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Grading the new American Mars Mission

If you have ever had the chance to see a space shuttle launch it is the best, and most expensive pyrotechnics in history.  That is both good and bad news.  The good news is that is no better entertainment value, (you can watch it for free) in the United States.  The bad news is that it is the most inefficient way to get a spacecraft into orbit.  The technology has not changed since Sputnik.  Science has jumped forward many times over, but the American desire to have a great show persists until the last space shuttle launch scheduled this November.

The great booming thrust of the NASA rockets is ancient technology.  If you had the chance to watch the Space Ship One you understand the difference between efficient launches and inefficient launches.  Even the addition of a magnetic rail launching ramp would improve the efficiency of the launch exponentially.  The energy required to get the space shuttle one foot of the ground is more than the entire energy budget for a launch for a light rail accelerator.

So lets watch to see what we Americans come up with as the outline for the new space program that is suppose to get us to Mars.   What should we be looking for in the areas of improvements?

1)       Launch improvements  (Look for multiple smaller launches rather than thrusting a single huge spacecraft into orbit)  Modularity is the key.  Less pieces falling to earth and more pieces being used again once in orbit.

2)      The end of allowing space craft to fall out of orbit and back to earth.  Keeping the assets in space.

3)      Addition of  “in space” food production  (Much more than the Tang and dehydrated food NASA astronauts eat now.)

4)      Addition of biological air scrubbing.  No more “filter only” solutions for breathable air

5)      Lunar outpost as base station for Mars launch.  The idea of shooting directly from Florida to Mars is ignorant.

6)      Sustainable space living quarters.  We should not have to “rescue” people from space any longer.

If these key points are all included within the plan for the next generation of our space program then congratulations NASA, you did a good job.  If not, then I guess we will have to sell the program as a technological milestone just like we sold the space shuttle as a technological milestone.  The idea of taking a ship out to retrieve a steel engine is simply not that impressive.  How about launching a space ship that takes 100% of the payload into space and KEEPS IT THERE!  Now that would be a smart use of the cost to launch a space ship.

NASA has some brilliant engineers.  Unfortunately, like most of America’s problems, politics plays more of a role in the final design than the engineer.  We will have to wait to see if engineering wins out this time or if we have to endure the requests of our ignorant Congress.  The last time science won was when Kennedy was in office.  Most people don’t know that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, we would have had a joint space program with Russia.  Reagan only wanted to have missiles in space, and George Bush didn’t know which way to point to reach space.  Let’s hope that Obama can live up to the Democratic legacy of good science and let the engineers of NASA build something special.


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