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Mars

Do we still want to go to Mars?

Hot take: I dunno.

Before the U.S. put the first man on the moon, before the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, people thought aliens lived on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor.

The belief sparked fear in some — and outright panic when Orson Welles broadcast reports in 1938 of a Martian invasion drawn from the novel “The War of the Worlds.”

But it inspired others to question: Are we alone in the universe?

“Perhaps the single, most consuming scientific question of the space program is: ‘Does extraterrestrial life exist in our solar system?’” rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun wrote in a 1969 proposal to send humans to Mars.

In the decades since, even after scientists concluded the aliens of science-fiction fame do not live on Mars, the Red Planet has captivated the world’s imagination unlike any other.

It’s been the subject of countless movies, books and TV shows. It’s been an inspiration for folklore. And it’s been a desired destination for dreamers — a barren, dusty terrain that could offer scientists a look at what may lie ahead for Earth.

But a human mission to the Red Planet was out of reach in the 1960s. And it remains elusive today.

Top NASA officials have tentatively aimed for a human mission to Mars in 2033, but even they admit that timeline is aggressive. NASA still needs to develop a spacecraft capable of transporting humans to Mars; a method of propulsion to cover the distance more quickly; and a surface-landing vehicle that can handle the Martian climate.

Can NASA get it done in 14 years?

“I don’t know,” replied Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“It’s a function of how much (progress) the program can make,” he told the Houston Chronicle in April. “The technology and the hardware is reasonable, but can we get the budget? That I don’t know.”

Some question going at all. The U.S. already has successfully landed eight robotic missions on the Red Planet.

“It’s kind of questionable about what there is to be gained,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham told the Chronicle. “You have to find some rationalization and justification in order to spend what it costs to go to Mars.

“I think that’s a long shot right now.”

On the one hand, I think there’s a lot to be learned by planning and executing a manned flight to Mars. I feel like as much as private firms are now in the space business, the public sector needs to continue to have a strong presence, if only to ensure that the knowledge gained by space travel remains in the public sphere. On a strictly parochial level, someone is eventually going to do this, and I’d rather it be the US than China or Russia.

Against that, it’s fair to question the value of the knowledge we’d get from a manned flight versus an unmanned flight. This would cost a ton of money at a time when there are higher priorities. It’s far from clear that this is something the public wants, and this is one of those times when having the President get behind it would not help at all. (I felt a little queasy just typing that out.) The idealist in me would love to see this happen. The pragmatist is far from convinced.

Instagram in space!

Far out. Like, literally.

Internet service can sometimes be spotty here on Earth. Just imagine checking email from the moon or searching Google from Mars.

A Houston satellite and artificial intelligence company wants to make that possible through an “interplanetary internet” that someday could connect Earth to mining companies on the moon and human colonies on Mars and other planets. It ultimately would require a network of satellites stretching for hundreds of millions of miles and technology compensating for the movement of planets to prevent the interruption of data streaming at the speed of light.

But you’ve got to start somewhere.

“I fundamentally believe that we will be an interplanetary species,” Ben Lamm, chief executive of the parent company of Hypergiant Galactic Systems, the Houston firm aiming to build out the worlds-wide-web. “We need to start building the core infrastructure for the interplanetary internet now.”

Hypergiant Galactic, a subsidiary of Hypergiant Industries of Austin, is launching its effort as NASA talks about returning to the moon and sending humans to Mars. Hypergiant Galactic expects to begin building the outer-space internet next year by launching a series of small satellites that would be positioned at different points in space to create a network to relay signals from Earth until reaching the end destination, such as the moon, another planet or a space ship. (Kirk to Enterprise?)

Phase one, which includes connecting Earth to the moon and Mars over the next decade, would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Hypergiant. Once the project moves beyond Mars, costs vault into the hundreds of millions.

The satellites also would store a 30-million page archive of human knowledge that will act as a scaled-down version of the internet so, for example, colonists on Mars could access it quickly, without having to wait long periods for pages to load as signals move from Mars to Earth and back. The archive would be updated frequently, and ultimately built out into a more robust subset of the internet.

The archive also aims to preserve and protect the legacy of the human race by placing it in off-world storage should cataclysm strike the planet. The archive, assembled by the nonprofit Arch Mission Foundation and stored on long-lasting metal disks as a backup to the version that can be updated from Earth, includes everything from Wikipedia to the Harry Potter series to the world’s many languages and mathematical equations.

I don’t really have anything to add to this. It caught my eye and I thought it was cool. Plus, it gave me a reason to embed this video:

Give the aliens all our best, Janet.

Who wants to go to Mars?

I imagine that sounds like a pretty good option to a lot of people right about now.

Wealthy business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are creating buzz around and making progress toward the exploration of deep space, experts said Wednesday during SpaceCom in downtown Houston.

“I think we’re entering an era of philanthropic private funding of grand visions in space that start with our own solar system and eventually lead to humanity going to the stars,” said Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA Ames Research Center.

Worden and other panelists discussed going to Mars and beyond during their presentations at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Such exploration, Worden said, will require public-private partnerships between international businesses and governments.

His enthusiasm lies with exploring the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. To do this, Worden discussed the Breakthrough Starshot project. This involves small, ultra-light nanocraft – miniature space probes attached to lightweight sails – that will be pushed up to 100 million mph by a ground-based light beamer, according to the project’s website.

“I’m hoping sometime here later this century, maybe in 2076, hopefully sooner, we will fly by the nearest star,” Worden said.

Other panelists focused on human space flight to Mars. NASA wants to get people to Mars in the 2030s.

“Why send humans to Mars? It is the closest habitable planet,” said Brian Duffy, vice president and program manager at Orbital ATK. “And if the human race is ever going to be anywhere else in the universe, then Mars makes the most sense.”

2076 is a little out of my reach, and I’d be too old in the 2030s for it to be practical. But even if I’ll never get to do it I support space travel, and often I think it will be necessary for the future viability of the civilization we have now. I just hope we can get the engineering problems solved in time. If you’re sorry you missed out on SpaceCom, don’t worry – it will be back next year, in December.

Ticket to Mars

To boldly go where no one has gone before, and not come back.

How would you like to take a trip to Mars? That’s right, only to Mars. There would be no coming back.

[…]

The idea was floated by two scientists, Paul Davies of Arizona State University and Dirk Schulze-Makuch of the University of Washington, in an article in the Journal of Cosmology. One of the journal’s editors, Ron Becker, said that as the hundreds of e-mails flowed in from prospective Mars explorers, the initial reaction of both researchers and journal staff was to dismiss them as not serious. But that changed as it became apparent that many of the correspondents were quite sincere.“Our initial goal was to find a way to develop a human mission to Mars that could actually take place, that wouldn’t cost so much that it would be impossible to pull off,” Davies said. “And the one-way trip, as we costed it out, would be about one-quarter the price of a there-and-back mission.”

“But the response told us the spirit of exploration remains alive around the globe and that some people understand that the science involved would be extraordinary,” he said. “Just like with earlier explorers, they are prepared to set out knowing they won’t come back, but willing to do it because their time on Mars would be so remarkable.”

The idea, which is clearly not what NASA managers have in mind for Mars exploration, has now led to the release of “A One Way Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet,” a compilation of articles from the Journal of Cosmology, plus some additions from scientists with the Mars Society and others.

Among the articles in the book are “The Search for Life on Mars,” “Medical Care for a Martian Transit Mission and Extended Stay on the Martian Surface” and “Sex on Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development and Sex in Outer Space.” The authors include dozens of NASA researchers, some former astronauts and some scientists and advocates who have pushed for decades (with no success) for a human mission to Mars.

I’ll bet that makes for some interesting reading. My personal preference would be for all of the people who don’t want to share the planet with anyone who isn’t like them to be the first ones to go, but I suppose it’ll be the space geeks and dreamers instead. Perhaps they can be next. Would you take a one-way trip to Mars if you could?