Not exactly rocket science

On the day Apollo 11 left for the moon, Wernher von Braun said “You give me 10 billion dollars and a 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.” Perhaps he could have solved the rocketry problem in time and under budget, but the biggest obstacles to visiting Mars are not rocket science. The biggest obstacle may be psychology. How do you keep a crew from sane all the way to Mars and back? Or politics: How do you stir up sufficient public interest in the project without a cold war? Or biology: How would astronauts handle years of exposure to cosmic radiation?

8 thoughts on “Not exactly rocket science

  1. I suppose getting there is at least conceivable now. Getting back might be a tougher nut to crack. ;-)

  2. Daniel: It would be interesting to do an experiment to see what years of YouTube watching would do to the human brain. Unethical, but interesting.

    Speedmaster: There is serious talk of sending a crew of colonists who would live the rest of their lives on Mars. There was a paper about that recently that got a lot of buzz.

  3. I wonder if it has gotten more difficult over time as a result of increasing risk-aversion. My impression is that some of those early space programs were pretty risky and that this would not be acceptable today.

  4. Not sure there are really that many hospitable places left on earth anymore to be more truthfull, Mars is becoming more attractive – the social (family) and legal ramifications however are another interesting angle, anyone for a Robben Island or Australia policy?

  5. The return to Earth side is IMO a bit unnecessary, as long as crew can return eventually. Whether or not Americans are too risk adverse, too here-and-now focused to attempt, I don’t know. I do know the original was accepted far more in the spirit of a competition with the USSR than I would have liked.

    There are many long term problems to solve here, and we don’t seem to be up to it, at least not at the level of national policy. (Contrast the complete acceptance of climate change and its upcoming effects by the property insurance industry per a news piece on NPR yesterday. They don’t think there’s any actuarial doubt at all.) But along with Zubrin (Mars Direct) I don’t think any major engineering achievement like this will happen without reforming the way it is procured. The single prime contractor model is inherently too expensive, has too few benefits from market competition, and gives the winner too strong a hand to manipulate the project to their monetary gain.

  6. The gravitational effects are the hardest problem to solve. Long duration weightlessness has left some Soviet cosmonauts unable to walk. (There is a threat of a solar flare, but not that high of a risk.) The energy to go to Mars is actually less than the Moon, since you can use the Martian atmosphere as a brake, instead of a rocket engine.

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