Nuclear reactor (100 kilowatts of electricity) 3.5

Nuclear reactor (100 kilowatts of electricity) 3.5

ERV total mass

Habitat total mass

EARTH RETURN VEHICLE blasts off from the surface of Mars with a crew of four on board (right). The payloads of the ERV and the manned habitat are detailed in the table above.

Continued from page 54 left behind on the planet, opening broad stretches of Mars to continued human exploration and, eventually, habitation.

In 1990, when my colleague David A. Baker and I (we were then both at Martin-Marietta, which is now part of Lockheed Martin) first put forward the basic Mars Direct plan, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration viewed it as too radical for serious consideration. But since then, with encouragement from Michael Griffin, NASA's former associate administrator for exploration, as well as from the current head of NASA, Daniel S. Goldin, the group in charge of designing human missions to Mars at the NASA Johnson Space Center decided to take another look at our idea.

The Mars Society

In 1994 researchers there produced a cost estimate for a program based on an expanded version of the Mars Direct plan that had been scaled up by about a factor of two. Their result: $50 billion. Notably, in 1989 this same group had assigned a $400-billion price tag to the traditional, cumbersome approach to a manned mission based on orbital assembly of megaspacecraft. I believe that with further discipline in the design of the mission, the cost could be brought down to the $20- to $30-billion range. Spent over 10 years, this amount would consti-

tute an annual expenditure of about 20 percent of NASA's budget, or around 1 percent of the U.S. military's budget. It is a small price to pay for a new world.

To mobilize public support for an expanded Mars effort—including robotic as well as human exploration—and to initiate privately funded missions, the Mars Society was formed in 1998. As its first private project, the society is building a Mars simulation base at the Haughton meteorite impact crater on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. Because of its geologic and climatic similarities to the Red Planet, this area has been of interest to NASA scientists for some time. The society's Mars Arctic Research Station, or MARS, will support a greatly expanded study of this environment and will provide a location for field-testing human exploration tactics and prototype equipment, including habitation modules, ground-mobility systems, photovoltaic systems and specialized drilling rigs. The current plan is to have the Devon Island MARS base operational by the summer of 2000. This should be possible on a budget of about $1 million.

We hope that the credibility earned through this project will enable the society to expand its financial resources. It could then help fund robotic missions to Mars and, eventually, human expeditions, perhaps on a cost-sharing basis with NASA or other government agencies. But it is clear that the fastest way to send humans to Mars is to show the government why it should invest in this endeavor. The society has therefore launched an educational campaign directed toward politicians and other power brokers.

Someday millions of people will live on Mars. What language will they speak? What values and traditions will they cherish as they move from there to the solar system and beyond? When they look back on our time, will any of our other actions compare in importance with what we do now to bring their society into being? Today we have the opportunity to be the parents, the founders, the shapers of a new branch of the human family. By so doing, we will put our stamp on the future. It is a privilege beyond reckoning. S3

This article updates a version that appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of Scientific American Presents.

ROBERT ZUBRIN is president of the Mars Society and founder of Pioneer Astronautics, which does research and development on space exploration. He is the author of The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and Entering Space: Creating a Space-Faring Civilization (Tarcher-Putnam, 1999).


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