When do we travel to Mars?
Why don’t humans go to Mars?
Because it gets awfully expensive, technically difficult and very risky.
We probably would have traveled by the end of the 20th century if only Mars had been a little more welcoming than a rusty desert.
But if not for too long, humanity’s greatest adventure finally begins. One of the drivers is Buzz Aldrin. Another is entrepreneur Elon Musk who has breathtaking plans.
NASA is planning a first manned Mars trip sometime in the 2030s. The conditions are there thanks to the new giant rocket SLS and the four-man capsule Orion. But private SpaceX and its dynamic boss Elon Musk are aiming to send people to Mars as early as 2024 with the rocket ITS, which is several times more powerful than both the SLS and the lunar rocket Saturn 5, the worst so far.
And that’s just the beginning. Musk and Aldrin want to colonize Mars and over time make the planet more habitable than it is today. The same attitude has the active push group Mars Society. Finding traces of life is a high priority in the near future, but more important in the long term is spreading humanity in the solar system and thus ensuring the survival of the family. Christer Fuglesang has the same thoughts.
But to fundamentally change an entire planet, terraform it, is science fiction today. Although Mars is considerably smaller than Earth, it has roughly the same landmass. The super-thin atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide. Water evaporates immediately. Ice cold is the planet too, although the temperature at the equator can creep up on the plus.
Sent on an easy journey
Over time, Musk wants to send about 100 passengers at a time to Mars. On an easy journey, both he and Aldrin think. It’s easier, more sensible and cheaper than shipping them back to earth.
They must learn to live on the inhospitable red planet
Mars has been interesting to mankind for a long time. Wernher von Braun, the German rocket genius who created V2 and later the United States lunar rocket, had serious travel plans there as early as the early 1950s.
Oddly enough, he thought of twelve people on the premiere tour, the same number that Musk talks about. Von Braun claimed that a trip to Mars was entirely possible with the technology of the time.
Thus, the calculator instead of a computer. In a detailed book, “The Exploration of Mars” (1956), he presents his big-brained ideas together with space writer Willy Ley and space artist Chesley Bonestell. Her pictures of the Mars surface are surprisingly accurate.
Ley, who fled Germany from Nazism in 1935, and Bonestell from San Francisco had collaborated in 1949 with the book “The Conquest Of Space”. Both loved science fiction and were convinced that space travel would soon be possible.
Interest in Mars faded
Later probes revealed that the air pressure on Mars is only one-hundredth of the Earth’s and that the living conditions are abysmal. However, the journeys continued. The Soviet Union first became a soft landing in 1971, unfortunately, the probe only worked for twenty seconds.
The USA’s great triumph came in 1976 when the very advanced Viking 1 and 2 both landed perfectly on Mars on July 20 and September 3, respectively. The purpose was to search for life. Each probe weighed almost 600 kilos and was fully equipped laboratories. Robot arms collected soil samples for analysis, but no biological activities were measured.
March seemed sterile
Human visitation was thus not considered justified. Interest in the Red Planet dropped drastically and the unmanned travel ceased for almost two decades. Only with Mars Pathfinder 1997 did it gain momentum again. It landed softly, took lots of pictures and brought with it a radio-controlled small car.
The Mars Global Surveyor began its mission in 1999 to photograph Mars from orbit and take lots of measurements. A new major breakthrough in Mars research, the probe sent home more data than anyone before. March showed many high-interest formations, including the 400-mile-long Valles Marineris valley that makes the Grand Canyon look like a small ditch by comparison.
In 2003, Europe’s Mars Express set off with a Russian rocket. The probe went into orbit as planned and sent Beagle 2 down for a soft landing, but it crashed.
Probes for Mars have failed
However, the US managed to land two small vehicles, Spirit and Opportunity, on Mars shortly afterward. They have gone around, taken pictures and collected data. Both turned out to have a much longer life than expected.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (circuits) and Phoenix (landers) arrived in 2006 and 2008 respectively and have performed their missions. The breeder has plotted any future landing sites while the lander has taken soil samples with an excavator to find frozen water.
In 2012, NASA’s Curiosity, a 900-kilo rover, landed as a small car. It has rolled around Mars and studied climate and geology, taken lots of pictures and tried to find places that could contain or have contained microbiological life.
Two years later, an Indian probe, the Mars Orbiter Mission, went into orbit around Mars. The main purpose is to investigate the atmosphere. A similar mission had American Maven who also reached the Red Planet in 2014.
But Mars has not been kind to earthly visitors. Lots of probes have failed. As a fiasco with Russian Mars 96, an extremely ambitious project with circuits, two landers and two “drillers” that would penetrate below the surface. The rocket had already crashed into the earth’s orbit. European / Russian ExoMars arrived in 2016 and the circuiter went in the right path, but the lander, Schiaparelli, crashed.