies instead of pursuing his dreams of looping around Mars.
Actually I believe that Dennis Tito is just seeking attention with his Mars plans. Unfortunately these kind of people are giving space exploration a bad name.
Thank you for the repost and the comment, Mordanicus! There is an old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I agree Tito is clearly seeking attention and money but it might well end up generating interest and funding for our own preferred method of exploration, robotic. Come back any time!
If that would be the case, it would be great.
Reblogged this on Republic of Lagrangia and commented:
We couldn’t do a better job in explaining why Dennis Tito’s plan for a manned mission to Mars are a bad idea than this great post by Tom Liberman.
i’m absolutely up for manned spaceflight.
I give the following for and against:
Tito’s attention seeking, but only if this doesn’t happen!!
Robotic missions are safer, cheaper and easier to accomplish.
The money may well be better donated to NASA to compliment there remarkable work.
To say it would be of no scientific value is absolutely wrong. Much can be learned by sending a living human that distance – effect of radiation and whether there are huge long term effects that cannot be dealt with is on of a long list of things we could learn.
Exploration is in our genes, its what makes us human, its what has driven us to look up at the sky and wonder what’s out there, we MUST have human spaceflight, we MUST test theories about spaceflight, the planets, stars and space, we MUST allow those people take up such dangerous missions – they know the risks, they choose to do it.
If all the astronauts that have ever been to the moon were asked if it would have been easier to send robots, they would say “of course”, if they were asked would they rather go instead of said robots there answer would be…
guess I’ll leave that one up to you!
Thank you for the comment, Darren.
I always welcome dissent! My opposition to manned exploration is not a long-term opposition. I agree that eventually manned missions are necessary I’m just of the opinion that they use funds to accomplish goals that robotic missions could do more easily and for less money. When radiation problems, water problems, waste problems, landing heavy payload problems, and others are solved I welcome manned exploration. These problems are currently unresolved. Also, robotic missions advance robotic technology which is, in my opinion, vitally important. That being said, thanks again for the comment and come back and disagree any time!
Exploring Mars is really stupid idea because it’s wasting of time and money.
Hi Navy Seals,
I always welcome dissent. Personally, I don’t think it’s a waste of time or money. I’m of the opinion that knowledge is a good thing and the information we gain from looking at other planets in our solar system is useful in many ways. This computer that I write on, the car I drive, and most of the things we take for granted today happened because of the quest for knowledge. I’m also of the opinion that spending money on exploration and learning is money that eventually repays itself many times over.
That being said, please tell me why you think it is a waste of time and money. Explain your position, I’m willing to listen.
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