The Inspiration Mars Foundation recently made a presentation to the Future in Space Operations Working Group which discussed the various issues surrounding its scheme to send astronauts on a 501-day flyby mission to Mars.
The main issues discussed were what kind of launch vehicle architecture would be used. Other issues discussed included radiation mitigation and the psychological effects of a long-term deep space mission.
The Falcon Heavy option
According to the presentation, Falcon Heavy is the 53,000-kilogram to low Earth orbit launch vehicle now planned for its first launch later in 2013 by SpaceX. The main advantages of the Falcon Heavy is that it can put 10,000 kilograms to the Mars flyby mission. It will already be man rated and, presumably, it will have a flight history by the January 2018 launch date.
The Atlas V/Delta IV option
The main advantage of using one or both of the EELV launchers is that they already have a flight history, the presentation suggests. The main disadvantage is that in order to conduct the Mars flyby, there would have to be two launches. One option would use the heavy version of the Atlas V to launch the spacecraft, a crew capsule plus inflatable habitat plus rocket engine and another to launch propellant that would be transferred to the spacecraft. The other option would use the heavy version of the Atlas V and the heavy version of the Delta IV for the same purpose.
The Space Launch System option
There are not too many details for the option of using the planned NASA heavy lift Space Launch System in the presentation. The news that some NASA managers were pushing this option was first reported in NASA Watch. The main advantage that with a 70-metric ton to low Earth orbit capability, the SLS would be a robust option for the Mars flyby mission. The main disadvantage is that the first test flight for the SLS is scheduled for 2017, making having one available for the January 2018 launch date dubious at best.
Some of the other issues discussed in the Inspiration Mars presentation included problems of sustaining the crew during the flight against perils such as radiation and the psychological effects of long-term space flight.
Mitigation against radiation would include spacecraft shielding, the selection of healthy crew members, and a combination of drugs and diet to counteract the effects.
Current data being collected on the International Space Station and at ground based facilities such as Antarctica bases will be used to develop protocols for combating the psychological effects of isolation on the 501-day-long deep space mission.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo, The Last Moonwalker, and Dreams of Barry's Stepfather. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
- Science, Social Science, & Humanities
- Space & Astronomy
- Falcon Heavy