Mars Colony Will Have To Wait, Says NASA Scientists

Establishing a human settlement on Mars has been the fevered dream of space agencies for some time. Long before NASA announced its “Journey to Mars” – a plan that outlined the steps that need to be taken to mount a manned mission by the 2030s – the agency’s was planning how a crewed mission could lead to the establishing of stations on the planet’s surface. And it seems that in the coming decades, this could finally become a reality.

But when it comes to establishing a permanent colony – another point of interest when it comes to Mars missions – the coming decades might be a bit too soon. Such was the message during a recent colloquium hosted by NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. Titled “Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars”, this presentation set out the goals for NASA’s manned mission in the coming decades.

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Nearly 40 Teams At Starting Line Of Inspiration Mars Mission Competition

It won’t be long before we start to get the technical details of Inspiration Mars’ daring proposition to send a married couple on a round-trip journey to the Red Planet. The private organization, along with the Mars Society, announced that 38 teams have expressed an intention to participate in a design competition that will see public presentations this spring.

A full list of the university groups is available here, with 56 post-secondary institutions represented from 15 countries (the United States, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Poland, Mauritius, India, Bangladesh, Japan and Colombia.)

“We want to engage the explorers of tomorrow with a real and exciting mission, and demonstrate what a powerful force space exploration can be in inspiring young people to develop their talent. This contest will accomplish both of those objectives,” stated Dennis Tito, who is Inspiration Mars executive director.

Now that the teams are announced, their next job is to submit the actual proposals. Design reports are due March 15. Once the top 10 are selected, those teams will go to the NASA Ames Research Center to make public presentations and compete in April 2014. Six judges will be drawn equally from the Mars Society, Inspiration Mars and NASA.

For more details on how the mission works, read this past Universe Today story.

Inspiration Mars Wants To Work With NASA To Get To The Red Planet

CORRECTION: This article has been updated after more information was received from Inspiration Mars. Tito was highlighting other countries’ interest in the Red Planet in his testimony and has no plans at this time to work with anyone but NASA.

Remember that proposal to send a couple in the direction of the Red Planet, loop around it and then come back to Earth? The founder of the Inspiration Mars project, Dennis Tito, outlined more details of his proposal before the House Science Subcommittee on Space yesterday (Nov. 20).

Inspiration Mars has released an Architecture Study Report that is the fruits of a 90-day study done not only by the foundation itself, but also working with “NASA centers and industry partners” to figure out the best way to launch humans there in late 2017 or 2018. But if it’s delayed, Tito is prepared to go to Russia or China instead, he warns.

Here’s the high-level summary:

  • Two launches using NASA’s forthcoming Space Launch System, one for cargo and one for crew;
  • The crew module would be from the crew transportation vehicle that NASA selected under its commercial crew program (see this Universe Today story yesterday for an update on funding concerns on that program);
  • The cargo and crew vehicles would dock in space and then head out to Mars.

If the NASA proposal doesn’t work out, Tito warned Russia may be interested as well. said he’s quite prepared to bring his idea to another country, Russia. (Recall that Tito flew into space in 2001 on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as a private citizen, so he does have connections over there.)

Crew of Soyuz TM-32, which flew to the International Space Station in 2001. From left, space tourist Dennis Tito, Russian cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Baturin. Credit: Wikipedia/NASA
Crew of Soyuz TM-32, which flew to the International Space Station in 2001. From left, space tourist Dennis Tito, Russian cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev, and Russian cosmonaut
Yuri Baturin. Credit: Wikipedia/NASA

“Given Russia’s clear recognition of the value and prestige of accomplishments in human space exploration, and their long-time interest in exploring Mars, my personal belief is that in all likelihood the Energia super-heavy rocket revival announcement signals Russian intent to fly this mission in 2021,” Tito stated.

“Their heavy lift rocket, along with their other designs for modules and the Soyuz, can fly this mission with modest upgrades to their systems.”

A third option would be using Chinese capabilities, he added, The Chinese may also be interested, he said, because the country — reportedly developing a large space station of its own — is likely “contemplating this opportunity to be the first on Mars.” Tito said he is informing Congress of his plans to go elsewhere as a “civic duty”, and that he wants to give NASA the first shot.

More food for thought as Congress mulls how much money to allocate to NASA in fiscal 2014. And Tito had strong words about his feelings on the funding: “If I may offer a frank word of caution to this subcommittee: The United States will carry out a Mars flyby mission, or we will watch as others do it – leaving us to applaud their skill and their daring.”

Proposed Balloon Ride Would Let You See The Blackness Of Space

Doesn’t that look fun? A startup company is proposing to send customers 19 miles (30 kilometers) into the air via balloon, where they can linger for two hours and look at the curvature of the Earth and experience a black sky. While it’s not high enough to qualify as a spaceflight, the listed ticket price may be a little more affordable for space enthusiasts: $75,000.

Don’t get too excited yet — the project appears to be in very early stages, and no “first flight” date is listed yet. But there are some interesting notes for those looking for space and science experience in the company.

  • Among the members of its executive is Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons Pluto mission and NASA’s former associate administrator for the science mission directorate. (He’s also the CEO of the Golden Spike company that wants to offer commercial human missions to the moon.)
  • The executive also includes Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, who were both members of Biosphere 2. More recently, they also took on senior positions in Inspiration Mars, a Dennis Tito-led project that aims to send humans past Mars. (The target launch date for that is Jan. 5, 2018.)
  • The company proposing to build it is Paragon Space Development Corp. (which Poynter and MacCallum co-founded.) Paragon’s customers for thermal, environment and life support systems include a lot of name brands (including NASA). Paragon is also doing work for the Inspiration Mars project as well as Mars One, which aims to send colonists on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023.
Artist's conception of World View's passenger capsule that will be carried aloft during a proposed balloon flight. Credit: World View Enterprises Inc.
Artist’s conception of World View’s passenger capsule that will be carried aloft during a proposed balloon flight. Credit: World View Enterprises Inc.

“Seeing the Earth hanging in the ink-black void of space will help people realize our connection to our home planet and to the universe around us, and will surely offer a transformative experience to our customers,” stated Poynter, who is CEO of World View. “It is also our goal to open up a whole new realm for exercising human curiosity, scientific research and education.”

World View’s announcement came after the Federal Aviation Administration “determined that World View’s spacecraft and its operations fall under the jurisdiction of the office of Commercial Space Flight,” the company added.

More information on their mission is available on the World View website. It’s a bit of a different track than Virgin Galactic and XCOR, who are offering rides into suborbital space for prices of $250,000 and $95,000, respectively. Neither company has an operational spacecraft yet, but they are in flight testing. Reports indicate they are hoping to get flights going next year.