Mission to Mars
The moon is only a couple of days travel away, so it makes sense to do that.
So NASA is talking about – or there are plans being discussed – to send people to Mars, not to land on the surface of the planet but to do a fly by, which is of course how the lunar explorations started. Before we landed humans on the surface we put them into orbit around the moon.
Now, the moon is only a couple of days travel away, so it makes sense to do that: test your technology and then come back again. But I think there is probably something in doing that, using that approach for Mars. It would be cheaper than landing on the surface of the planet because once you land you need life support, you need habitat and importantly you need fuel to get off the planet and get back to the Earth. And fuel has mass which means it’s expensive to send it there.
So I think, actually, that probably will be the first way we send humans to explore Mars and when I heard this story being talked about I actually wondered why it hadn’t been discussed before. It did seem like the logical first step, even though it will take six months to get to Mars and six months to get back again, so very different – obviously very different – to going to the moon.
Now, they did the MARS-500 experiment where they locked people up, and there they found that the psychology was really difficult, but what I remember hearing was that it’s very difficult to psychologically assess astronauts. They’re very devious. If they’re not happy they won’t tell you that they’re not happy because they know they need to have this positive outlook and, um, they were talking about different techniques to try and work out what their psychological state was without directly getting that information. I thought that was interesting.
In terms of the technology, I don’t know, this isn’t the side that I work on, but as far as I understand, technologically that could be possible. The, um, the technology that’s being developed now is the technology that will get us out of low Earth orbit and further out into the solar system, but it’s the money. It comes down to the money. Will that be available? And that depends on political will, the way the wind blows, where the funding will be directed.