Manned Mission to Mars. Interest grows in an international effort to send humans to Mars early in 21st century
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Also, he notes that little is known about the danger from cosmic rays and solar protons. If these are more harmful than anticipated, heavier and more costly shielding than is usually considered may be needed.Skip to next paragraph
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Joseph Loftus, assistant director for plans at the NASA Johnson Space Center adds that communications problems dictate much more sophisticated technology on a Mars ship than was needed to go to the moon. Radio signals, which travel at the speed of light, would take up to 30 minutes to reach the spaceship. And communications blackouts would occur when the ship is hidden by the sun. These phenomena make it essential that crew and spaceship be much more autonomous than they have ever been. Real-time monito ring by Earth-based controllers who can quickly radio warnings and new procedures to the crew will not be possible.
Mr. Loftus urges that the US space station complex be used as a test bed to develop such technology. This would also be a good place to develop closed-loop systems for recycling water, oxygen, and other essential materials and to experiment with space gardens for growing food, as the Soviets have been doing with their Salyut station. Why go in the first place?
But why go to Mars anyway? Several planetologists raise this question rhetorically and answer it with variations of essentially the same theme. The basic reason, as they see it, is a combination of the manifest destiny of mankind to expand outward into the solar system and of getting to know another planet well enough to gain new insights into our own earthly home.
Harold Masursky of the US Geological Survey notes, for example, that Mars, like Earth, has had a succession of ice ages. These are reflected in the different ages of water-cut channels seen on the Martian surface. If the channels and the glaciations they represent can be dated and compared with Earth's glacial epochs, they might shed light on the ice-age mechanism.
``Perhaps what we can do is to compare the long history of glaciations and deglaciations on Mars with those on the Earth and see if they match,'' Dr. Masursky explains. ``If they match, it's probably variations in the solar output. If they don't match at all, then it says the heat engine of the two planets is what causes glaciation and deglaciation and we have to look for individual mechanisms.''
Then there is the profound question of why there is life on Earth and, perhaps, not on Mars. If there is indeed no Martian life, this presents a ``remarkable'' scientific opportunity, says Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan. ``Mars is the planet with the closest environment to the Earth in all the solar system and life is on one and not on the other,'' he explains. ``How come? It's the classic situation of the experiment and the control. There are enormously good scientific reasons to go to Mars.' '
But he and others admit that this in itself is insufficient reason to make the journey. Basically, says NASA's Beggs, we should go to Mars to further human development: ``Why not go to Mars to use human judgement, human ability, and human intelligence to explore an exciting new world?''
Roger Bonnet, director of space sciences for the European Space Agency, says that his agency would start to raise money for a Mars mission if this were set as an international goal. Man will land on Mars, he says, adding that it is as inevitable as building the space station.