Missions to Mars Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1503 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Astronomy

Physics - Mission to Mars

MISSION to MARS

The Apollo Space Program that culminated in a spectacular series of moon landings concluded in 1973 and the focus of subsequent American space programs shifted to developing reusable space vehicles like the Space Shuttle. At the time, the Lunar landings restored national pride in our technological accomplishments after a few particularly difficult setbacks in the race to space against the Soviet Union.

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets stunned the world by putting Sputnik, the first manmade satellite into orbit. In the next few years, the United States would experience a series of setbacks, resulting in the destruction of unmanned rockets on the launch pad and after take-off, and the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space agency suffered the catastrophic fire that killed Apollo 1 astronauts, Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee in 1967 (Engelbert & Dupuis, 1998).

Besides national pride, the primary functional application of NASA's race to space and to the Moon related to the military exploitation of space as part of the Cold War. The trickle down of technology developed in connection with the space program advanced many civilian industries and made possible the achievements that led to everything from cellular phones and global positioning (GPS) to Velcro and powdered breakfast drinks.

In 2004, President Bush announced his intention to fund a space program of even greater long-term magnitude than Apollo, to explore Mars. With an estimated cost in excess of five hundred billion dollars, critics point out that the money would be much better spent on programs here on Earth, especially in light of the military situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on homeland security and the War on Terror. They point out that the Soviet Union collapsed as a rival superpower in the 1990's, and that nothing else would justify such a tremendous expense at this time.

On the other hand, the Earth does not offer natural resources necessary to provide for our energy needs much farther into the future. Industrial pollution has triggered significant changes to this planet's atmosphere, weather, and topography that will likely accelerate the rate at which this planet eventually becomes incapable of supporting continued human habitation (Sagan, 1994). One of the only alternatives available to perpetuate humanity after we exhaust this planet's natural resources will be to expand our habitat by cultivating conditions capable of supporting human society elsewhere in the Solar System, and eventually, beyond (Kaku, 1997).

Mars is the only planet that is ever capable of being seen with the naked eye, and before modern astronomy came of age in the 20th century, observers had thought that some of its visible features were artificial canals evidencing habitation by intelligent life.

NASA began exploring Mars in 1964, with Mariner 4, the first successful fly-by mission that produced twenty-one of the clearest photographs ever taken of the Red Planet.

In its natural state, Mars, which is approximately half the size of the Earth, is not remotely suitable for supporting human life. However, it is an active planet with seasonal weather, volcanic activity, natural organic resources, evidence of water, and the possibility of life, either presently or sometime in the past. In principle, it may be possible to cultivate those resources to terraform Martian terrain and atmosphere to meet the necessary requirements for human habitation. Doing so would require a long series of preliminary missions by unmanned spacecraft and machinery to initiate the process.

Technical Considerations and Mission Planning:

Mars is a frigidly cold planet where surface temperature ranges between -20 degrees Fahrenheit and -120 degrees Fahrenheit, with violent dust storms and very little Oxygen, and is orbited by two small moons (Engelbert & Dupuis, 1998). Its distance from Earth varies substantially, from 35 million miles to about 250 million miles, depending on its orbit (Abbate, 1992). Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, and less than half of Earth's gravity.

Because only a very thin atmosphere remains after most of it evaporated away much earlier in its history, Mars lacks any protection from intergalactic radiation and charged Solar particle bombardment of the type that are filtered out by Earth's thicker atmosphere. Mars is continually bombarded by intense radiation from which any human explorers would have to be shielded until a protective atmosphere could be cultivated.

The same applies to transforming the Martian atmosphere of nearly 100% carbon dioxide into a breathable artificial atmospheric mixture of gaseous elements.

Traversing the distance to Mars by chemical propellant-based rocket technology takes about six months, and any vehicle large enough to transport human passengers would require so much fuel that a return trip would be impossible. The solution to the fuel problem would require many preliminary missions using robotic technology to manufacture the necessary fuel from resources available on Mars, in sufficient quantities to support a return trip by the first astronauts to make the trip. Prolonged periods in zero gravity poses health problems like muscle atrophy and bone density decreases that could render astronauts too weak and their bones too brittle to allow them to survive (let alone accomplish any work) on arrival on Mars. This can be addressed through several mechanisms of creating artificial gravity in transit.

More importantly, radiation and charged particle exposure is another serious consideration that proposed missions to Mars would have to address, both in transit as well as for any human beings to survive on Mars. Without protection, the ultraviolet radiation levels alone would kill any life forms with which we are familiar on Earth (Sagan, 1994). One possible solution involves utilizing the Martian moons. The idea would be to land on the surface of Phobos or Deimos facing Mars, because on that side of the moons, there is protection from Solar rays, at least for two-thirds of their orbits..

The other potential advantage of using Mars' moons as rendezvous points for launching surface missions to Mars is that they provide a direct flight line to any point of interest on the Martian surface. Otherwise, the prospect of sending mobile robotic rovers to different points on the surface requires either multiple independent missions or negotiating the difficulties associated with extensive surface travel across hostile territory with mountain territory as high as 80,000 feet (Kaku, 1997).

The Mars Direct Plan: So much conventional rocket propellant would be required to take human passengers to Mars, that a vehicle large enough to carry it would have to be constructed in space rather than launched from Earth, because of the energy required to accelerate so large a spacecraft to reach Earth's escape velocity of 25,000 miles per hour, or seven miles per second (Engelbert & Dupuis, 1998). Constructing the vehicle in a near-Earth orbit would require numerous assembly stations launched and assembled in many missions, in much the same manner as Skylab, which required more than one hundred and the cooperation of two superpowers. The only other conceivable method would require entirely different propulsion systems, such as nuclear pulse, solar-electric ion, or ramjet propulsion systems that will just not be technologically feasible for decades, especially on the scale required (Kaku, 1997).

The Mars Direct Plan suggests using existing rocket propulsion technology similar in power to that used for the Apollo Lunar Missions to launch an unmanned package containing an un-fueled methane/oxygen-powered return vehicle toward Mars.

The package, which would also include a small nuclear reactor, several tons of liquid hydrogen, and all the other necessary remote-controlled (and pre-programmed) robotic equipment, chemical processors, and surface rovers to process fuel for the return vehicle engines (APS, 2004). Once in operation, the naturally occurring methane and carbon dioxide on Mars would be used to make water and oxygen in sufficient quantities to support the prolonged missions (more than a year each), as well as liquid hydrogen for rocket propellant, by processes of methanation… [END OF PREVIEW]

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