The Mars Project! Von Braun’s Ideas for a Mars Mission. Collaboration with Vintage Space

Humans to Mars!

Did you know that it’s been almost 45 years since humans walked on the surface of the Moon? Of course you do. Anyone who loves space exploration obsesses about the last Apollo landings, and counts the passing years of sadness.

Sure, SpaceX, Blue Origins and the new NASA Space Launch Systems rocket offer a tantalizing future in space. But 45 years. Ouch, so much lost time.

What would happen if we could go back in time? What amazing and insane plans did NASA have to continue exploring the Solar System? What alternative future could we have now, 45 years later?

In order to answer this question, I’ve teamed up with my space historian friend, Amy Shira Teitel, who runs the Vintage Space blog and YouTube Channel. We’ve decided to look at two groups of missions that never happened.

In her part, Amy talks about the Apollo Applications Program; NASA’s original plans before the human exploration of the Moon was shut down. More Apollo missions, the beginnings of a lunar base, and even a human flyby of Venus.

In my half of the series, I look at Werner Von Braun’s insanely ambitious plans to send a human mission to Mars. Put it together with Amy’s episode and you can imagine a space exploration future with all the ambition of the Kerbal Space Program.

Keep mind here that we’re not going to constrain ourselves with the pesky laws of physics, and the reality of finances. These ideas were cool, and considered by NASA engineers, but they weren’t necessarily the best ideas, or even feasible.

So, 2 parts, tackle them in any order you like. My part begins right now.

Werner Von Braun, of course, was the architect for NASA’s human spaceflight efforts during the space race. It was under Von Braun’s guidance that NASA developed the various flight hardware for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions including the massive Saturn V rocket, which eventually put a human crew of astronauts on the Moon and safely returned them back to Earth.

Wernher von Braun. Credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

Von Braun was originally a German rocket scientist, pivotal to the Nazi “rocket team”, which developed the ballistic V-2 rockets. These unmanned rockets could carry a 1-tonne payload 800 kilometers away. They were developed in 1942, and by 1944 they were being used in war against Allied targets.

By the end of the war, Von Braun coordinated his surrender to the Allies as well as 500 of his engineers, including their equipment and plans for future rockets. In “Operation Paperclip”, the German scientists were captured and transferred to the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, where they would begin working on the US rocket efforts.

Von Braun and others standing in front a V-2 rocket engine at White Sands. Credit: U.S. Army/ Ordway Collection/Space Rocket Center

Before the work really took off, though, Von Braun had a couple of years of relative downtime, and in 1947 and 1948, he wrote a science fiction novel about the human exploration of Mars.

The novel itself was never published, because it was terrible, but it also contained a detailed appendix containing all the calculations, mission parameters, hardware designs to carry out this mission to Mars.

The Mars Project

In 1952, this appendix was published in Germany as “Das Marsproject”, or “The Mars Project”. And an English version was published a few years later. Collier’s Weekly Magazine did an 8-part special on the Mars Project in 1952, captivating the world’s imagination.

Here’s the plan: In the Mars Project, Von Braun envisioned a vast armada of spaceships that would make the journey from Earth to Mars. They would send a total of 10 giant spaceships, each of which would weigh about 4,000 tonnes.

Just for comparison, a fully loaded Saturn V rocket could carry about 140 tonnes of payload into Low Earth Orbit. In other words, they’d need a LOT of rockets. Von Braun estimated that 950 three-stage rockets should be enough to get everything into orbit.

Ships being assembled in orbit. Credit: Collier’s

All the ships would be assembled in orbit, and 70 crewmembers would take to their stations for an epic journey. They’d blast their rockets and carry out a Mars Hohmann transfer, which would take them 8 months to make the journey from Earth to Mars.

The flotilla consisted of 7 orbiters, huge spheres that would travel to Mars, go into orbit and then return back to Earth. It also consisted of 3 glider landers, which would enter the Martian atmosphere and stay on Mars.

Once they reached the Red Planet, they would use powerful telescopes to scan the Martian landscape and search for safe and scientifically interesting landing spots. The first landing would happen at one of the planet’s polar caps, which Von Braun figured was the only guaranteed flat surface for a landing.

A rocket-powered glider descending towards Mars. Credit: Collier’s

At this point, it’s important to note that Von Braun assumed that the Martian atmosphere was about as thick as Earth’s. He figured you could use huge winged gliders to aerobrake into the atmosphere and land safely on the surface.

He was wrong. The atmosphere on Mars is actually only 1% as thick as Earth’s, and these gliders would never work. Newer missions, like SpaceX’s Red Dragon and Interplanetary Transport Ship will use rockets to make a powered landing.

I think if Von Braun knew this, he could have modified his plans to still make the whole thing work.

Landed at the polar cap. Credit: Collier’s

Once the first expedition landed at one of the polar caps, they’d make a 6,400 kilometer journey across the harsh Martian landscape to the first base camp location, and build a landing strip. Then two more gliders would detach from the flotilla and bring the majority of the explorers to the base camp. A skeleton crew would remain in orbit.

Once again, I think it’s important to note that Von Braun didn’t truly understand how awful the surface of Mars really is. The almost non-existent atmosphere and extreme cold would require much more sophisticated gear than he had planned for. But still, you’ve got to admire his ambition.

Preparing the gliders for rocket-powered ascent. Credit: Collier’s

With the Mars explorer team on the ground, their first task was to turn their glider-landers into rockets again. They would stand them up and get them prepped to blast off from the surface of Mars when their mission was over.

The Martian explorers would set up an inflatable habitat, and then spend the next 400 days surveying the area. Geologists would investigate the landscape, studying the composition of the rocks. Botanists would study the hardy Martian plant life, and seeing what kinds of Earth plants would grow.

Zoologists would study the local animals, and help figure out what was dangerous and what was safe to eat. Archeologists would search the region for evidence of ancient Martian civilizations, and study the vast canal network seen from Earth by astronomers. Perhaps they’d even meet the hardy Martians that built those canals, struggling to survive to this day.

Once again, in the 1940s, we thought Mars would be like the Earth, just more of a desert. There’d be plants and animals, and maybe even people adapted to the hardy environment. With our modern knowledge, this sounds quaint today. The most brutal desert on Earth is a paradise compared to the nicest place on Mars. Von Braun did the best he could with the best science of the time.

Finally, at the end of their 400 days on Mars, the astronauts would blast off from the surface of Mars, meet up with the orbiting crew, and the entire flotilla would make the return journey to Earth using the minimum-fuel Mars-Earth transfer trajectory.

The planned trajectories to and from Mars. Credit: Collier’s

Although Von Braun got a lot of things wrong about his Martian mission plan, such as the thickness of the atmosphere and habitability of Mars, he got a lot of things right.

He anticipated a mission plan that required the least amount of fuel, by assembling pieces in orbit, using the Hohmann transfer trajectory, exploring Mars for 400 days to match up Earth and Mars orbits. He developed the concept of using orbiters, detachable landing craft and ascent vehicles, used by the Apollo Moon missions.

The missions never happened, obviously, but Von Braun’s ideas served as the backbone for all future human Mars mission plans.

I’d like to give a massive thanks to the space historian David S.F. Portree. He wrote an amazing book called Humans to Mars, which details 50 years of NASA plans to send humans to the Red Planet, including a fantastic synopsis of the Mars Project.

I asked David about how Von Braun’s ideas influenced human spaceflight, he said it was his…

“… reliance on a conjunction-class long-stay mission lasting 400 days. That was gutsy – in the 1960s, NASA and contractor planners generally stuck with opposition-class short-stay missions. In recent years we’ve seen more emphasis on the conjunction-class mission mode, sometimes with a relatively short period on Mars but lots of time in orbit, other times with almost the whole mission spent on the surface.”

Can you buy Land on the Moon?

Have you ever heard that it’s possible to buy property on the Moon? Perhaps someone has told you that, thanks to certain loopholes in the legal code, it is possible to purchase your very own parcel of lunar land. And in truth, many celebrities have reportedly bought into this scheme, hoping to snatch up their share of land before private companies or nations do.

Despite the fact that there may be several companies willing to oblige you, the reality is that international treaties say that no nation owns the Moon. These treaties also establish that the Moon is there for the good of all humans, and so it’s impossible for any state to own any lunar land. But does that mean private ownership is impossible too? The short answer is yes.

The long answer is, it’s complicated. At present, there are multiple nations hoping to build outposts and settlements on the Moon in the coming decades. The ESA hopes to build a “international village” between 2020 and 2030 and NASA has plans for its own for a Moon base.

The ESA recently elaborated its plan to create a Moon base by the 2030s. Credit: Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the European Space Agency to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
The ESA recently elaborated its plan to create a Moon base by the 2030s. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

The Russian space agency (Roscosmos) is planning to build a lunar base by the 2020s, and the China National Space Agency (CNSA) is planning to build such a base in a similar timeframe, thanks to the success of its Chang’e program.

Because of this, a lot of attention has been focused lately on the existing legal framework for the Moon and other celestial bodies. Let’s take a look at the history of “space law”, shall we?

Outer Space Treaty:

On Jan. 27th, 1967, the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union sat down together to work out a treaty on the exploration and use of outer space. With the Soviets and Americans locked in the Space Race, there was fear on all sides that any power that managed to put resources into orbit, or get to the Moon first, might have an edge on the others – and use these resources for evil!

As such, all sides signed “The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies” – aka. “The Outer Space Treaty”. This treaty went into effect on Oct. 10th, 1967, and became the basis of international space law. As of September 2015, it has been signed by 104 countries (while another 24 have signed the treaty but have not competed the ratification process).

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA
Astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. shown collecting samples on the lunar surface with the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the Apollo 16 mission. Credit: NASA

The treaty is overseen the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). It’s a big document, with lots of articles, subsections, and legalese. But the most relevant clause is Article II of the treaty, where it states:

“Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

“Loophole” in the Treaty:

Despite clearly saying that Outer Space is the property of all humanity, and can only be used for the good of all, the language is specific to national ownership. As a result, there is no legal consensus on whether or not the treaty’s prohibition are also valid as far as private appropriation is concerned.

However, Article II addresses only the issue of national ownership, and contains no specific language about the rights of private individuals or bodies in owning anything in outer space. Because of this, there are some who have argued that property rights should be recognized on the basis of jurisdiction rather than territorial sovereignty.

About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon. Credit: NASA
About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Looking to Article VI though, it states that governments are responsible for the actions of any party therein. So it is clear that the spirit of the treaty is meant to apply to all entities, be they public or private. As it states:

“States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.”

In other words, any person, organization or company operating in space is answerable to their respective government. But since no specific mention is made of private ownership, there are those who claim that this represents a “loophole” in the treaty which allows them to claim and sell land on the Moon at this time. Because of this ambiguity, there have been attempts to augment the Outer Space Treaty.

The Moon Treaty:

On Dec. 18th, 1979, members of the United Nations presented an agreement which was meant to be a follow-up to the Outer Space Treaty and close its supposed loopholes. Known as the “Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies” – aka. “The Moon Treaty” or “Moon Agreement” – this treaty intended to establish a legal framework for the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies.

On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Much like the Outer Space Treaty, the agreement established that the Moon should be used for the benefit of all humanity and not for the sake of any individual state. The treaty banned weapons testing, declared that any scientific research must be open and shared with the international community, and that nations and individuals and organizations could not claim anything.

In practice, the treaty failed because it has not been ratified by any state that engages in crewed space exploration or has domestic launch capability. This includes the United States, the larger members of the ESA, Russia, China, Japan and India. Though it expressly forbids both national and private ownership of land on the Moon, or the use thereof for non-scientific, non-universal purposes, the treaty effectively has no teeth.

Bottom line, there is nothing that expressly forbids companies from owning land on the Moon. However, with no way to claim that land, anyone attempting to sell land to prospective buyers is basically selling snake oil. Any documentation that claims you own land on the Moon is unenforceable, and no nation on the planet that has signed either the Outer Space Treaty or the Moon Treaty will recognize it.

Moon Map
The annotated features on the lunar nearside. You’ll notice, not one of them says “Land for Sale!” Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Peter Freiman(Cmglee). Background photograph by Gregory H. Revera.

Then again, if you were able to fly up to the Moon and build a settlement there, it would be pretty difficult for anyone to stop you. But don’t expect that to the be the last word on the issue. With multiple space agencies looking to create “international villages” and companies hoping to create a tourist industry, you could expect some serious legal battles down the road!

But of course, this is all academic. With no atmosphere to speak of, temperatures reaching incredible highs and lows – ranging from 100 °C (212 °F) to -173 °C (-279.4 °F) – its low gravity (16.5 % that of Earth), and all that harsh Moon dust, nobody outside of trained astronauts (or the clinically insane) should want to spend a significant amount of time there!

We have written many interesting articles about the Moon here at Universe Today. Here’s Can you Really Name a Star?, Make a Deal for Land on the Moon, and our series on Building a Moon Base.

Want more information about the Moon? Here’s NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Science page. And here’s NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide.

You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?

Sources:

What Were the First Lunar Landings?

The moment that the Apollo-11 mission touched down on the Moon, followed by Neil Armstrong‘s famous words – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” – is one of the most iconic moments in history. The culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice, it was an achievement that forever established humanity as a space-faring species.

And in the year’s that followed, several more spacecraft and astronauts landed on the Moon. But before, during and after these missions, a number of other “lunar landings” were accomplished as well. Aside from astronauts, a number of robotic missions were mounted which were milestones in themselves. So exactly what were the earliest lunar landings?

Robotic Missions:

The first missions to the Moon consisted of probes and landers, the purpose of which was to study the lunar surface and determine where crewed missions might land. This took place during the 1950s where both the Soviet Space program and NASA sent landers to the Moon as part of their Luna and Pioneer programs.

The Soviet Luna 2 probe, the first man-made object to land on the Moon. Credit: NASA
The Soviet Luna 2 probe, the first man-made object to land on the Moon. Credit: NASA

After several attempts on both sides, the Soviets managed to achieve a successful lunar landing on Sept. 14th, 1959 with their Luna-2 spacecraft. After flying directly to the Moon for 36 hours, the spacecraft achieved a hard landing (i.e. crashed) on the surface west of the Mare Serenitatis – near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus.

The primary objective of the probe was to help confirm the discovery of the solar wind, turned up by the Luna-1 mission. However, with this crash landing, it became the first man-made object to touch down on the Moon. Upon impact, it scattered a series of Soviet emblems and ribbons that had been assembled into spheres, and which broke apart upon hitting the surface.

The next craft to make a lunar landing was the Soviet Luna-3 probe, almost a month after Luna-2 did. However, unlike its predecessor, the Luna-3 probe was equipped with a camera and managed to send back the first images of the far side of the Moon.

The first US spacecraft to impact the Moon was the Ranger-7 probe, which crashed into the Moon on July 31st, 1964. This came after a string of failures with previous spacecraft in the Pioneer and Ranger line of robotic spacecraft. Prior to impact, it too transmitted back photographs of the Lunar surface.

The Ranger 7 lander, which became the first US spacecraft to land on the Moon. Credit: NASA
The Ranger 7 lander, which became the first US spacecraft to land on the Moon. Credit: NASA

This was followed by the Ranger-8 lander, which impacted the surface of the Moon on Feb. 20th, 1965. The spacecraft took 7,000 high-resolution images of the Moon before crashing onto the surface, just 24 km from the Sea of Tranquility, which NASA had been surveying for the sake of their future Apollo missions. These images, which yielded details about the local terrain, helped to pave the way for crewed missions.

The first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon was the Soviet Luna-9 mission, on February 3rd, 1966. This was accomplished through the use of an airbag system that allowed the probe to survive hitting the surface at a speed of 50 km/hour. It also became the first spacecraft to transmit photographic data back to Earth from the surface of another celestial body.

The first truly soft landing was made by the US with the Surveyor-1 spacecraft, which touched down on the surface of the Moon on June 2nd, 1966. After landing in the Ocean of Storms, the probe transmitted data back to Earth that would also prove useful for the eventual Apollo missions.

Several more Surveyor missions and one more Luna mission landed on the Moon before crewed mission began, as part of NASA’s Apollo program.

Launch of Apollo 11. On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11 mission aboard a Saturn V rocket on July 16th, 1969. Credit: NASA

Crewed Missions:

The first crewed landing on the Moon was none other than the historic Apollo-11 mission, which touched down on the lunar surface on July 20th, 1969. After achieving orbit around the Moon in their Command Module (aka. the Columbia module), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rode the Lunar Excursion (Eagle) Module down to the surface of the Moon.

Once they had landed, Armstrong radioed to Mission Control and announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Once the crew had gone through their checklist and depressurized the cabin, the Eagles’ hatch was opened and Armstrong began walking down the ladder to the Lunar surface first.

When he reached the bottom of the ladder, Armstrong said: “I’m going to step off the LEM now” (referring to the Lunar Excursion Module). He then turned and set his left boot on the surface of the Moon at 2:56 UTC July 21st, 1969, and spoke the famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

About 20 minutes after the first step, Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface and became the second human to set foot on the Moon. The two then unveiled a plaque commemorating their flight, set up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package, and planted the flag of the United States before blasting off in the Lunar Module.

Aldrin on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit. Image Credit: NASA
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, with the reflection of Neil Armstrong visible in his face plate. Credit: NASA

Several more Apollo missions followed which expanded on the accomplishments of the Apollo-11 crew. The US and NASA would remain the only nation and space agency to successfully land astronauts on the Moon, an accomplishment that has not been matched to this day.

Today, multiple space agencies (and even private companies) are contemplating returning to the Moon. Between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), there are several plans for crewed missions, and even the construction of permanent bases on the Moon.

We have written many great articles about the Moon here at Universe Today. Here’s Who Were the First Men on the Moon?, How Many People Have Walked on the Moon?, How Do We Know the Moon Landing Isn’t Fake?, Where Were You When Apollo 11 Landed on the Moon?, What Does The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site Look Like Today?

Want more information about the Moon? Here’s NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Science page. And here’s NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide.

You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?

Sources:

Falcon Heavy Vs. Saturn V

Its an Epic Rocket Battle! Or a Clash of the Titans, if you will. Except that in this case, the titans are the two of the heaviest rockets the world has ever seen. And the contenders couldn’t be better matched. On one side, we have the heaviest rocket to come out of the US during the Space Race, and the one that delivered the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. On the other, we have the heaviest rocket created by the NewSpace industry, and which promises to deliver astronauts to Mars.

And in many respects, the Falcon Heavy is considered to be the successor of the Saturn V. Ever since the latter was retired in 1973, the United States has effectively been without a super-heavy lifter. And with the Space Launch System still in development, the Falcon Heavy is likely to become the workhorse of both private space corporations and space agencies in the coming years.

So let’s compare these two rockets, taking into account their capabilities, specifications, and the history of their development and see who comes out on top. BEGIN!

Launch of the modified Saturn V rocket carrying the Skylab space station. Credit: NASA
Launch of the modified Saturn V rocket carrying the Skylab space station. Credit: NASA

Development History:

The development of the Saturn V began in 1946 with Operation Paperclip, a US government program which led to the recruitment of Wernher von Braun and several other World War II-era German rocket scientists and technicians. The purpose of this program was to leverage the expertise of these scientists to give the US an edge in the Cold War through the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Between 1945 and the mid-to-late 50s von Braun acted as an advisor to US armed forces for the sake of developing military rockets only. It was not until 1957, with the Soviet launch of Sputnik-1 using an R-7 rocket – a Soviet ICBM also capable of delivering thermonuclear warheads –  that the US government began to consider the use of rockets for space exploration.

Thereafter, von Braun and his team began developing the Jupiter series of rockets –  a modified Redstone ballistic missile with two solid-propellant upper stages. These proved to be a major step towards the Saturn V, hence why the Jupiter series was later nicknamed “an infant Saturn”. Between 1960 and 1962, the Marshall Space Flight Center began designing the rockets that would eventually be used by the Apollo Program.

After several iterations, the Saturn C-5 design (later named the Saturn V) was created. By 1964, it was selected for NASA’s Apollo Program as the rocket that would conduct a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LRO). This plan called for a large rocket to launch a single spacecraft to the Moon, but only a small part of that spacecraft (the Lunar Module) would actually land on the surface. That smaller module would then rendezvous with the main spacecraft – the Command/Service Module (CSM) – in lunar orbit and the crew would return home.

A Saturn IV launching the historic Apollo 11 mission. Image: NASA/Michael Vuijlsteke. Public Domain image.
A Saturn V launching the historic Apollo 11 mission. Credit: NASA/Michael Vuijlsteke. Public Domain image.

Development of the Falcon Heavy was first announced in 2011 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. In a statement, Musk drew direct comparisons to the Saturn V, claiming that the Falcon Heavy would deliver “more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program.”

Consistent with this promise of a “super heavy-lift” vehicle, SpaceX’s original specifications indicated a projected payload of 53,000 kg (117,000 lbs) to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), and 12,000 kgg (26,000 lbs) to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). In 2013, these estimates were revised to 54,400 kg (119,900 lb) to LEO and 22,200 kg (48,900 lb) to GTO, as well as 16,000 kilograms (35,000 lb) to translunar trajectory, and 13,600 kilograms (31,000 lb) on a trans-Martian orbit to Mars, and 2,900 kg (6,400 lb) to Pluto.

In 2015, the design was changed – alongside changes to the Falcon 9 v.1.1 – to take advantage of the new Merlin 1D engine and changes to the propellant tanks. The original timetable, proposed in 2011, put the rocket’s arrival at SpaceX’s west-coast launch location – Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – at before the end of 2012.

The first launch from Vandenberg was take place in 2013, while the first launch from Cape Canaveral was to take place in late 2013 or 2014. But by mid-2015, delays caused by failures with Falcon 9 test flights caused the first launch to be pushed to late 2016. The rocket has also been relocated to the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex in Florida.

Artist's concept of the SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft launching to Mars on SpaceX Falcon Heavy as soon as 2018. Credit: SpaceX
Artist’s concept of the SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft launching to Mars on SpaceX Falcon Heavy as soon as 2018. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX also announced in July 0f 2016 that it planned to expand its landing facility near Cape Canaveral to take advantage of the reusable technology. With three landing pads now planned (instead of one on land and a drone barge at sea), they hope to be able to recover all of the spent boosters that will be used for the launch of a Falcon Heavy.

Design:

Both the Saturn V and Falcon Heavy were created to do some serious heavy lifting. Little wonder, since both were created for the sole purpose of “slipping the surly bonds” of Earth and putting human beings and cargo onto other celestial bodies. For its part, the Saturn V‘s size and payload surpassed all other previous rockets, reflecting its purpose of sending astronauts to the Moon.

With the Apollo spacecraft on top, it stood 111 meters (363 feet) tall and was 10 meters (33 feet) in diameter, without fins. Fully fueled, the Saturn V weighed 2,950 metric tons (6.5 million pounds), and had a payload capacity estimated at 118,000 kg (261,000 lbs) to LEO, but was designed for the purpose of sending 41,000 kg (90,000 lbs) to Trans Lunar Insertion (TLI).

Later upgrades on the final three missions boosted that capacity to 140,000 kg (310,000 lbs) to LEO and 48,600 kg (107,100 lbs) to the Moon. The Saturn V was principally designed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, while numerous subsystems were developed by subcontractors. This included the engines, which were designed by Rocketdyne, a Los Angeles-based rocket company.

Diagram of Saturn V Launch Vehicle. Credit: NASA/MSFC
Diagram of Saturn V Launch Vehicle. Credit: NASA/MSFC

The first stage (aka. S-IC) measured 42 m (138 feet) tall and 10 m (33 feet) in diameter, and had a dry weight of 131 metric tons (289,000 lbs) and a total weight of over 2300 metric tons (5.1 million lbs) when fully fueled. It was powered by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines arrayed in a quincunx (four units arranged in a square, and the fifth in the center) which provided it with 34,000 kN (7.6 million pounds-force) of thrust.

The Saturn V consisted of three stages – the S-IC first stage, S-II second stage and the S-IVB third stage – and the instrument unit. The first stage used Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1), a form of kerosene similar to jet fuel, while the second and third stages relied on liquid hydrogen for fuel. The second and third stage also used solid-propellant rockets to separate during launch.

The Falcon Heavy is based around a core that is a single Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as boosters. While similar in concept to the Delta IV Heavy launcher and proposals for the Atlas V HLV and Russian Angara A5V, the Falcon Heavy was specifically designed to exceed all current designs in terms of operational flexibility and payload. As with other SpaceX rockets, it was also designed to incorporate reusability.

The rocket relies on two stages, with the possibility of more to come, that measure 70 m (229.6 ft) in height and 12.2 m (39.9 ft) in width. The first stage is powered by three Falcon 9 cores, each of which is equipped with nine Merlin 1D engines. These are arranged in a circular fashion with eight around the outside and one in th middle (what SpaceX refers to as the Octaweb) in order to streamline the manufacturing process. Each core also includes four extensible landing legs and grid fins to control descent and conduct landings.

Chart comparing SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX
Chart comparing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket. Credit: SpaceX

The first stage of the Falcon Heavy relies on Subcooled LOX (liquid oxygen) and chilled RP-1 fuel; while the upper stage also uses them, but under normal conditions. The Falcon Heavy has a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 22,819 kN (5,130,000 lbf) which rises to 24,681 kN (5,549,000 lbf) as the craft climbs out of the atmosphere. The upper stage is powered by a single Merlin 1D engine which has a thrust of 34 kN (210,000 lbf) and has been modified for use in a vacuum.

Although not a part of the initial Falcon Heavy design, SpaceX has been extending its work with reusable rocket systems to ensure that the boosters and core stage can be recovered. Currently, no work has been announced on making the upper stages recoverable as well, but recent successes recovering the first stages of the Falcon 9 may indicate a possible change down the road.

The consequence of adding reusable technology will mean that the Falcon Heavy will have a reduced payload to GTO. However, it will also mean that it will be able to fly at a much lower cost per launch. With full reusability on all three booster cores, the GTO payload will be approximately 7,000 kg (15,000 lb). If only the two outside cores are reusable while the center is expendable, the GTO payload would be approximately 14,000 kg (31,000 lb).

Cost:

The Saturn V rocket was by no means a small investment. In fact, one of the main reasons for the cancellation of the last three Apollo flights was the sheer cost of producing the rockets and financing the launches. Between 1964 and 1973, a grand total of $6.417 billion USD was appropriated for the sake of research, development, and flights.

Looking at the business end of the Saturn V as it gets moved towards the barge that will transport it to Mississippi. Image: Infinity Science Center.
A Saturn V rocket viewed from the rear, showing its five Rocketdyne F-1 engines. Credit: Infinity Science Center

Adjusted to 2016 dollars, that works out to $41.4 billion USD. In terms of individual launches, the Saturn V would cost between $185 and $189 million USD, of which $110 million was spent on production alone. Adjusted for inflation, this works out to approximately $1.23 billion per launch, of which $710 million went towards production.

By contrast, when Musk appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in May 2004, he stated that his ultimate goal with the development of SpaceX was to bring the total cost per launch down to $1,100 per kg ($500/pound). As of April 2016, SpaceX has indicated that a Falcon Heavy could lift 2268 kg (8000 lbs) to GTO for a cost of $90 million a launch – which works out to $3968.25 per kg ($1125 per pound).

No estimates are available yet on how a fully-reusable Falcon Heavy will further reduce the cost of individual launches. And again, it will vary depending on whether or not the boosters and the core, or just the external boosters are recoverable. Making the upper stage recoverable as well will lead to a further drop in costs, but will also likely impact performance.

Specifications:

So having covered their backgrounds, designs and overall cost, let’s move on to a side-by-side comparison of these two bad boys. Let’s see how they stack up, pound for pound, when all things are considered – including height, weight, lift payload, and thrust.

Saturn V: Falcon Heavy:
Height: 110.6 m (363 ft) 70 m (230 ft)
Diameter: 10.1 m (33 ft) 12.2 m (40 ft)
Weight: 2,970,000 kg
(6,540,000 lbs)
1,420,788 kg
(3,132,301 lb)
Stages:  3  2+
Engines
(1st Stage):
5 Rocketdyne F-1 3 x 9 Merlin 1D
   2nd stage 5 Rocketdyne J-2 1 Merlin 1D
   3rd stage 1 Rocketdyne J-2
Thrust
(1st stage):
34,020 kN

22,918 kN (sea level);
24,681 kN (vacuum)

   2nd stage 4,400 kN 934 kN
   3rd stage 1,000 kN
Payload (LEO): 140,000 kg
(310,000 lbs)
54,400 kg
(119,900 lbs)
Payload (TLI):  48,600 kg
(107,100 lbs)

 16,000 kg
(35,000 lbs)

When put next to each other, you can see that the Saturn V has the advantage when it comes to muscle. It’s bigger, heavier, and can deliver a bigger payload to space. On the other hand, the Falcon Heavy is smaller, lighter, and a lot cheaper. Whereas the Saturn V can put a heavier payload into orbit, or send it on to another celestial body, the Falcon Heavy could perform several missions for every one mounted by its competitor.

But whereas the contributions of the venerable Saturn V cannot be denied, the Falcon Heavy has yet to demonstrate its true worth to space exploration. In many ways, its like comparing a retired champion to an up-and-comer who, despite showing lots of promise and getting all the headlines, has yet to win a single bout.

But should the Falcon Heavy prove successful, it will likely be recognized as the natural successor to the Saturn V. Ever since the latter was retired in 1973, NASA has been without a rocket with which to mount long-range crewed missions. And while heavy-lift options have been available – such as the Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V – none have had the performance, payload capacity, or the affordability that the new era of space exploration needs.

In truth, this battle will take several years to unfold. Only after the Falcon Heavy is rigorously tested and SpaceX manages to deliver on their promises of cheaper space launches, a return to the Moon and a mission to Mars (or fail to, for that matter) will we be able to say for sure which rocket was the true champion of human space exploration! But in the meantime, I’m sure there’s plenty of smack talk to be had by fans of both! Preferably in a format that rhymes!

Further Reading: NASA, SpaceX

And a tip of the hat to ERB!

How Do We Terraform The Moon?

Welcome back to our ongoing series, “The Definitive Guide To Terraforming”! We continue with a look at the Moon, discussing how it could one day be made suitable for human habitation.

Ever since the beginning of the Space Age, scientists and futurists have explored the idea of transforming other worlds to meet human needs. Known as terraforming, this process calls for the use of environmental engineering techniques to alter a planet or moon’s temperature, atmosphere, topography or ecology (or all of the above) in order to make it more “Earth-like”. As Earth’s closest celestial body, the Moon has long been considered a potential site.

All told, colonizing and/or terraforming the Moon would be comparatively easy compared to other bodies. Due to its proximity, the time it would take to transport people and equipment to and from the surface would be significantly reduced, as would the costs of doing so. In addition, it’s proximity means that extracted resources and products manufactured on the Moon could be shuttled to Earth in much less time, and a tourist industry would also be feasible.

Continue reading “How Do We Terraform The Moon?”

Moonbase by 2022 For $10 Billion, Says NASA

Returning to the Moon has been the fevered dream of many scientists and astronauts. Ever since the Apollo Program culminated with the first astronauts setting foot on the Moon on July 20th, 1969, we have been looking for ways to go back to the Moon… and to stay there. In that time, multiple proposals have been drafted and considered. But in every case, these plans failed, despite the brave words and bold pledges made.

However, in a workshop that took place in August of 2014, representatives from NASA met with Harvard geneticist George Church, Peter Diamandis from the X Prize Foundation and other parties invested in space exploration to discuss low-cost options for returning to the Moon. The papers, which were recently made available in a special issue of New Space, describe how a settlement could be built on the Moon by 2022, and for the comparatively low cost of $10 billion.

Continue reading “Moonbase by 2022 For $10 Billion, Says NASA”

Who was Gerard Kuiper?

In the outer reaches of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune, lies a region permeated by celestial objects and minor planets. This region is known as the “Kuiper Belt“, and is named in honor of the 20th century astronomer who speculated about the existence of such a disc decades before it was observed. This disc, he reasoned, was the source of the Solar Systems many comets, and the reason there were no large planets beyond Neptune.

Gerard Kuiper is also regarded by many as being the “father of planetary science”. During the 1960s and 70s, he played a crucial role in the development of infrared airborne astronomy, a technology which led to many pivotal discoveries that would have been impossible using ground-based observatories. At the same time, he helped catalog asteroids, surveyed the Moon, Mars and the outer Solar System, and discovered new moons.

Continue reading “Who was Gerard Kuiper?”

What Does NASA Stand For?

Chances are that if you have lived on this planet for the past half-century, you’ve heard of NASA. As the agency that is in charge of America’s space program, they put a man on the Moon, launched the Hubble Telescope, helped establish the International Space Station, and sent dozens of probes and shuttles into space.

But do you know what the acronym NASA actually stands for? Well, NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As such, it oversees America’s spaceflight capabilities and conducts valuable research in space. However, NASA also has various programs on Earth dedicated to flight, hence why the term “Aeronautics” appears in the agency’s name.

Formation:
The process of forming NASA began in the early 1950’s with the development of rocket planes – like the Bell X-1 – and the desire to launch physical satellites. However, it was not until the launch of Sputnik 1 – the first artificial satellite into space that was deployed by the Soviets on October 4th, 1957 – that efforts to develop an American space program truly began.

Fearing that Sputnik represented a threat to national security and America’s technological leadership, Congress urged then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower to take immediate action. This result in an agreement whereby a federal organization similar to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – which was established in 1915 to oversee aeronautical research – would be created.

Sputnik 1
Photograph of a Russian technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite. Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi

On July 29th, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which officially established NASA. When it began operations on October 1st, 1958, NASA absorbed NACA and its 8,000 employees. It was also given an annual budget of US $100 million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.

Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were also incorporated into NASA. A significant contribution came from the work of the Army Ballistic Missie Agency (ABMA), which had been working closely with Wernher von Braun – the leader of Germany’s rocket program during WWII – at the time.

In December 1958, NASA also gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. By 1959, President Eisenhower officially approved of A NASA seal, which is affectionately referred to as the “meatball” logo because of the orbs included in the design.

First designed in 1959, this NASA seal has commonly been known as the "meatball" logo. Credit: NASA
First designed in 1959, this NASA seal has commonly been known as the “meatball” logo. Credit: NASA

Early Projects:
NASA has since been responsible for the majority of the manned and unmanned American missions that have been sent into space. Their efforts began with the development of the X-15, a hypersonic jet plane that NASA had taken over from the NACA. As part of the program, twelve pilots were selected to fly the X-15, and achieve new records for both speed and maximum altitude reached.

A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in two official world records being made. The first was for the highest speed ever reached by a manned craft – Mach 6.72 or 7,273 km/h (4,519 mph) – while the second was for the highest altitude ever achieved, at 107.96 km (354,200 feet).

The X-15 program also employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets, space suits, horizon definition for navigation, and crucial reentry and landing data. However, by the early 60’s, NASA’s primary concern was winning the newly-declared “Space Race” with the Soviets by putting a man into orbit.

Project Mercury:
This began with the Project Mercury, a program that was taken over from the US Air Force and which ran from 1959 until 1963. Designed to send a man into space using existing rockets, the program quickly adopted the concept launching a ballistic capsules into orbit. The first seven astronauts, nicknamed the “Mercury Seven“, were selected from from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs.

John Glenn crouches near Shepard's capsule, Freedom 7, along with technicians prior to launch. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures. Used by permission.
John Glenn crouches near Shepard’s capsule, Freedom 7, along with technicians prior to launch. Credit: Ralph Morse/TIME & LIFE Pictures

On May 5th, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard the Freedom 7 mission. John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20th, 1962, as part of Friendship 7. Glenn completed three orbits, and three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight aboard Faith 7, which flew on May 15th and 16th, 1963.

Project Gemini:
Project Gemini, which began in 1961 and ran until 1966, aimed at developing support for Project Apollo (which also began in 1961). This involved the development of long-duration space missions, extravehicular activity (EVA), rendezvous and docking procedures, and precision Earth landing. By 1962, the program got moving with the development of a series of two-man spacecraft.

The first flight, Gemini 3, went up on March 23rd, 1965 and was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young. Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, with spaceflights lasting for nearly fourteen days while crews conducting docking and rendezvous operations, EVAs, and gathered medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.

Project Apollo:
And then there was the Project Apollo, which began in 1961 and ran until 1972.  Due to the Soviets maintaining a lead in the space race up until this point, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress on May 25th, 1961 to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. With a price tag of $20 billion (or an estimated $205 billion in present-day US dollars), it was the most expensive space program in history.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during the first human moonwalk in history, on July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA

The program relied on the use of Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, and spacecraft that were larger than either the Mercury or Gemini capsules – consisting of a command and service module (CSM) and a lunar landing module (LM). The program got off to a rocky start when, on January 27th, 1967, the Apollo 1 craft experienced an electrical fire during a test run. The fire destroyed the capsule and killed the crew of three, consisting of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, Roger B. Chaffee.

The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December of 1968. On the next two missions, docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced. And finally, the long-awaited Moon landing was made with the Apollo 11 mission on July 20th, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon while pilot Michael Collins observed.

Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, a total of twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions also returned a wealth of scientific data, not to mention 381.7 kilograms (842 lb) of lunar samples to Earth. The Moon landing marked the end of the space race, but Armstrong declared it a victory for “mankind” rather than just the US.

Skylab and the Space Shuttle Program:
After Project Apollo, NASA’s efforts turned towards the creation of an orbiting space station and the creation of reusable spacecraft. In the case of the former, this took the form of Skylab, America’s first and only independently-built space station. Conceived of in 1965, the station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14th, 1973 atop the first two stages of a Saturn V rocket.

Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station. Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA
Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station. Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA

Skylab was damaged during its launch, losing its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panels. This necessitated the first crew to rendezvous with the station to conduct repairs. Two more crews followed, and the station was occupied for a total of 171 days during its history of service. This ended in 1979 with the downing of the station over the Indian Ocean and parts of southern Australia.

By the early 70s, a changing budget environment forced NASA to begin researching reusable spacecraft, which resulted in the Space Shuttle Program. Unlike previous programs, which involved small space capsules being launched on top of multistage rockets, this program centered on the use of vehicles that were launchable and (mostly) reusable.

Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. Six orbiters were constructed in total, named Space Shuttle Atlantis, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise.

Over the course of 135 missions, which ran from 1983 to 1998, the Space Shuttles performed many important tasks. These included carrying the Spacelab into orbit – a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) – running supplies to Mir and the ISS (see below), and the launch and successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope (which took place in 1990 and 1993, respectively).

Space Shuttle Columbia launching on its maiden voyage on April 12th, 1981. Credit: NASA
Space Shuttle Columbia launching on its maiden voyage on April 12th, 1981. Credit: NASA

The Shuttle program suffered two disasters during the course of its 15 years of service. The first was the Challenger disaster in 1986, while the second – the Columbia disaster – took place in 2003. Fourteen astronauts were lost, as well as the two shuttles. By 2011, the program was discontinued, the last mission ending on July 21st, 2011 with the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center.

By 1993, NASA began collaborating with the Russians, the ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to create the International Space Station (ISS). Combining NASA’s Space Station Freedom project with the Soviet/Russian Mir-2 station, the European Columbus station, and the Japanese Kibo laboratory module, the project also built on the Russian-American Shuttle-Mir missions (1995-1998).

The ISS and Recent Projects:
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, crew members were delivered exclusively by Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz remains docked with the station while crews perform their six-month long missions, and then returns them to Earth. Until another US manned spacecraft is ready – which is NASA is busy developing – crew members will travel to and from the ISS exclusively aboard the Soyuz.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-132). Credit: NASA

Uncrewed cargo missions arrive regularly with the station, usually in the form of the Russian Progress spacecraft, but also from the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) since 2008, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) since 2009, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft since 2012, and the American Cygnus spacecraft since 2013.

The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 15 years, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations. The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, but may be extended until 2028 or possibly longer, depending on the budget environment.

Future of NASA:
A few years ago, NASA celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Originally designed to ensure American supremacy in space, it has since adapted to changing conditions and political climates. It’s accomplishments have also been extensive, ranging from launching the first American artificial satellites into space for scientific and communications purposes, to sending probes to explore the planets of the Solar System.

But above all else, NASA’s greatest accomplishments have been in sending human beings into space, and being the agency that conducted the first manned missions to the Moon. In the coming years, NASA hopes to build on that reputation, bringing an asteroid closer to Earth so we can study it more closely, and sending manned missions to Mars.

Universe Today has many articles on NASA, including articles on its current administrators and the agency’s celebrating 50 years of spaceflight.

For more information, check out history of NASA and the history of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Astronomy Cast has an episode on NASA’s mission to Mars.

Source: NASA

Who Are The Most Famous Astronauts?

There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. But asking “who is the most famous?” is somewhat tricky. For one, its a bit subjective. And second, it can be hard to objectively measure just how important and individuals contributions really are. Surely, all astronauts are deserving of recognition and respect for their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.

Nevertheless, in the course of human space exploration, some names do stand out more than others. And some have made such immense contributions that their names will live on long after we too have passed away. So without further ado, here are just a few of the most famous astronauts, along with a list of their accomplishments.

Yuri Gagarin:

As the first man to ever go into space, no list of famous astronauts would be complete without Yuri Gagarin. Born in the village of Klushino in the Smolensk Oblast on March 9th, 1934, Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955 and trained in the use of jet fighters. In 1960, he was selected alongside 19 other pilots to join the newly-formed Soviet Space Program.

Yury Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok spacecraft. April 12, 1961 Credit: RIA Novosti
Yuri Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, April 12th, 1961. Credit: RIA Novosti

Gagarin was further selected to become part of the Sochi Six, an elite group of cosmonauts who formed the backbone of the Vostok program. Due to his training, physical size (as the spacecraft were quite cramped), and favor amongst his peers, Gagarin was selected to be the first human cosmonaut (they had already sent dogs) to make the journey.

On April 12th, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space. During reentry, Gagarin claimed to have whistled “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”, and reportedly said, “I don’t see any God up here” when he reached suborbital altitude (which was falsely attributed).

Afterwards, he toured the world and became a celebrity at home, commemorated with stamps, statues, and the renaming of his ancestral village to Gagarin. The 12th of April is also known as “Cosmonauts Day” in Russia and many former Soviet-states in his honor.

Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in March 27th, 1968. The details of his death were not released until June of 2013, when a declassified report indicated that Gagarin’s death was caused by the error of another pilot.

Alan B. Shepard Jr.:

In addition to being an astronaut and one of the Mercury Seven – the first seven pilots selected by NASA to go into space – Shepard was also the first American man to go into space. He was born November 18th, 1923 in Pebble, California and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a fighter pilot and served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.

Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA
Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA

In 1959, he was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As 0ne of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7 mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.

Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14 mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface. After leaving NASA, he became a successful businessman. He died of leukemia on July 21st, 1998, five weeks before the death of his wife of 53 years.

Valentina Tereshkova:

Another famous Russian cosmonaut, Tereshkova is also internationally renowned for being the first woman to go into space. Born in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia on March 6th, 1937, Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age and began training at the local aeroclub.

After Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961, the Soviets hopes to also be the first country to put a woman into space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps, and was selected amongst hundreds to be one of five women who would go into space.

In addition to her expertise in parachuting (which was essential since Vostok pilots were to parachute from the capsule after reentry), her background as a “proletariat”, and the fact that her father was a war hero from the Russo-Finnish War, led to her being selected.

Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos
Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos

Her mission, Vostok 6, took place on June 16th, 1963. During her flight, Tereshkova orbited Earth forty-eight times, kept a flight log and took photographs that would prove useful to atmospheric studies. Aside from some nausea (which she later claimed was the result of spoiled food!) she maintained herself for the full three days and parachuted down during re-entry, landing a bit hard and bruising her face.

After returning home, Tereshkova went on to become a cosmonaut engineer and spent the rest of her life in key political positions. She married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev and had a daughter. After her flight, the women’s corps was dissolved. Vostok 6 was to be the last of the Vostok flights, and it would be nineteen years before another woman would go into space (see Sally Ride, below).

John Glenn Jr.:

Colonel Glenn, USMC (retired) was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and a test pilot before becoming an astronaut. Due to his experience, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the Mercury Seven in 1959. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, and thus became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space.

John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA
John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA

For his contributions to spaceflight, John Glenn earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn retired from NASA on January 16th, 1964, to enter politics. He won his first bid to become a US Senator in 1974, representing Ohio for the Democratic Party, and was reelected numerous times before retiring in January of 1999.

With the death of Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, he became the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He was also the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs – at age 77, he flew as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission (STS-95). For his history of service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Neil Armstrong:

Neil Armstrong is arguably the most famous astronauts, and indeed one of the most famous people that has ever lived. As commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, he will forever be remembered as the first man to ever walk on a body other than Earth. Born on August 5th, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he graduated from Purdue University and served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station before becoming an astronaut.

Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA
Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA. Credit: NASA

In accordance with the Holloway Plan, Neil studied at Purdue for two years and then committed to three years of military service as a naval aviator before completing his degree. During this time, he trained in the use of jet aircraft and became a test pilot at Andrews Air Force base, meeting such personalities as Chuck Yeager.

In 1962, when NASA was looking to create a second group of astronauts (after the Mercury 7), Armstrong joined and became part of the Gemini program. He flew two missions, as the command pilot and back-up command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 (both in 1966), before being offered a spot with the Apollo program.

On July 16th, 1969, Armstrong went into space aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, alongside “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. On the 20th, after the lunar module set down on the surface,  he became the first person to walk on the Moon.  As he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, became a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a private businessman.

On Augusts 25th, 2012, he died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. On September 14th, his cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.

For his accomplishments, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

James Lovell Jr.:

Lovell was born on March 25th, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served as a pilot before becoming one of the Mercury Seven. Over the course of his career, he flew several missions into space and served in multiple roles. The first was as the pilot of the Apollo 8 command module, which was the first spacecraft to enter lunar orbit.

He also served as backup commander during the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous with another manned spacecraft. However, he is most famous for his role as commander the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely due to the efforts of her crew and the ground control team.

Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.

Original crew photo. Left to right: Lovell, Mattingly, Haise. Credit: NASA
Original crew photo, (left to right) Jim Lovell, Thomas K. Mattingly, and Fred W. Haise. Credit: NASA

Dr. Sally Ride:

Sally Ride became renowned in the 1980s for being one of the first women to go into space. Though Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) – Ride was the first American female astronaut to make the journey. Born on May 26th, 1951, in La Jolla, California, Ride received her doctorate from Stanford University before joining NASA in 1978.

On June 18th, 1983, she became the first American female astronaut to go into space as part of the STS-7 mission that flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. While in orbit, the five-person crew deployed two communications satellites and Ride became the first woman to use the robot arm (aka. Canadarm).

Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. In 1986, Ride was named to the Rogers Commission, which was charged with investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 2003, she would serve on the committee investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and was the only person to serve on both.

Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission in Challenger, 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during STL-7 in 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Ride retired from NASA in 1987 as a professor of physics and continued to teach until her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. For her service, she was given numerous awards, which included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, two NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Chris Hadfield:

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, pilot and engineer who became famous for his rendition of “Space Oddity” while serving as the commander of the International Space Station. Born on August 29th, 1959 in Sarnia, Ontario, Hadfield became interesting in flying at a young age and in becoming an astronaut when he watched the televised Apollo 11 landing at age nine.

After graduating from high school, Hadfield joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College followed by two years at the Royal Military College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. He then became a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying missions for NORAD. He also flew as a test pilot out of Andrews Air Force Base as part of an officer exchange.

In 1992, Hadfield became part of the Canadian Space Agency and was assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a technical and safety specialist for Shuttle Operations Development. He participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with Mir and the ISS.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing his rendition of “Space Oddity”. Hadfield is the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV

On December 19th 2012, Hadfield launched in the Soyuz TMA-07M flight for a long duration stay on board the ISS as part of Expedition 35. He became the first Canadian to command the ISS when the crew of Expedition 34 departed in March 2013, and received significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration.

Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing? (I.S.S.) via Skype. The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013.

For his service, Hadfield has received numerous honors, including the Order of Canada in 2014, the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross, the military medal in 2001 and the civilian one in 2013.

Universe Today has interesting articles on Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Edwin Aldrin, and the enduring legacy of Apollo 11.

If you are looking for more information, you should check out famous aviators and astronauts and astronaut biographies.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on the US space shuttle.

Sources:
NASA: Alan Shepard Jr
NASA: Neil Armstrong
NASA: John Glenn
NASA: James Lovell Jr.
NASA: Sally Ride

How Can We Live on Mars?

Why live on Earth when you can live on Mars? Well, strictly speaking, you can’t. Mars is a completely hostile environment to human life, combining extreme cold with an unbreathable atmosphere and intense radiation. And while it is understood that the planet once had an atmosphere and lots of water, that was billions of years ago!

And yet, if we want to expand into the Solar System, we’ll need to learn how to live on other planets. And Mars is prime real-estate, compared to a lot of other bodies. So despite it being a challenge, given the right methods and technology, it is possible we could one day live on Mars. Here’s how we’ll do it.

Reasons To Go:

Let’s face it, humanity wants (and needs) to go Mars, and for several reasons.  For one, there’s the spirit of exploration, setting foot on a new world and exploring the next great frontier – like the Apollo astronauts did in the late 60s and early 70s.

Artist illustration of a Mars Colony. Image credit: NASA
Artist illustration of a Mars Colony. Image credit: NASA

We also need to go there if we want to create a backup location for humanity, in the event that life on Earth becomes untenable due to things like Climate Change. We could also go there to search for additional resources like water, precious metals, or additional croplands in case we can no longer feed ourselves.

In that respect, Mars is the next, natural destination. There’s also a little local support, as Mars does provide us some raw materials. The regolith, the material which covers the surface, could be used to make concrete, and there are cave systems which could be converted into underground habitats to protect citizens from the radiation.

Elon Musk has stated that the goal of SpaceX is to help humans get to Mars, and they’re designing rockets, landers and equipment to support that. Musk would like to build a Mars colony with about 1 million people. Which is a good choice, as its probably the second most habitable place in our Solar System. Real estate should be pretty cheap, but the commute is a bit much.

And then there’s the great vistas to think about. Mars is beautiful, after a fashion. It looks like a nice desert planet with winds, clouds, and ancient river beds. But maybe, just maybe, the best reason to go there is because it’s hard! There’s something to be said about setting a goal and achieving it, especially when it requires so much hard work and sacrifice.

Reasons NOT To Go:

Yeah, Mars is pretty great… if you’re not made of meat and don’t need to breathe oxygen. Otherwise, it’s incredibly hostile. It’s not much more habitable than the cold vacuum of space. First, there’s no air on Mars. So if you were dropped on the surface, the view would be spectacular. Then you’d quickly pass out, and expire a couple minutes later from a lack of oxygen.

There’s also virtually no air pressure, and temperatures are incredibly cold. And of course, there’s the constant radiation streaming from space. You also might want to note that the soil is toxic, so using it for planting would first require that it be put through a decontamination process.

A post-processed mosaic of MSL Mastcam images from Sol 582 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Edit by Jason Major)
Afternoon on Mars (MSL Mastcam mosaic)(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Edit by Jason Major)

Assuming we can deal with those issues, there’s also the major problem of having limited access to spare parts and medical supplies. You can’t just go down to the store when you’re on Mars if your kidney gives out or if your sonic screwdriver breaks.

There will need to be a constant stream of supplies coming from Earth until the Martian economy is built up enough to support itself. And shipping from Earth will be very expensive, which will mean long period between supply drops.

One more big unknown is what the low gravity will do to the human body over months and years. At 40% of Earth normal, the long-term effects are not something we currently have any information on. Will it shorten our lifespan or lengthen it? We just don’t know.

There’s a long list of these types of problems. If we intend to live on Mars, and stay there permanently, we’ll be leaning pretty hard on our technology to keep us alive, never mind making us comfortable!

Possible Solutions:

In order to survive the lack of air pressure and the cold, humans will need pressurized and heated habitats. Martians, the terrestrial kind, will also need a spacesuit whenever they go outside. Every hour they spend outside will add to their radiation exposure, not to mention all the complications that exposure to radiation brings.

Artist's concept of a habitat for a Mars colony. Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of a habitat for a Mars colony. Credit: NASA

For the long term, we’ll need to figure out how to extract water from underground supplies, and use that to generate breathable air and rocket fuel. And once we’ve reduced the risk of suffocation or dying of dehydration, we’ll need to consider food sources, as we’ll be outside the delivery area of everyone except Planet Express. Care packages could be shipped up from Earth, but that’s going to come with a hefty price tag.

We’ll need to produce our own food too, since we can’t possible hope to ship it all in on a regular basis. Interestingly, although toxic, Martian soil can be used to grow plants once you supplement it and remove some of the harsher chemicals. NASA’s extensive experience in hydroponics will help.

To thrive on Mars, the brave adventurers may want to change themselves, or possibly their offspring. This could lead to genetic engineering to help future generations adapt to the low gravity, higher radiation and lower air pressure. And why stop at humans? Human colonists could also adapt their plants and animals to live there as well.

Finally, to take things to the next level, humanity could make a few planetary renovations. Basically, we could change Mars itself through the process of terraforming. To do this, we’ll need to release megatons of greenhouse gasses to warm the planet, unleashing the frozen water reserves. Perhaps we’ll crash a few hundred comets into the planet to deliver water and other chemicals too.

An artist's conception of future Mars astronauts. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An artist’s conception of future Mars astronauts. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This might take thousands, or even millions of years. And the price tag will be, for lack of a better word, astronomical! Still, the technology required to do all this is within our current means, and the process could restore Mars to a place where we could live on it even without a spacesuit.

And even though we may not have all the particulars worked out just yet, there is something to be said about a challenge. As history has shown, there is little better than a seemingly insurmountable challenge to bring out the best in all of us, and to make what seems like an impossible dream a reality.

To quote the late, great John F. Kennedy, who addressed the people of the United States back when they was embarking on a similarly difficult mission:

We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win

What do you think? Would you be part of the Mars terraforming expedition? Tell us in the comments below.

We have written many interesting articles about Mars here at Universe Today. Here’s How Do We Colonize Mars?, Mars Colony Will Have to Wait, Solar Power is Best for Mars Colonies, and Elon Musk is Sending Humans to Mars in 2024.

For more information, check out NASA’s Journey to Mars, and NASA Quest’s Mars Colony Project.

Astronomy Cast also has episodes on the subject, like Episode 52: Mars, and Episode 95: Humans to Mars, Part 2: Colonists.