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NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars 176

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-help-here dept.
ZeroExistenZ writes "NASA plans to make another trip to Mars in 2018 for which they want to devise a plan by this summer. To come up with ideas for this mission, they turn to the public to tackle a few challenge areas. Participants must submit a brief abstract (no more than two pages) outlining the idea, and indicating in which of the topical areas the idea belongs. Abstracts are due no later than 5:00 p.m. U.S. Central Daylight Time May 10, 2012."
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NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars

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  • by Haxagon (2454432) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:47PM (#39696055)

    ... they need to stop thinking in a round-trip paradigm. We would be able to get a lot more accomplished, a lot quicker, if we drew upon the pool of astronauts and possible-astronauts who are willing to do a long-term mission in the name of science.
    Pour as much money as they can into psychological screenings and legal documents making sure that they are absolutely not liable, and send them off. The real reason we've stayed on Earth and its orbiting bodies is that we've concentrated too much on packing enough fuel with them for a round-trip, and not enough on finding ways to allow Humans to live indefinitely in enclosed Martian settlements. The current model of "go to star, get data, come home, instant hero" is just not feasible for meaningful space travel beyond what we have today.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      It should be a minimum of a 6 year trip to justify the expense. They can send supplies on a regular schedule and the containers can be utilized on site. A regular base could be built and people could be rotated out after their 6 year stay or they could stay on if they wanted to. Imagine the exploration and discovery possible with a long term team on the ground.

      • Step by step. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by khasim (1285) <> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:12PM (#39696193)

        1. A cheap way to launch supplies into Earth orbit. No people will be shipped this way so even a huge cannon would be good.

        2. Prep the supplies from #1 in orbit (need a space station or shuttle for this) and use cheap, slow engines to get them to Mars.

        3. The supplies enter Mars orbit and stay there until they are signalled from the ground to come down.

        Keep up a steady stream and roll any improvements into the system and you should be able to supply a mission for however long you want to keep them alive.

        Getting them back to Earth will be a problem.
        Are there any volunteers for a one-way mission?
        At least until they can assemble their own launch pad to get their people back into orbit.

        • Re:Step by step. (Score:5, Informative)

          by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:09PM (#39696519)

          A more complete step by step plan. Robotic/Automated/Remote controlled equipment is used throughout to prepare the way ahead of large numbers of humans:

          (1) Advanced Manufacturing - Using modular automated systems that can bootstrap much of their own construction. This has a goal of lowering manufacturing cost by a large factor. It is first used on Earth to build the factories to build the first space systems, and then later used in space to leverage local energy and materials resources.

          (2) Hypervelocity Launcher - This is a low development cost device for launching bulk cargo. Delicate cargo and humans still travel by conventional rockets. At the moment there is enough cost savings to justify such a launcher, but if other vehicles get cheap enough, it may not be needed.

          (3) Orbital Assembly - Assemble larger space systems from smaller components launched from Earth, or later manufactured in space. Smaller components means you can use smaller launch systems from Earth, which have lower startup cost.

          (4) Electric Thrusters - These have about 10 times the fuel efficiency of existing rockets, and enable highly leveraged mining and processing.

          (5) Orbital Mining - Mining small asteroids in orbits close to the Earth for raw materials. The mass return ratio is so high, especially with getting fuel from the next step, it dramatically affects all subsequent cost.

          (6) Processing Factory - Converts raw materials mined in space into useful inventory such as fuel, oxygen, structural parts, etc.

          (7) Space Elevator - This allows using the highly efficient electric thrusters in place of rockets for much of the transport job in gravity wells, starting with the Earth's.

          (8) Human Transport - This improves the methods for transporting humans and cargo which cannot withstand the high acceleration of the hypervelocity launcher.

          (9) Lunar Development - With our in-space infrastructure well developed, we can now access the Moon in a robust fashion and start to use it's relatively large mass and surface area.

          (10) Interplanetary Development - Transfer habitats in orbits between Earth and Mars. Since they don't move, they can have heavy shielding and greenhouses. Crews use small vehicles to get from habitat to planet orbit at each end of the trip

          (11) Mars Development - Use materials from Phobos to build elevator to Mars surface, and start to build up Mars.

          More details here: []

          • by khallow (566160)
            So what's this vast amount of infrastructure going to in the meantime? I think we should build out infrastructure that is justified by current needs not far future ones. Else you might end up in a situation where new businesses (say a remarkably cheap reusable launch vehicle) can't form because existing infrastructure is operating at below cost in a desperate attempt to justify its existence.
            • Advanced manufacturing pays for itself on Earth, regardless of if you do anything in space, by being more efficient.

              Bulk cargo delivery is a cheaper way to deliver supplies to Low Earth Orbit. Customers at first would be places like Space Station, and communications satellites (which need a lot of fuel to get to GEO). Those are existing markets.

              Steps 3-6 work together. They both make it cheaper to go anywhere past LEO (electric thrusters), and provide their own fuel (mining and processing), so it's self-

              • Re:Step by step. (Score:5, Interesting)

                by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday April 16, 2012 @01:05AM (#39697813)

                Step one is a VanNeuman machine. Go ahead and dream, but realize that it's tougher then you think. Historically, it took lathes and surface grinders to build mills and rotary grinders, if that helps your thinking. All those presuppose metal mining, refining, casting, heat treating etc etc. I'd pre-assume cutting tools and the like come from earth.

                You might also get some real world manufacturing experience. Check that, it would contaminate your purity. Maker bots can do anything or will be able to soon.

                I think they need to start with metal processing in space: In the asteroid belt, using robotic vacuum processes, large reflectors and solar sail powered tugs (that pre-heat the ore asteroids on the way to the metal sputtering sight. Useless on earth; start with mission one. Purpose: capture a nickle iron asteroid with solar sail probe and heat using sail, optional: melt it. Final option. Blow a bubble with it. Second final option: Sputter a beam onto a thin wire starter, see how long you can get it to grow, continuous process, feeding out the wire. Hot metal plus solar wind should sputter. Might have to be very hot metal.

                Then again I might want to get some real world space experience. Check that...

              • by khallow (566160)

                Steps 3-6 work together.

                They can also not work together. For example, you have yet to describe a market for bulk cargo delivery. Neither of your examples could exploit it.

                My view is that things are going to move slowly because of the chicken and egg problem of providing services that really only cheapen in the presence of significant, but nonexistent demand. For example, what's going drive demand for a space elevator? It'll take much cheaper versions of current sorts of launch vehicles to encourage the demand that supports the

          • I'm surprised no one thought to invent "modular automated sytems" that can build stuff. Might be a bit tricky to build the first one but you'd be set after that. I'd say they'd even have uses outside of the space industry. Slightly off topic but does anyone know how to type a rolling eyes emoticon?
        • At least until they can assemble their own launch pad to get their people back into orbit.

          No small task on a planet that has 38% our gravity, an inhospitable atmosphere, and no large scale mining, manufacturing, or fabrication plant. It would take many years and many missions to make the colonies self sustaining. Currently, our closest attempt at living in a closed ecosystem (biosphere-2) resulted in 2 years, with O2 dropping and CO2 rising heavily towards the end of the experiment. Worse yet, the experiment spawned a movie staring Pauly Shore. It's not that I don't believe that we will ha

        • by LanMan04 (790429)

          2. Prep the supplies from #1 in orbit (need a space station or shuttle for this) and use cheap, slow engines to get them to Mars.

          Yup, you're more than half-way to Mars in terms of delta-v just by getting into LEO.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Only if we can mine unobtanium without getting our asses kicked by blue aliens.

    • The future of manned space exploration may belong to China for just this reason.
    • Really, they just need to RTFM [] (and cough up a metric shitload of money).

      Easy peasy.

    • by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:43PM (#39696347) Journal

      Fuel for a return trip is mostly an excuse. You just need to do the return trip in two hops: bring enough fuel in the lander to get yourself to orbit, then dock with a giant tanker that carries enough fuel for the rest of the trip. Mars gravity is only about twice that of the Moon, and we got a lander into lunar orbit over fifty years ago, so I can't imagine a Mars ascent being that much of a leap.

      The harder part is actually landing a pod big enough to provide long-term living quarters. You could probably do it with inflatable buildings and large air compressors, but you'd still need a supplemental oxygen supply and either a steady supply of food and oxygen or a means of producing your own.

      The ideal solution would require landing somewhere with water ice. Water can provide oxygen by electrolysis. Sure, there are other ways to get oxygen (using CO2 electrolysis, for example), but that won't provide them with the water they'll need for other things like cooking, bathing, etc., so landing somewhere with an ample supply of water would be a big plus.

      So combine some very powerful air compressors with oxygen generators, lots of heating coils, some inflatable buildings, some disassembled airtight greenhouses, two or three shipments containing large, rolled-up solar panel sheets, etc. and it might actually be feasible to create a long-term habitat on Mars for not a lot more than the cost of a few rover missions. Remember to provide at least three of everything so that they won't be screwed if one of them doesn't work, preferably in separate bundles within reasonable walking distance of a single drop zone. Then provide a small lander with enough reserve oxygen and power to last them a month or two just in case it takes them longer than expected to get things set up.

      • Change yours solar panels to some RTGs. No problems with dust, energy day and night and very reliable. And the plus of "free" heah to heating the habitat
        • by Kjella (173770)

          Not to mention free radiation... how healthy is it to be that close to RTGs for extended periods of time? How much shielding do you need?

          • For a Pu-238 powered RTG? None. The RTG chassi is already enough to block the alpha radiation emitted by plutonium-238 ( And anyway, you could simply mount them outside the ship, where you need to have thicker shells because of the normal radiation of space.
        • by dgatwood (11270)

          You need to be able to handle a temperature gradient of almost three hundred degrees between the outdoors and the indoors, and if you're using inflatable housing, I doubt it will insulate particularly well. You think your power bill in the winter is high.... I think it might be pushing the limits of at least the RTGs that are readily available.

          Now my quick back-of-the-envelope math says that with resistance heat, some of the larger RTGs could readily handle heating a decent size structure, but that's bef

    • by khallow (566160)
      Historically, exploration has been round trip. And given that we don't have experience with creating settlements on other bodies, I don't see the case for one way trips.
    • by tomhath (637240)

      ... they need to stop thinking in a round-trip paradigm.

      Agreed, but an unmanned mission will accomplish much more than wasting time and resources trying to keep a person alive. Of all the fantastic space exploration that has happened over the years, the one that impressed me the most was when Huygens landed on Saturn's moon Titan. That was the most unworldly thing I've ever seen.

    • The real reason we've stayed on Earth and its orbiting bodies is that we've concentrated too much on packing enough fuel with them for a round-trip, and not enough on finding ways to allow Humans to live indefinitely in enclosed Martian settlements.

      Yes, because that makes much more sense than spending hundreds of times more on fuel and boosters to send enough material for them to build a settlement. Plus the tens of times more on fuel and boosters per year to keep the settlement running. Plus the increase

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Given that they only recently pulled funding for ExoMars, nearly screwing over a lot of people in Europe (thanks, Russia, by the way) it's a bit hard to believe they're just saying "eh, we want to do our own thing again".

    Sort it out, NASA.

    • by hde226868 (906048) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:11PM (#39696189) Homepage
      I would assume that it is something similar to what NASA did with the ESA L-class missions last year, where they also pulled out and then held scientific workshops. NASA's problem is that it has no money to participate in ExoMars or the L-class missions, and that's why they pulled out of ExoMars. However, legally speaking NASA is required to follow the decadal reports, and the planetary one recommend Mars research. This then led to the schizophrenic situation that they have held workshops for ideas on how to do gravitational wave research (LISA), X-ray astronomy (IXO), and now apparently Mars, where they previously pulled out of all joint ventures with ESA and JAXA. However, the good thing is that with the recommendation from the decadal reports and the results from such workshops the scientists at NASA headquarters have an argument that spending some money for R&D in these areas is necessary, because they can prove need. As a result this important research does not die. There is money for general R&D in the budget, so while some larger programs have been explicitly canceled by either OMB or congress, the Mars/X-ray/gravitational wave research can at least be partially funded this way.

      I'd not blame NASA for this but rather congress, which tends to try to exert strong control over NASA, which in many areas really amounts to micro-managing projects, without Congress really understanding what it is doing...

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:52PM (#39696079)

    That way we'll get a short period of actual usefulness out of them for once.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Is this like the joke about using lawyers for scientific research because the researchers got too attached to the rats?

  • get out, walk around.
  • instead of a bunch of administrative bureaucrats? Well... neither do I. But at least the engineers used to get to help.
    • by gatkinso (15975)

      I work at NASA Goddard. I can assure you of this: "engineers" at NASA are looked down upon. At NASA you are nothing unless you are "scientist."

  • They need to look for direct evidence of life and not gases and such that they can later claim are caused by geological processes. Strap a microscope onto a lander and take soil samples at the surface, 1", 1' and 3' depths and subject them to several conditions that should stimulate growth. Do a pass over each sample with a microscope before and after and look for biological action. Until they see actual cell division happening the debate will go on. Apparently there's no higher lifeforms so you have to loo
  • Why bother (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ol Olsoc (1175323)
    We'll sit back and let other countries do it. We're done with space exploration.

    And spare me the Spacex stuff. Unless they are immune from liability, and bankruptcy. A few mishaps, some dead space tourists, and we're permanently grounded.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Unless they are immune from liability, and bankruptcy. A few mishaps, some dead space tourists, and we're permanently grounded.

      Counterexamples for the liability claim: skydiving, deep sea diving, and expeditions to Mt. Everest. We've figured out liability else these tourist industries wouldn't exist.

      The bankruptcy issue is still there, but I think of that as a feature not a bug. If SpaceX can't pay the bills, then I want them out of the way efficiently. Bankruptcy court provides such a means.

  • I read the challenge areas, basically it's all the things that the guys working at NASA should be doing, if the Federal Government hadn't slashed their already inadequate budget to the point where it is now nothing more than a bunch of bureaucrats doing time.... So now some organization called the "Lunar and Planetary Institute" a division of "Universities Space Research Association" - to quote: "USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver so

  • by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at.> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:27PM (#39696613) Homepage Journal

    Surface and sub-surface mapping is easy. LADAR gives you the surface map, thermal imaging ( and []) gives you subsurface structures and a good idea of what the composition is.

    Triage is more complex but doable. Different materials allow radio through at different velocities and refract at different angles, so a simple system is to use a GPR setup with multiple receivers. If you know the difference in time it takes to transmit a signal from A to B through one medium versus another, plus what appears to be behind what when you look at one point versus another, then you know enough. (This is because we can reproduce the minerals we do know are on Mars and can therefore know what those look like using such technology in advance. The stuff you'd want to triage is stuff that doesn't fit with behaviours we'd expect to see.)

    But GPR is energy-intensive. No big deal - if it's a triage, you know the general area, you're wanting specifics. Since moving to a location is going to take days by rover, you can afford to triage by any process that consumes as much power as your solar cells can gather in that time. You can afford for it to be wasteful, because you don't have to carry more than one target area's worth of power at any one time and can recharge the batteries between runs.

    The original scans have to be a lot more conservative, since you need to perform an unknown amount of surveying and therefore cannot use more power than you can gather in the same amount of time, but isolating a point out of a fixed, small area is going to be a brief, infrequent task. The quality therefore matters far more than the power requirements, when you're working that way round.

    Identifying organics will be hard without some sort of spectral analysis. The detection of methane in the past is only significant if that methane was produced by biochemical process rather than an inorganic process, and that is currently unknown. Further, it's only important if the organic found is ALSO an organic relating to such methane production. Terrestrial biochemistry is highly diverse, so there's no such guarantee. Assuming you were looking for those specific organisms, however, life operates with a negative feedback system. Thus, if a process produces X then as the concentration of X increases the production must decrease. X will eventually become toxic to the process. Since we've seen methane and the Viking landers saw CO2 production, you might want to take methane and CO2 along. By repeating the Viking experiment with differing, controlled levels of initial CO2 and methane, you should determine if a negative feedback loop exists. If you saturate, run the experiment then return to a known previous unsaturated state an inorganic system -might- produce the same response as it did in that same state previously. An organic system is guaranteed not to, since you created an environment that was toxic.

    There's one catch. This requires spectral analysis and the requirement said you can't do that. True, all chemical responses (organic or inorganic) will also produce a heat signature (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) but ALL the chemistry will be producing heat and you will have NO idea what fraction might be biochemical and therefore NO means of predicting what level of reduction in activity is significant. (If 1% of the activity might be biochemical, you're looking at a very different level of difference being significant than if 90% might be biochemical.) If you can't construct a hypothesis H1 in the first place, you cannot establish how likely it is if what you are seeing is H1 or H0.

    There are techniques for extracting proteins in biochemistry. IIRC, you need them to be in a solution, you add various solvents and reagents and then you filter. Then you're just measuring the mass of that part of the filter vs. the expected

    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      If you know the difference in time it takes to transmit a signal from A to B through one medium versus another, plus what appears to be behind what when you look at one point versus another, then you know enough

      That sounds like a knapsack problem. If your signal travels through unknown distances of materials with a known signal propagation time, how do you know what combination of what amount of different materials you're transmitting through?

      Put another way: How many combinations of coins (materials) can you use to add up to a dollar (total propagation time)?

      • by jd (1658)

        Assuming that any given material is relatively uniform (or can be approximated as such), you can treat the problem as a set of unknowns in a set of linear equations. You need one linear equation per unknown in order to solve for all unknowns. In my example, five receivers "should" solve five unknowns for one transmission - though not really, since you're drawing lines through media you can't guarantee being the same. So you'd want to perform a number of tests at differing places in order to know how many un

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:29PM (#39696635)

    ...some obstacles need to be dealt with:

    - Energy: The theory is there, as is a practically unlimited supply of helium-3 on the Moon. That's a stopover just to refuel and the ready technology for controlled nuclear fusion. Step n-1: permanent lunar base.
    - Food/water: OK, the water bit is easy: pretty much the simplest polyatomic compound in existence, it has many uses including oxygen generation (photoelectrics/hydroponics?), and it can be recycled to an infinite degree. It's also pretty dense, so storage isn't much of a problem. Food is a simple matter of growing your own, for which a garden needs to be built and the necessary skills present to maintain it to the point where it is a constantly replenishable source of chemical energy and other essential nutrients. Such gardens can be located on the lunar colony, in orbit around Earth, the Moon or Mars (better yet, all three), with a limited supply onboard to be replenished during stopovers during the trip.
    - Psychological studies: impacts on long-term enclosure in tin can environments (ask the Russians), in small groups of less than half a dozen (ask the Russians or any political prisoner), and application of these studies to determine the suitability of any candidate for the mission as to their likely responses to such conditions and steps that can be taken to mitigate any negative effects such as cabin fever - wouldn't do the mission any good to have someone suddenly decide they're going for a walk without a spacesuit on. Strike that, it'd be an End-Of-Mission event.
    - Damage control. We're talking about micrometeoroid strikes, radiation surges, orbital anomalies, structural failures, electronic failures, and the training required to recover from those.

    There's just a few. There's a lot more, probably even more that I wouldn't think of if I wrote a thousand pages on it, never mind two. I think the eggheads are talking about a robotic mission here. For which I would suggest a small, semi-autonomous probe with the ability to cover large distances rapidly (neutrally buoyant craft with fan engines?) and the ability to take and analyse samples with the equipment it has onboard. So, some serious miniaturisation technology, probably some endlessly renewable power source (printed PV array?), redundant systems (or more than one probe)... it could be done with technology we have now, the question is how to utilise what we have, or how to adapt what we have to do what we want?

  • its all around a winner ... we get people on mars, clean house, and I doubt anyone would bitch about the cost

  • (1) sex
    (2) oil
    (3) lower taxes
    (4) god
    (5) fighting terrorism

    No accompanying explanations, rational arguments will only blunt the force of these compelling interests.
  • by mattr (78516) <> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @10:51PM (#39697297) Homepage Journal

    Let's think of a realistic plan and what its purpose is. I submit the purpose should be meaningful exploration toward expansion of the human race to the stars in order to:
    - understand our environment,
    - increase survivability of catastrophes, and
    - grow our technical capabilities to a scale necessary to meet the challenges this endeavor presents.

    The purpose is not to waste human lives, or waste time, or make political basketball.
    We gain the hearts of the populace by making solid progress on the timescales of everyday lives, building momentum, and teaching science so that the populace understands why space is important.

    Incidentally nobody wants to go die on Mars or to make a mission that will require dying so let's just stop talking about getting volunteers.

    If we try to make a manned mission to Mars in the near future, it is going to be extremely risky and in the best case will end up like the manned moon mission: a success after many years but then a long hiatus of no exploration after that, since we have "gone there". I recommend we do not waste resources on manned travel to Mars yet, at least not without a much faster engine, and proceed with the following:

    First of all we need funded projects immediately covering:
    - develop a robust, automated, semi-intelligent manufacturing capability able to mine, create parallel worker bots, build smelter and factory, develop energy sources such as solar and heat gradient, etc.
    - develop an ultra-high velocity launcher
    - develop high speed space engines, whether this is nuclear or ion-based remains to be seen
    - develop micro-size exploration craft

    The manufacturing technology will be built for use on our own planet and perfect here for many uses and climes. It will work underwater, on arid mountain slopes, in antarctica, in the steamy tropics. It will survive attacks by wild animals, tornadoes, floods and monsoons. This project will revolutionize the human realities and economies of Africa and will turn our deserts into solar energy farms. It can be approached as if an alien space exploration and exploitation mission to Earth, which will might help its promotion.

    The high-speed space engine will allow us to explore moon, asteroids and Mars on a time-scale that allows many missions during our lifetimes. Do it in months and years not decades.

    The launcher will launch seed of this technology to the moon and will be perfected there with astronauts going there for a specific purpose, not just "to go" and make everyone feel good. In other words, the next time we go to the Moon we will take with us a superior technology and feel we can easily set up shop anywhere on the Moon we want.

    The exploration craft will be useable on the Earth, Moon, Mars and anywhere else we want to go. Ultimately we want to be able to add capabilities so these semi-autonomous agents can roll, jump, fly, swim, climb etc. as needed and take advantage of local energy sources. Use on the Moon, Mars, Europa and the asteroid belt will be the goals. Before we get there, we can use them on Earth for exploration underwater or in jungles, and for search and rescue, and response to natural disasters like forest fires and tsunamis. Certainly such a capability would have been useful in the Fukushima disaster.

    Realistically, our current technology is not high enough at the present moment to sustain a human presence on Mars or the Moon. Ideally from the perspective of someone going there, we would like to have an intelligent, autonomous nanotechnology that could somehow go there ahead of us and build us an entire self-contained, self-repairing station while allowing us to decide what we want to do with the planet. For example whether to leave it as-is, bombard it with ice, seed it with hardy lifeforms, etc.

    However an advanced semi-automated manufacturing technology that can slash at the costs and time scales required to develop and maintain this machinery would be very useful, both on Earth and on Mars. If we can better marshal our resources through superior technology it will make life better on Earth as well as bring us a step closer to meaningful exploitation of space.

    • Have you been reading the book I've been working on? []

      If not, you may want to, and even contribute. It's a wiki project, so help is welcome, as long as you know what you are talking about.

    • This has to be one of the most insightful comments I've seen on Slashdot in years. Ever since the "web" became popular, /. has become somewhat less nerdy as more and more "normal" folks polluted it with their crap.
      Thanks for reminding me what /. used to be like, "back in the day" (and me a 6-digiter as well! I bow before my betters!).

      Now, in order of importance;

      1) Sorry I don't have any mod privs. left. Used them up yesterday, otherwise I'd have made this +5 and not commented.
      2) Submit this to NASA as par

    • by gatkinso (15975)

      Dude, they can find volunteers that will strap a large hunk of C4 under their ballsack, get on a plane, and detonate it.

      I bet finding folks for a one way trip to explore Mars would be easy in comparison, considering that we are all essentially on a one way trip down a birth canal to explore Earth.

      • by mattr (78516)

        Thanks for your comment. Yes I know there are actually individuals who would go. But, politically it would be a big downer. And I am not so sure it would be a good way to enthuse the next generation with space flight. I could of course be wrong but I would much rather see a nuclear powered space fleet that could send people to Mars and back, instead of seeing a one way trip. Presumably anyone fit enough to get to Mars and do something useful on the planet, has plenty of years left to their natural span but

  • with money and a steady vision (not changing every few years), it should be a straight forward

  • Strange timing on this one. They should at least wait for the Mars Science Lab to touchdown - it won't even be too long until it does, since it's already on its way. That way, media attention on Mars and public awareness/interest in Mars missions will be far greater.

  • Because it would be ironic.

  • ~ We'll sail 'round the Horn and return with spices and silk, the likes of which ye have never seen!

    ~ We're looking for plans for a trip to Mars...

    ~ Arrrr....Could you give me five minutes?

  • Doesn't NASA already have a great idea for a Mars exploration mission? ARES []?

The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. -- Confucius