Monday, March 20, 2006

ESA plans manned mission

The latest issue of Spaceflight Magazine (the magazine of the British Interplantery Society) showcases Mars on the front cover (April 2006 issue) and devotes a number of pages to an indepth breakdown of European plans to put a man on Mars. It should be stated that these "plans" are highly spectulative and no budgets are assigned, but it is interesting to see how a mission to Mars might be launched by a conglomorate of European nations. Frankly, it's pretty depressing reading because it seems that the plans require an incredible outlay in time and resource. No less than 21 Energia launches are called for! Those with an interest in spaceflight history may recall that the Energia flew the then Soviet Buran spaceshuttle on its maiden (and only) flight. It's a monster rocket (though not as big as an Apollo) but 21 flights and a 5 year building program in orbit strikes me as insane. Worse still, for all this outlay, the study paper assumes a manned stay on the planet of just 30 days, yet the crew will be stranded in Martian orbit for a year and a half. I desperately want to see humans on Mars, but this plan is not the way to do it and simply serves to strengthen the argument of those who favour unmanned missions. With NASA looking at a rover with a nuclear power plant for massively extended missions, one can hardly see the point of a mission that deposits humans for 30 days and allows them just 7 EVAs of no greater than 5km from the landing point.