/Questioning Mars as humanity’s ultimate 21st century pioneering destination in space

Questioning Mars as humanity’s ultimate 21st century pioneering destination in space

Summary: In addition to the problems awaiting humans on the surface, the journey to and from the Red Planet poses an equally large set of obstacles.

Original author and publication date: Aerotech News – August 11, 2020

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Is Mars really beyond our reach even with 21st century technology? Will we ever be ready to go to space beyond the moon?

Mars on Sept. 6, 2015 -  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS photograph)
Mars on Sept. 6, 2015 –  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS photograph)

From the article:

“We’re going to Mars,” President Donald Trump told reporters at a White House press conference in 2019.

Maybe not, according to astrodynamicist Daniel R. Adamo, who believes there may be no compelling reason to put human bootprints on the Martian surface anytime in the foreseeable future.

“We should pioneer on Mars only if it’s possible and ethical to thrive there economically and biologically,” Adamo said at a recent e-Town Hall meeting hosted by the Los Angeles and Las Vegas chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, held via Zoom on Aug. 8, 2020. He believes Mars has become more of a “socio-cultural destination” whose suitability for human exploration and pioneering is based on more than a century of fictional literature and poorly informed research since the beginning of the Space Age.

Adamo, a recognized authority in human spaceflight operations, retired in 2008 following 29 years as a contractor at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where he supported 60 Space Shuttle missions from the Flight Dynamics Officer console in Mission Control. Since then he has been engaged in astrodynamics research, consulting and outreach for such clients as NASA, the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Keck Institute for Space Studies.

He is quick to admit that despite frigid temperatures and a thin, un-breathable atmosphere, Mars has long been the most compelling of our planetary neighbors. This phenomenon began, he says, in 1906 when astronomer Percival Lowell published a book that described the crisscrossing lines he observed on the red face of Mars as water-filled canals, possibly having been built by intelligent beings to transport water from the polar regions across the planet’s dusty landscape. This colorful image inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs to author a series of popular pulp novels, starting in 1912 with A Princess of Mars. According to Adamo, it was “the adventure and romance of these stories” that fired the human imagination and inspired a yearning to go to Mars. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury penned a collection of stories, published in 1950 as The Martian Chronicles, suggesting that colonization of Mars was nothing less than humanity’s destiny.

The dawn of the Space Age brought such dreams closer to reality than ever before. Adamo said famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun spent much of his time at White Sands Missile Range in the late 1940s considering the problem of sending humans to Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. Published in 1952, Das Marsprojekt, offered the first technically comprehensive design for a human expedition to the Red Planet, and boldly suggested a provisional launch date as early as 1965.

The red hills of Mars
A series of robotic probes visited Mars beginning in the early 1960s but the first images returned in July 1965 showed a dead world, its rocky surface gouged by craters and jagged canyons. Even the polar ice caps were composed mostly of frozen carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, Mars remained a source of wonder. Of all the planets in the solar system, it is the one most similar to Earth.

Moreover, evidence suggests that Mars was once covered largely by water and was warmer, with a thicker atmosphere, offering a potentially habitable environment.

Describing images returned from the Martian surface by the robotic rover Curiosity in 2012, Adamo exclaimed, “It looks like home!”

Indeed, many of these pictures show a desert landscape that closely resembles parts of the American Southwest, North Africa, Antarctica, the Middle East or Southwest Asia. Adamo says this likeness is misleading.

“The thin Martian atmosphere provides no shielding against cosmic radiation,” he explained. “Exposure inside above-surface habitats, space suits, and unpressurized rovers would provide inadequate radiation shielding to support 500-day duty tours, let alone multi-generation pioneering.”

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