“Travel light, live off the land, make your own fuel.”
These are the key things astronauts must do after they land on Mars, according to American scientist and author, Dr Robert Zubrin.
Zubrin, known for his advocacy for the manned exploration and colonisation of a planet that is 54 million kilometres from Earth, was the keynote speaker at the ANZ CIO Forum dinner in Sydney last week.
Zubrin told the audience that the human interplanetary expansion effort is now ready to take off: “turning humanity into a multi-planet species with an open future and open frontier in front of us.”
He believes that humans will land on Mars within 10 years of a program launch.
“I am not in any way predicting that we will be on Mars in 10 years, that’s a contingent development that depends upon what decisions are made. But I absolutely insist that we can be on Mars in 10 years from whenever there is a program start,” he says.
Scientists won’t be travelling in giant interplanetary space ships similar to the star destroyers in Star Wars, rather the first four scientists will complete the six month journey in a ‘tin can’ around eight metres in diameter and six metres tall, Zubrin told the audience.
“Star destroyers need to be constructed in space on facilities such as space ports with cranes, hangers and cryogenic fuel depots – an entire parallel universe of orbital infrastructure is needed to make those star destroyers possible. Clearly that’s not happening in 10 years,” he says.
But what is required is a heavy lift vehicle, something with the capacity of the Saturn 5 moon rocket, which was built in the 1960s before "push button telephones or pocket calculators, let alone iPhones,” says Zubrin.
“If you have a heavy lift vehicle, something with the capacity of Saturn 5 – which was the moon rocket – we can use that to throw a payload directly to Mars.”
The mission will consist of three launches: the first will launch a Mars to Earth return vehicle. During the second launch – two years after the first – a second Earth return vehicle for fuel production is sent followed by the launch of a ‘habitat craft’ with four astronauts inside.
An Earth return vehicle makes a ‘minimum entry trajectory’ to Mars, and deploys a heat shield or aeroshell, to propel the vehicle through the atmosphere a subsonic speeds before landing safely under a parachute. This is the same method that was used when Curiosity landed in 2012.
Once the vehicle lands, a ‘little truck’ with runs on a methane oxygen powered engine and carrying a 100kilowatt ‘putt putt nuke’ as Zubrin describes it – is telerobotically-driven a couple of hundred yards away from the spacecraft.
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