The spacecraft that will take a crew, their equipment and enough fuel for the 56-million-kilometre journey to Mars will be assembled – in space. This requires a major leap of technology. The record of success isn’t good: between them, the U.S. and Russia have sent 38 unmanned probes and satellites to the Red Planet – and 22 have ended in failure.
Once on its trajectory, the crew will not be able to re-engineer or modify any component of the plans and procedures for the flight to, the exploration of, or the return from Mars. Engineers must get it all right the first time. Or the astronauts will die.
In 1957, famed scientist Werner Von Braun created a scenario for an exploratory voyage to Mars and, amazingly, current scientists still respect its basic architecture. Components of a Mars spaceship will be launched and then assembled in Earth’s orbit. Only when the spacecraft is completed will the crew be sent from Earth. When the spacecraft reaches the outer atmosphere of Mars, a transfer vehicle will take the astronauts on the short but terrifying final sprint to the surface of the Red Planet.
The U.S. is developing the Ares V rocket to carry an estimated 100 metric tons of cargo per launch. It may take 10 rocket launches, each requiring 4.3 million kilograms of thrust and a velocity of 11 kilometres-per-second to send sufficient supplies. An alternate scenario has the tons of equipment and supplies needed to sustain the astronauts sent to Mars ahead of the manned spacecraft.
Canadian Academy Award-winner James Cameron, a member of NASA’S advisory council, has a controversial proposal: reduce mass by taking only enough fuel to fly one way and manufacture fuel on Mars for the return trip.
Other fuel system ideas currently being researched include thermo-nuclear propulsion systems and a laser-like beam of super-heated charged particles.
Russian scientists are developing Klipper, a winged spacecraft to take the crew on the trip from Earth to the Mars spaceship. The U.S. is creating CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) which will be tested on flights to the moon. The European Space Agency is also in the race. All the scientists agree that landing a crewed mission on Mars will take a worldwide effort – and that there will be an international crew on board when the rocket blasts off.
Dr. Jerry Linenger is a retired NASA astronaut. He received a bachelor degree in bioscience from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977, a doctorate in medicine from Wayne State University in 1981, a master of science in systems management from University of Southern California in 1988, a master of public health in health policy from the University of North Carolina in 1989 and a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina in 1989.
Dr. Linenger joined the astronaut corps in 1992. In 1994 he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Following his first mission, he began training at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, in preparation for a long-duration stay aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. In 1997, Dr. Linenger launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis and docked with the International Space Station, remaining in space for 132 days and 4 hours, the longest duration flight of an American male at that time.
Dr. Dafydd (Dave) Rhys Williams has degrees in biology and physiology and a Doctorate of Medicine and Master of Surgery, all from McGill University. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. After training as an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, he launched aboard the 16-day flight of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998. He orbited the earth 256 times, covered 10-million kms, spending over 380 hours in space. Williams was Director of the Space and Life Sciences Directorate at the Johnson Space Center 1998–2002, the first non-American to hold a NASA senior management position. In 2001 he joined the NEEMO 1 program as an Aquanaut on Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory, becoming the first Canadian to live and work both in space and under the ocean. He was crew commander of the NEEMO 9 (2006) mission to find new ways to deliver medical care on a long space flight. Williams is currently training at the Johnson Space Center for his second venture into space, on the Shuttle Endeavor, slated to launch August, 2007. He is expected to make three space walks during that mission.
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