Russia Wants Global Coalition for Manned Mars Mission
July 8, 2002 08:30 CDT
Russia announced an ambitious plan to land humans on Mars by 2014, but admitted it could not make the trip alone. Surprisingly, potential mission partners such as the United States and Europe greeted the invitation to participate with lukewarm enthusiasm.
The Russian plan involves building two spaceships capable of taking a crew to Mars, supporting them on the planet for up to two months, and safely bringing them home safely, according to Nikolai Anfimov, head of the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building. The flight is expected to take about 440 days.
At a cost estimated at $20 billion, the voyage would have to be an international effort, and Russian space officials indicated a willingness to commit to paying 30 percent of the cost. NASA could be expected as a major partner in such a project, but officials there were hesitant to indicate any interest in the Russian proposal at all.
NASA spokeswoman Delores Beasley told the Associated Press Friday the Russians have not sent the agency any formal plan and NASA would not comment on the proposed trip until one is received and studied. Because of demands from Congress to scale back costs, human travel to Mars, while still a goal, has taken a back seat to other more cost effective projects.
One concern NASA has expressed about extended space voyages for humans, such as a mission to Mars, is the health of the astronauts. Deep space radiation and the effects of zero gravity on bone and muscle remain difficult problems for humans who spend long periods of time in space. In its proposal, Russia noted its expertise in space medicine and the record-setting flight of 437 days, held by Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov aboard the Mir space station.
The European Space Agency expressed interest in the project but with reservations as well. ESA maintains an office in Russia and a spokesman there said such a trip is a long way off. But, after meeting with Russian officials, the head of the ESA office said it should be a long-term initiative for all of the world's space agencies.
The Russian plan calls for two space launches, the first involving a supply vessel with the launch of the manned spaceship to follow. Six astronauts including a doctor, would make up the crew, three of whom would remain in a near-Mars orbit while three others embarked to the Martian surface for a stay of between 30 and 60 days. A vehicle, similar to the Moonwalker used during the historic 1969 walk on the moon, would be used by the astronauts as a cross-country vehicle.
As early as 1960, Russia set Mars as a goal. However, both during the Soviet regime and since, the efforts have been marked by spectacular failures that have led some space pundits to talk about a Russian "Mars curse."
In 1960 the Soviets launched two unmanned spacecraft four days apart. Both failed to make it as far as Earth's orbit. One resulted in an engine explosion that scattered debris and contamination over the Baikonur launch pad in one of the worst accidents in Soviet space history. The bad luck for Russia continued, and Nov. 16, 1996, the Russians launched an ambitious $300 million spacecraft, Mars 96. It suffered an engine failure right after launch and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
NASA also has suffered spectacular failure in Mars explorations including the loss of an expensive lander a couple of years ago. However this year's Mars Odyssey so far has been a major success, indeed, it was Odyssey that discovered the water ice beneath the surface that made news just a few weeks ago.
Source: AP; BBC; AFP
I think this would be a great idea, good for the world both politically and scientifically. But note that "the United States and Europe greeted the invitation to participate with lukewarm enthusiasm". Oh dear.
Sour grapes that it wasn't their idea? Or do they know why we can't go to Mars...? Perhaps this should be in the Conspiracy forum!