Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Are Never Going To Go To Mars

It was very disappointing to get to the year 2000 and experience no flying cars. When I was a kid I just took it as a given that by 2000 there would be flying cars everywhere. It's going to be just as bad in 2015, the year Back To The Future was set, when I find out that none of what was predicted in that 1985 movie has come true: no flying cars, no hoverboards, no adjustable clothes, no wall TVs, no pocket fusion reactors, nada. Well, except for 3D cinema which just happens to give me nausea and headaches.
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Its obvious to me that not only are there never going to be flying cars, but now it looks like we are never going to go to Mars. Earlier this year President Obama cancelled NASA's Constellation programme which included plans for a ship to take us to the Moon and Mars. No replacement for Constellation was announced or is contemplated. In February of next year the last Shuttle flight will take place. The USA will thus have no vehicle whatsoever to put astronauts into space - this will be the first time America hasn't been able to put a man in space since 1961.
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We can't put a man into space so Mars is definitely out of the question. There's the privately owned but woefully underfunded Mars Society of course and they have a plan called Mars Direct which they say can get a team there and back for about fifty billion dollars. Fifty billion seems like a lot of money until you consider that that's what we spend in Iraq (yes we're still in Iraq) every seven months. Mars Direct is a great idea. We send the return rocket to Mars first. It distills its own fuel from the atmosphere (or something like that), then the astronauts go, explore and fly back on the fuelled rocket waiting for them. A mission to Mars wouldn't be landing a man on the Moon where there are few resources and a hostile climate. Mars is a planet with an atmosphere and oceans of water underground. Sending a team to Mars would be like sending a ship on a voyage to discover a new world in, say, 1492.
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But we're not going to do it are we? We, the West I mean, because the Chinese are certainly going to go there sometime in the next few years. China has an astronaut programme with a Moon landing planned for later this decade and a Mars exploration mission is next on their agenda. If I live long enough I will see Mars colonised and even terraformed, but it won't be by us.