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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars 176

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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  • Re:Send criminals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:43PM (#39696027) Homepage Journal

    You could probably send volunteers. But sending criminals is pointless. Survival on a mars mission will require an extreme level of technical skill that just isn't plausible to develop in that population. Sending criminals is just a ludicrously expensive way to implement the death penalty (and existing systems are egregiously expensive enough).

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:45PM (#39696045) Homepage Journal

    This stuff barely qualifies as noise in the national budget. If you care about cutting government spending, the only meaningful choices are health insurance for the elderly, retirement insurance for the elderly, and the military.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:04PM (#39696149)
    Cutting spending isn't as important for politicians as the appearance of cutting spending. If they want to stay in office, it's a good idea to find something to cut. The typical voter doesn't have much of a head for numbers, and sees just $X million saved. Millions of dollars always sounds like a lot, even when it really isn't.
  • Re:Send criminals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:10PM (#39696173)

    It's pointless for another reason, given a chance to go to mars, even if ostensibly a "one way trip" NASA would have far more volunteers than they need, including many many fit and technically competent candidates.

  • Re:Your Mom (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NemoinSpace ( 1118137 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:23PM (#39696249) Journal
    we really do need to go to -5.
  • Re:Send criminals (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:50PM (#39696389)

    There's a flaw in your metaphor: timeline.

    The European discovery of Australia was in 1606 - this is about equivalent to "sending a small, Apollo-like exploration mission to Mars". More and more exploratory missions went on from various countries, but colonization was effectively unattempted until the late 1700s, nearly two centuries later (and driven, at least in part, by the American Revolution cutting off the outflow of "transported" criminals to America).

    In short, sending a large number of unskilled and unmotivated colonists to a new land won't work until at least decades after initial, small-scale exploration is possible. You need at least hundreds (the first British Australian colony was over a thousand settlers) to have a sustainable colony - right now, we can't send tens, much less hundreds or thousands, of people to Mars, even one-way. Sending prisoners, half a dozen at a time, to Mars, at the cost of billions per trip, would get us nothing but a pile of skeletons on a distant planet and a national deficit that will require new fields of mathematics just to calculate.

    The Moon might be a more plausible location (and by "more plausible" I mean "slightly closer to physically possible"). But even then, the metaphorical timescale doesn't look to good - we probably won't have a permanent Moon colony until 2150, by your analogy.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @09:03PM (#39696811)
    And there in lays the problem. The elderly vote in large numbers and they care about retirement, health care and defense. Until young voters vote in numbers greater than the elderly don't expect change.
  • 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.

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine