|MadSci Network: Astronomy|
In principle, yes, of course we could. Indeed from the point of view of risk, there could be something to gain in sending a prepacked set of supplies to Mars at one launch window, and, on confirmation of its safe arrival, send the manned ship , since launch windows occur every 2 years. Dr Robert Zubrin, author of the Mars Direct project, goes one better, and suggests that this first unmanned lander actually extracts fuel from the local environemnt while it awaits the arrival of the manned expedition. This ship could therefore be much smaller than is usually predicted, since it does not have to carry its return fuel. Zubrin calculates that, rather than costing the prohibitive 400-500 billion dollars which experts put down as the cost of President Bush's SEI, costs could be reduced to as little as 25 billion dollars over an 8 years development period, including the first expedition, and that, once in business, biennial missions to Mars could be had for 2 billions per year Gradually, over two decades, a substantial Antarctic scale base could be built up, for a very reasonable ongoing cost. Zubrin even proposes that, after initial Government input to establish the reconnaissance and basic technologies, the settlement of Mars could be a commercial/private venture rather than a Big Government project perhaps like the Mayflower expedition of 1620! Variants on this theme involve setting up unmanned base camp on Phobos- a Martian moon, with very low escape velocity, and fuelling the final landing/return from Mars using fuel derived from Phobos and Mars. The use of asteroids or comets to provide water, and fuel is another possibility- very attrative, since, again, very little energy need be expended rendezvousing with these bodies. Such an approach also offers potential routes to avoiding or surviving the "Armageddon" Impact scenario , by mining out Near Earth space of possible Impactors in the interests of space based industry and dispersed human colonies! A long term prospect perhaps, but since the alternative is an Impact costing billions of lives and trillions of dollars, surely not to be sneered at? Some of us argue that, without building such an Extraterrestrial civilization, the concept of longterm prospects has no meaning.
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