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A Private Mars Mission
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Marsman
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 27, 2006 7:34 am 
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I have been doing some thinking on different Mars mission plans and something Mirari mentioned started to bring about the beginnings of a new idea for a Mars mission. I would like to get as many facts on this idea as possible before making any final judgements, and my assumptions may be wrong but I'm hoping it will lead somewhere.

This plan involves the use of medium lift launchers or modifications of them. The purpose of this mission is to test technologies out and prepare for larger scale human Mars missions hopefully at no too massive a cost.

1. Testing Phase. From radiation shielding to aeroshields, parachutes and water recycling systems many of these systems need testing out first before anything is launched.
2. Build pressurized rover and launch it with supplies to Mars as an unmanned mission with the same mass as the manned mission. This will be a good test, and if it succeeds will provide the first astronauts some on the ground supplies when they arrive.
3. 2 Inflatable habs/greenhouses with supplies and nuclear power source(or solar arrays). Launch this as the second part of the mission. This will mean that by the time the first humans arrive on Mars they will have 2 habs with extra supplies, a rover and 2 greenhouses and power source equipment.
4. Launch 2 more MLV into LEO and after the propellant stage has used its fuel it will be tethered to the main hab and spun to simulate gravity for the approximately 6 month trip.
5. The very first hab sent to Mars will under this plan only have 2 people on board. Could this be done under this type of scenario? If not, a third propellant stage could be launched to make up for the extra mass.
6. This all means that instead of having a rover, greenhouse equipment and other mass items the human vessel will basically just have what they need for the trip out (not back) and for a 2 year stay on the surface.
7. This is a one way trip. The purpose of it is to establish a permanent base on Mars and to test out on a smaller scale many of the technologies which 4 or 6 astronauts will be relying on later. Often NASA use 1 or 2 test pilots for just such missions, like when they did it with the Space Shuttle and other technologies. This minimizes risk and also provides the first major mission to Mars valuable data which will help keep them alive.

For example, the idea of making rocket fuel out of the Martian air is a nice one but the fact is we won't know how it will work until it is there, and there may also be environmental problems which interfere with various systems on an ERV due to the length of time this ship will be standing on the surface of Mars before it is needed (possibly 2 or 3 years). If humans are already there (the 2 man crew) they can monitor and maintain the health of all these sorts of technologies and provide Earth with valuable data on problems that might need to be planned for which they did not know about.

Greenhouse contruction and maintenance will also be vital to the future of all Mars missions and testing it with 2 people first, on Mars seems a more sensible way to avoid bigger problems. These first 2 people on Mars will have with them the equivalent of 6 years food and water supplies in the 3 habs/rover with them, and resupply missions can be launched every 2 years along with further human missions. I envision that over the first ten years they could send another 4 astronauts at least so that by the time they are ready to do a HLV Mars Direct style mission there will be at least 6 people already there and 10 or more years of exploration and research on the surface of Mars. This is the beginning of the establishment of a permanent base and will pave the way for much larger scale missions. I think the costs could be kept low, and it should not be too hard to gain some level of funds from NASA ($1-2 Billion), Private sector could put up the same and with revenues from things like media rights, scientific data returns and other mission related items there could easily be another 1 to 2 billion raised separate to what the private sector consortium puts in. The NASA/ESA amounts could be like a fee they pay for their own uses and benefits, and at quite a bargain really.

So the total cost of the inital mission should not exceed $5 Billion and further 2 man missions will come down to about $3 Billion each. There is potential here for the private sector to break even on the costs and possibly even make a real profit. Something like this could be ready to go within the next 5 years if the needed players were brought together to make it happen. We keep on thinking of sending 4 or 6 or more people, but maybe we need to start off by testing what it does with 2 people first?

There may be psychological issues, but I would think that should not be too much of a problem with all of the various entertainment content we can provide them and also give them room for things like an on board jacuzzi(small) seeing that we have more room(even on a smaller hab). This could be done, and yes, there are problems with it which I'm sure you will all point out, but for me, I like the idea of small scale testing, especially for a Mars mission. We need to stop thinking of Mars in terms of return capabilites, at least for the first few years. Let people on the ground test, maintain and observe before trying to launch humans for the first time off of Mars in a ship that (if there is no prior test missions) will have never been tested. As it is, current standard plans are just "hope for the best" type things, and that will not cut it for a place as far away and hostile as Mars is. Thoughts?
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MirariNefas
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 27, 2006 2:53 pm 
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6. This all means that instead of having a rover, greenhouse equipment and other mass items the human vessel will basically just have what they need for the trip out (not back) and for a 2 year stay on the surface.


I like how you're specializing the trips and minimizing mass, but we might consider that people on a six month trip eat a lot of food. It is probably much easier to pack rations for six months than to pack a greenhouse, but in one launch or another we're going to be sending greenhouses up anyway. You might want to shift some payload allocation to allow these fellows usage of a small portion of the total greenhouse package during their passage. Looking at all the launches together, this would allow a greater payload to Mars.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 10:35 pm 
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Your right Mirari, and that's the beauty of this type of approach. One or two more MLV launches won't break the bank and gives it great flexibility. The thinking of 4 or 6 man crews, untested ERV's and a whole range of untested systems is the reason for this approach, along with the fact that private companies might actually look at it. We really need a paradigm shift in the way we approach sending humans to mars, because Mars is not the Moon. There is no reason a smaller mission in any way cannot be as safe (or safer) than a larger scale mission, and I think it does need to be seriously considered. I would just hate to see 6 people lift off for Mars (at much greater cost) only to die halfway there due to some equipment failure or something. NASA have used test pilots for years, this mission should be no different.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 30, 2006 2:49 am 
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So the problem is that those two can't get back to Earth if something goes wrong.

If the lifesupport systems can't make enough food, air, water or heat. If some contaminant poisons the food, air or water that the lifesupport systems can make. If one or both get hurt or sick - something that would be simple to heal in a modern hospital, but they don't have a modern hospital. Or something that's not so simple, maybe one or both get cancer from high radiation exposure - a freak solar flare on the trip out. Or cosmic rays fry crucial circuits in the lander. Maybe the pressures of fame cause irreconcilable differences between the two and Mars is going to have its first murder if they commit to a two year stay.

If there is no return to Earth option, there is a high chance that millions will watch one or both die on primetime television. If that happens, people will ask "why didn't they plan on a return to Earth option? How could they let those heroes die like that?" How will you answer them? How will you stay out of jail for negligence? What investor will associate themself with such a mission?
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 30, 2006 3:20 am 
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I never said they couldn't get back to Earth, just that it will take some time.

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If there is no return to Earth option, there is a high chance that millions will watch one or both die on primetime television.


The same could be said for a 4 or 6 man crew with a malfunctioning ERV. All of the risks you speak of are no different for larger crews than for smaller crews, and in fact the larger crew, the more complex, risky and costly a mission will be. All we are doing with a plan like this is to minimize the risks as best we can by sending less people and testing things out properly before we risk the lives of larger crews. If the ERV doen't work for some unknown reason what would you do? Leave 6 people stranded to die on the surface of Mars? Or hope a second ERV might work (that's called ptting all your eggs in one basket). If the greenhouses don't work properly so you would risk more lives and not care? Negligence would be the charge and there would be Hell to pay. Investors will never associate themselves with any Mars mission if it doesn't do it's best to minimize risk and public backlash.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 30, 2006 10:59 am 
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Marsman wrote:
I never said they couldn't get back to Earth, just that it will take some time.


How long? It is one thing to design lifesupport that works for 6 months, it is quite another to design lifesupport that works for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years. With each increment, the unknowns increase along with the chance of failure.

Marsman wrote:
The same could be said for a 4 or 6 man crew with a malfunctioning ERV.


Except that the ERV has to fail to be in that situation. Your plan is the equivalent of 100% chance of failure. It isn't a defensible position.

Marsman wrote:
All of the risks you speak of are no different for larger crews than for smaller crews


In fact, that isn't true. With a larger, multiskilled crew, you have a lower chance of the team loosing a particular skill (e.g., medical skill) if one person is put out of action. With just two people, there is no-one back at base if things go wrong in the field, or else you have to break the first rule of the outdoors: hike with a buddy.

Marsman wrote:
Negligence would be the charge and there would be Hell to pay. Investors will never associate themselves with any Mars mission if it doesn't do it's best to minimize risk and public backlash.


We agree on that at least.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2006 7:52 pm 
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Have you read the book "Shadows of Medusa" or "The Martian Race"? While sci fi, they do present a similar picture to what I'm painting here. If 4 or 6 people are sent the most likely scenario will be around 3 years life support systems needed times 4 or 6 people. Isn't that as complex or even more complex than life support for 2 people for around 5 or 6 years? I recieved these comments on my plans from the author of Shadows of Medusa Brian Enke, and I think they shed light on this more than I could-

Quote:
Regarding crew size, I totally agree - on this issue, I think many
"engineers" can't see the forest because of all the trees. This is my
~20 years of Bell Labs integration experience speaking... when you
design an ultra-high reliability system, there are two ways to pull it
off: make all critical components redundant (or even tri-dundant if
that's a word), or if that's infeasible, raise the quality of each key
component so it won't fail as often. Well, on a Mars mission, let's be
frank - your crew is the most important "component" on the mission. You
can't "raise their quality" - people are people - but you can make them
redundant. To do so, you need to make their habitat redundant, which
obviously (to me) means splitting them off into smaller groups and not
relying upon any one group for the overall success of the mission.

To be fair to NASA, they are constrained by their culture of safety that
dictates that you can't have a single fatality. When you make your crew
redundant (as above), you also increase the chance that some failure
will kill part of your crew. That's a catastrophe in their eyes, but I
think we need to change that perception if we're ever going to reach
Mars. We should try to make things as safe as is reasonably possible...
but no safer (i.e. no more costly or slower).

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 5:44 am 
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Marsman wrote:
Have you read the book "Shadows of Medusa" or "The Martian Race"?


No, I'll put'em on the list.

Marsman wrote:
While sci fi, they do present a similar picture to what I'm painting here.


Yes, well, fiction authors get to dismiss a whole host of difficulties with the stroke of a pen.

Marsman wrote:
If 4 or 6 people are sent the most likely scenario will be around 3 years life support systems needed times 4 or 6 people. Isn't that as complex or even more complex than life support for 2 people for around 5 or 6 years?


That's an interesting question. My intuition is roughly as complex, but here are some considerations. Of general lifesupport, we'll assume that our people don't launch unless pre-sent equipment has already generated enough air and water for the entire stay, but the heating and insulation has to last twice as long - it's an issue because of the extremes, but probably doable. I think surface suits are a problem - there is a huge gap between the suits we have today and the suits we need for Mars exploration. A doubling of lifespan may be too much to ask (yes, you can take more suits, but it won't matter if the design is flawed in a way that can't be field repaired). I guess you can pre-supply food as well, so that there's no dependence on greenhouses or the like. Doubling the lifespan of habitable rovers is an issue. I think you can probably keep them alive, although the risk of accident without adequate medical care goes up, but it's likely they'd be able to do less and less in the field due to various equipment failures.

You mentioned on another thread that asteroid operations would be dangerous to astronauts, and implied it would be safer on the Martian surface. Granted Mars has more of the gravity that people are used to operating under and there is less danger from micrometeorites, but a big part of why it is so dangerous for astronauts is that they have to be so careful of the suits - not to overheat, not to overcool, not to tear or puncture. Preterraforming, those same dangers are going to be present on the Martian surface.

Marsman wrote:
I recieved these comments on my plans from the author of Shadows of Medusa Brian Enke, and I think they shed light on this more than I could-

Brian Enke wrote:
People are expendable


Charming.

Ah, I notice Mr. Enke's publisher is PublishAmerica. I don't think I'll be putting those books on the to-read list after all.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 7:28 am 
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Where does it say "People are expendable"? That was your interpretation. All I am pointing out here is that space travel is a risky business and Brian would agree as I think you would. Any number of things can go wrong which can kill any people at any point before during and after such missions no matter what the budget is or how many people go. NASA have had people die from space flight related ventures have they not? Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia etc. Yes, we try to reduce the risks as much as possible, but not to the point of NOT pursuing our goals of Mars and other places.

Quote:
You can't "raise their quality" - people are people - but you can make them redundant. To do so, you need to make their habitat redundant, which obviously (to me) means splitting them off into smaller groups and not relying upon any one group for the overall success of the mission.


I think that was the point of all this. I see this way of thinking as a far SAFER way of conducting missions than current NASA ideas of putting all the eggs in one basket. Instead of sending 6 people all at once how about we send them in 2's over a 3 to 5 year time frame? So if something mission ending does go wrong you would rather 6 people die than 2? None of us want anyone to die, not Brian, you or I, but the fact that only 14 out of 35 unmanned probes have failed in regards to Mars missions means we must face facts. It is a hard place to get to and the chances of death are very real and high.

Wouldn't you rather test things out on a smaller scale with smaller crews first if it means avoiding large scale Columbia level tragedies? I think it is engineering arrogance, Apollo 1 style, to think that a larger crew is the only way to go to Mars. Especially in light of the difficulties of travel to and life on Mars. Maybe you need to think outside the box awhile? Which approach here will win out? Probably the large crew option, but if and when there is a failure and 6 or 12 or more people die and the world wonders why, just remember, there were other options, the problem was people like you and others had what they called "A failure of imagination"- a quote from one of the staff after the Apollo 1 disaster. Back then they just couldn't imagine that kind of problem, and were not prepared for it. I want us to be prepared, as does Brian and I'm sure you do too. If we can do that with big crews, fine, but to me testing things first is a better option.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 4:32 pm 
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Marsman wrote:
Where does it say "People are expendable"? That was your interpretation.


Yep.

Marsman wrote:
Quote:
You can't "raise their quality" - people are people - but you can make them redundant. To do so, you need to make their habitat redundant, which obviously (to me) means splitting them off into smaller groups and not relying upon any one group for the overall success of the mission.


I think that was the point of all this.


I'm all for multiple redundant habitats. But I think this raises the cost of the mission and doesn't reduce crew size.

Marsman wrote:
I see this way of thinking as a far SAFER way of conducting missions than current NASA ideas of putting all the eggs in one basket. Instead of sending 6 people all at once how about we send them in 2's over a 3 to 5 year time frame? So if something mission ending does go wrong you would rather 6 people die than 2?


This kind of calculus is fine for robots and perhaps for people in times of war, but otherwise the value of a human life must be set at infinite. This means you can't take advantage of the "send three, at least one will make it" engineering cost savers. Each vessel/mission must be engineered to the limit of what is possible. In addition there are going to be fixed per mission costs that actually look cheaper when you divide them by six rather than two. For example, the shielding from solar storms and cosmic radiation required for people in transit will likely be a fixed cost independent of the number of people being shielded. Also, you are focusing on the outbound trip, but the mission is much more than that. I'm pretty much assuming we can get safely to LMO (although most still shake their head at the idea of using aerocapture for people), and probably to the surface, but then you have months (under most plans) before a return window opens up. Lots of things can go wrong in those months, especially with people doing dangerous stuff like exploration. That's where you need the extra people.

In transit it is all about the hardware and keeping everyone busy. On the surface there is messy stuff like topography and sharp edges and maybe drilling to deal with, not to mention lifesupport in an alien environment. There are human limitations on multiskilling. You're going to want lots of redundancy. You can't have your only medic or mech/elec/chem engineer or whatever out of action. Maybe you can find a couple of polymaths for the first mission, but it isn't going to help if they need base support because their rover is 100 ft down a crevice and there is no-one back at base, or if they need so many manhours to maintain lifesuport that they aren't getting any sleep. More than in transit, it's the surface mission where less people = less safe.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:58 am 
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are you taking in the psychological aspect of a mission of the one that you are proposing? your going to have 2 people crammed into a small space for 6mo to a year with no one else to talk to? human beings are social animals and need contact that was one of the problems that the "biodome" project faced ( not the movie ).5 people went in as friends and they came out as bitter enemies. what happens if there is a quarrel up there? its just them and no one else. having a crew of 5-6 will satisfy that idea to an extent, still alot of testing will be needed and not everyone is qualified to partake on a mission like that, but sending 3 missions will be more expensive than just sending one big manned mission. (keep in mind people are expensive cargo, they take up sheilding, food, water, open space, and alot of power)
not to be mean or anything your on the right tract of trying to save money and all but there are some things that should be done a certain way. i hope this has given you some new ideas.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:13 pm 
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Working out the best number of people (and particularly the psychosocial aspects) is one of the goals of the

http: en wikipedia org wiki Mars_Analogue_Research_Station
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 8:03 pm 
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Each crew spends between 2 weeks and a month living in a habitat unit, performing the kind of work astronauts will be expected to carry out on Mars


2 weeks to a month isnt enough time it might be to see the easies way to make things work in a hab but does not adress the issue of time spent traveling there in a ship and the lonelyness of spending time there ... NASA should be better consulted because they have the most experience or at least people on the project should be ( if not already ) working with people from NASA on that matter.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:17 pm 
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I think the timespan is a matter of practicalities (the crew are unpaid volunteers) rather than the ideal length of time.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:55 pm 
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They're planning a 4 month stay for next summer, which is definitly close to the types of challenges astronauts would face on Mars.

I was actually considering applying for it, but I'm not sure they'd take undergrads. Confused
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