Mars: the New Earth?

In a previous post, I outlined a proposed mission profile for, and some of the realities involved in, a one-way manned mission to Mars: rovers and robots would establish a base camp before the crew arrived. The astronauts would receive continuous shipments of supplies form Earth, but would have to rely on onsite greenhouses for the majority of their food and oxygen. Like I said, the proposal is a radical one; the astronauts would have no means to return home at any point throughout the mission. But they would be the first step in a long-term plan to develop a human outpost on the red planet.

The proposed mission itself is, I think, difficult to justify. More difficult, however, are the realities of living on an inhospitable planet for the rest of your life. In the case of Mars, would it be easier to alter the planet to make it fit for human habitation instead of bringing a habitat in tow? What should come first, terraforming or inhabiting? (Previous image: Terra Nova by David A. Hardy depicts a terraformed Mars rise as seen from one of its moons.) [Read more...]

A One-Way Ticket to Mars?

A couple of months ago, I published a post outlining a few historical viewpoints of the planet Mars. Philosophers and scientists have considered it to be a cold and lifeless world, a planet teeming with life, as well as a formerly flourishing planet that now holds only the vestiges of an intelligent and resourceful society. No matter the time period, the red planet has maintained a constant hold over the imaginations of men and scientists alike – it has always been a point of fascination and more recently an achievable goal.  The lure and romance of Mars had led many to propose the exploration the red planet in a variety of fashions. Some focus on robotic exploration while others proposed staged manned missions. The most radical proposal merges the two on a strict time frame: a one-way manned mission to Mars within the first quarter of the 21st century. (Pictured is the Mars Pathfinder lander. The landing bag, petal or ramp that facilitated the rover Sojourner’s descent to the surface, and a meteorology mast are visible against the Martian landscape. 1997.) [Read more...]

Sailors, Ships, and Splashdowns

I’ve been posting a lot about landing methods – NASA’s use of splashdowns, why the method was not a long-term solution to the problem of returning from space, and a comparison to Soviet methods. The former, splashdowns, have been a focus of a number of posts. I have previously focussed on the complexity of splashdowns and the significant resources involved as driving force behind NASA’s pursuit of land landing methods with its second-generation manned spaceflight program. But this only tells half the story. A look at the numbers of men and ships involved offers a different illustration of the reasons to pursue a land landing method. (Pictured: The crew of the USS Champlain cheer on Alan Shepard following his Freedom 7 splashdown, 1961.) [Read more...]

The X-15 as Research Aircraft

In a previous post, I offered a brief summary of the X-15 program in which I highlighted its features that enabled it to take on the designation of a ‘space plane’. I also mentioned that its nature is two-fold; it is at once a space plane and a research aircraft. (Left, an engineer runs wind tunnel tests on a scale model of an X-15.)

For many involved with the X-15 program, the aircraft was the first space plane – it’s record altitude was above the 50-mile limit of space. The aircraft was poised to be the first in a line of orbit-capable space planes. The proposed follow-up X-20 program built on the basic space plane design. But as the space race gathered steam, the X-15 took a backseat to, and was eventually eclipsed by, the Mercury ballistic capsule. Thus, in the wake of Mercury’s success, the X-15 took on a second nature – the last in a long line of research aircraft. [Read more...]