On our way to Mars? I have my doubts.

NASA has presented a plan to go to Mars. Although NASA has done amazing things with small budgets, and achieved a lot during its existence, leading the exploration of space on many fronts, I’m skeptical about this specific plan of attack.
You can read their plans here (PDF).

There are so many unknowns and vague references in this program that I’m not sure how much politics it is and how much hard science and engineering.

At this moment there’s a “year in space” mission going on at the ISS. That’s good, because it will tell us something about staying for a prolonged time in microgravity. Obviously this is necessary, even after many years of long duration stays in the ISS. Maybe there was insufficient focus on long duration effects before. I don’t know. But I wonder.

Then there are more problems, like radiation on the way to Mars and while staying at the planet itself. Is there any coordinated action at this very moment or at any planned moment in the near future to solve that problem? 2030 is less than 15 years away and it’s a short time for such a mega-expedition.

Can we provide astronauts with food? What are the engineering problems there, and how are we going to solve them? Can we travel to Mars at sufficient speed and brake at Mars with sufficient fuel left? Can we return safely?
How are these plans related to all those trials on Earth for people to live in “Martian” isolation? A lot of these projects didn’t go well. Why not? How are we going to prevent these kinds of problems? How are we going to do it right on the way to Mars?

What specific reconnaissance will there be in the preceding years? Will it be one rocket? A fleet?

What are the objectives of such a Mars mission? What are we going to do there? Hop around? Contaminate the surface and then go back, contaminating Earth as well? Take pictures we already had? Stay at one place or travel around? Is it a one time happening and then back to Earth to celebrate? What will be the possible spin-offs on Earth?

What will it mean for other projects, like long time presence in LEO? Are commercial parties really interested in taking over all those things we think they will take over? Will they be able to?

What’s the role of international collaboration? Is there enough action, money and knowledge with the other parties? And if yes, what are the respective roles?

What are we capable of right now, and what is out of our reach for the moment? When will we solve those problems and what plans are there in place? Where’s the overall picture?

And above all, can we make a realistic estimate of the costs?

It’s a great brochure with nice pictures and optimistic words. But is it a plan? Am I too pessimistic?


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