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The private plans to send humans to Mars all seem to have some shortcomings, but they could easily be improved

peoplemarsNASA might not have a specific programme to land astronauts on the red planet, but private entrepreneurs certainly do.  Elon Musk has already sent his Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, and plans a larger one called Dragonrider to carry seven people into and possibly beyond earth orbit.  It could provide the vehicle for long distance voyages to carry humans across space to Mars.

Dennis Tito’s plan seems the most demanding on its crew.  He wants to use a Falcon rocket and SpaceX capsule to do a Mars fly-by, taking two people on a 501 day trip to brush within 100 miles of Mars and slingshot back to Earth.  That’s not very much living space for so long a trip!  And the trip itself seems rather pointless if no-one lands.

The way to make a Mars voyage more bearable might be to pick up one of Robert Bigelow’s inflatable units left in earth orbit to be collected, and docking with it to provide space to live in on the way there.

A little more imaginatively, it’s time we tested the use of a rotating spacecraft to simulate gravity on a long flight.  Two capsules separated by a narrow tunnel might do the job as they spun round each other.  And picking up extra fuel in orbit to go for a shorter trip would lower the risk of prolonged radiation exposure.  As I’ve said before, we should be using our imagination and thinking much more in terms of assembling vehicles in space, sending supplies and return vehicles to the surface of Mars and in orbit around it to await our arrival.  With enough ingenuity it can be made into a tolerable risk worth taking.


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