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Thursday, June 18, 2015

SHOULD HUMANITY COLONIZE MARS NOW?

NO!  Brent Sherwood of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

Our rationale for exploring Mars, I think, is perhaps fatally weak.

There are things we do that make no sense to me.  Wave power, for example, is not worth the danger.  Wars?  What a waste!  Over the next few days I will provide my analysis of where humanity is headed on mega enterprises, like Mission to Mars and cloning humans.

I'll get to other factors later, but just the radiation problem could well be the fatal flaw (note, the vertical axis is logarithmic, and the journey to Mars is 15 times the dosage of the annual limit a nuclear power plant operator is allowed):


Last week I chided Elon Musk on his space vision:

About his creation of SpaceX to colonize Mars, that is is so beyond the pale, that I'm totally mystified how an obviously talented mind can be so far into supreme fantasy.  His expectation is that in 2035 there will be thousands of rockets regularly taking a million individuals to Mars

While Musk's extreme optimism is clearly preposterous, many identify with his kind of romance, and NASA heads the list.  On the other hand, if the colonization of Mars can be justified, you wonder if Musk might be able to do it much cheaper than NASA, for, from this headline article--SpaceX Spends 320 Times Less on Building the Dragon (left) Than NaSA Does on the Orion:

Compared to the SpaceX CCDev2 program, the Space Launch System that Orion is a part of is expected to cost $38 billion. Between $17 to $22 billion is needed just for development. That is 80 times the cost of the development of four manned crew vehicles by the private sector, i.e. 320 times more per vehicle.

What caught my attention, too, is that the above info from three years ago indicated that  NASA could spend $38 billion on early hardware development to  send Man to Mars.  The entire Apollo Project of 17 flights to the Moon cost $25.4 billion by 1973.  Of course, the present day value of that sum is $135 billion, but Mars will be a much more incredibly formidable task.

Recently, just in Hawaii, for example, the media glowingly reported on two NASA Mars related experiments:
  • Scientists termed their flying saucer-parachute Kauai flight a success.  Mind you the effort failed, but they put a positive spin on it.
  • All six marsonauts survived the longest running space simulation of life on Mars in a dome--eight months--on Mauna Loa.  
Why are we attempting to colonize Mars?  Here is one list of five reasons:
  • Ensure the survival of our species.
  • Discover life on Mars (Note:  as the Mars Global Surveyor could not detect actual life, the latest priority is to find bio/hydro indicators to provide a clue on whether there ever was life.  Neil deGrasse Tyson continues to believe that there is a high chance of life).
  • Improve the quality of life on Earth (huh??).
  • Grow as a species, that is, inspire future generations.
  • Demonstrate political and economic leadership.
Okay, I agree with some of the above, as long as we don't do anything really expensive.  The projected budget?  Only $6 billion, or, maybe $500 billion.  Remember that the International Space Station was supposed to cost $10 billion.  Can you believe $150 billion is the current tally?  Further, the ISS has not spawned one company, and will crash into Planet Earth in the Year 2020, or, maybe 2025.  So you think getting people to Mars and back could cost only $6 billion?  If they succeed, in any kind of scale, anything less than a trillions dollars will be fabulous.  

But you say, if we will spend $1.5 trillion for the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint Strike Fighter, which is very lemon-tinged, why not go to Mars instead?  Or, better yet, having invested $3.7 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan, how much more constructive will it be to colonize Mars?  Plus, the death rate will be much lower:  a few to 7,000 American troops (or more than half a million civilians just in Iraq alone).

The fact of the matter is that many of us remember Buck Rogers and Star Wars and the Apollo Project.  The reality is that the USA used space to gain international glory and bankrupt the Soviet Union.  When the Cold War ended, NASA became largely irrelevant.  Yes, there will be some return of outer space interest if China ever makes a major move to conquer Mars because the equivalent of Kryptonite was discovered by Curiosity and that element (of course, there is no such element), was crucial to their conquering the USA.  While our Military-Industrial Complex keeps feeding scare stories to the media about the growing Chinese defense budget (which is one-fourth the size of ours), they have no interest in posturing beyond a few contested islands near their shores.  


NASA data shows about half the more than three dozen missions to Mars over the last five decades have failed, including Chinese and Japanese attempts. 

So with the above dismal track record, enormous cost, high potential of  catastrophic failures, and the bigger question of WHY even go to Mars, I agree with the naysayers about any current attempts to colonize Mars.  Someday, yes.  A millennium from now, this might become absolutely necessary.  But Planet Earth is good for many billion years until something extraordinary begins to happen to the Sun, or a gigantic asteroid heads our way.  Until then, let us spend our tax monies on higher priority societal needs.

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