Mars doesn't make any sense. The moon does.
And besides, once we learn how to build bases on the moon, which will take trial and error, it will make it a LOT easier to build one on Mars where mistakes are not recoverable. What are you gonna do on Mars when you find out you forgot the soldering iron? Die. Moon bases can be resupplied.
According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volatiles):
In planetary science, volatiles are the group of chemical elements and chemical compounds with low boiling points that are associated with a planet's or moon's crust or atmosphere. Examples include nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen, methane and sulfur dioxide.
Of these the only one we're likely to find on the moon is water, and there probably isn't very much of it. In comparison, there's a whole bunch of water just sitting on the Martian surface in the northern polar ice cap. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen are available literally all over the planet -- sure the Martian air is thin, but compressing it is a fairly trivial exercise.
And if we can figure out how to aerobrake large vehicles then the delta-V to Mars isn't a whole lot different than to get to the Moon.
Mars is a much better science target as well. It's pretty unlikely that there was ever any life on the moon, but with Mars it seems like there is a real possibility. Mars also appears to have experienced geological processes similar to the earth. Studying the up close may allow us to learn things about similar processes on earth.
It's farther away, and that certainly adds a lot of difficulty and risk, but it is still reachable with essentially the same technology as the moon, and there are compelling reasons to go.
(That said, I totally think we should use moon missions as a testing ground for the technology needed for a Mars mission.)
That's a vast understatement. Don't forget expense and time! Orders of magnitude more.
I don't think there's any realistic way of getting a sustainable base on Mars without doing it first on the moon. On the moon you can learn from mistakes. On Mars you die from the first mistake.
The martian atmosphere may not provide a lot of radiation protection but it provides way more than you get on the moon. And again, if you've got access to ice, you can use it to fairly easily create radiation shielding for your base.
It could be a situation where difficulty of receiving aid from Earth is offset by a lower risk of things going catastrophically wrong.
That said, if I was planning a mission to Mars, I would want extensive redundancy throughout all of my systems. One thing to keep in mind, a modern Mars mission does not need to be mass-limited in the same way that the Apollo missions were. SpaceX has already greatly reduced the cost of putting mass in orbit, and if Blue Origin can actually make New Glenn work, then you are looking at a substantial reduction from SpaceX's current cost-to-orbit.
We have yet to know what can be produced from Moon materials. A couple bags of rocks tell is pretty much nothing about the variety that may be available. After all, what would a couple bags tell you about Earth?
Now on Mars the soil has been moved by winds and other natural phenomenon, so it should be far less problematic to just brush it off, not to begin on the more useful composition of it, I can imagine the iron will come in handy when the habitat gets to the point where they can start refining and producing.
The gravity well difference is a thing but isn't straightforward. You need twice as much delta-v to take off from Mars as from the Moon (3800 m/s versus 1730 m/s). But on the other hand Mars has an atmosphere and while it isn't think enough for you to touch down gently with a big mass you'll only need 200 m/s or so to cushion your landing. But you need heat shields on Mars, but you need those to get back to Earth too. But lack of atmosphere means you could maybe use a mass driver to help take off from the Moon.
Mars has a gravity that's 2/5 of Earth's while the Moon's is 1/6. Is that important for human health? We have no frigging clue since the budget for a centrifuge on the ISS was cut.
The Moon rotates once every month and Mars once every 24 hours. If you're using solar panels it's a big deal making it though the lunar night, you'll need lots of batteries, maybe 25 times the weight of your panels. On Mars you need maybe the weight of your panels in batteries. There are the Peaks of Eternal Light on the south pole of the moon where this isn't an issue and you can just keep pointing your solar panels at different parts of the horizon all month.
And finally the martian atmosphere provides some protection against radiation and small meteors. It's not a super friendly environment in either case with no magnetic field so you'll probably be spending a lot of time under ground in either location.
So, it's complicated and I'm not willing to say that one is the true path and the other is stupid.
I'm sure it won't be good. But with a moon colony you can rotate people back to earth. Not practical with Mars.
The poles are one solution. Another is to put a large mirror in orbit to reflect power to the moon base.
The scientific/engineering (and cultural/sociological) gains from a human return to the moon would be tiny compared to a Mars mission, and any funding (think tens of billions) allocated to such a mission will necessarily push a Mars mission back by a decade or more.
First, the science -- while the robotic mission to Mars have yielded many insights about the early history and present state of the planet, a human geologist could do more in a day or two than all of the rovers have done thus far. A small group of human scientists could completely rewrite the textbooks in a short stay on Mars. Can the same be said about a moon mission?
Second, living on the moon would be much more difficult (temperatures, micrometeorites, lack of ISRU, etc. etc.), and involve very different challenges than living on Mars. Most of what we learn on the moon will simply not translate to Mars--it will certainly not be a lot easier to live on Mars once a moon base is established, we would nearly be starting from scratch.
This is a perennial debate in the human spaceflight program, and I understand the desire to do something given decades of inaction. However, we must be honest about what we stand to lose if we shift our focus to a return to the moon. There is precious little gain from both a science and engineering perspective.
Compare the size of the Saturn 5 rocket to get to the moon with the size of the rocket needed to come back.
I do not see the challenges of building a habitat on the moon that much different from Mars. You have (essentially) zero atmosphere, lots of radiation, the same problems with building a pressure dome, etc.
Landing men on Mars is certainly romantic, but it will be so expensive and time consuming that it cannot have much practical value.
The cost of shipping factories (and many raw materials) in pieces from the Earth to the Moon and then assembling them there should certainly outweigh just building and launching from Earth, especially as private companies perfect reusable rockets.
Beyond just the gravity difference and the scarcity of any resources for in-situ utilization on the Moon, temperatures will vary from <-100 degrees at night to > 100 degrees (celcius) during the day. This is a vastly different regime than Mars, which has a much more temperate day-night gradient.
It will be both expensive and time-consuming, but just imagine the science a few geologists could do on Mars, and what they will reveal about not just the red planet but also about our own.
All we know about that is from a few bags of rocks. Nobody knows what the real situation is there, not even close. It might be like the proverbial caveman freezing to death sitting on a coal deposit.
> The Lunar Prospector GRS produced the first global measurements of gamma-ray spectra from the lunar surface, from which are derived the first "direct" measurements of the chemical composition for the entire lunar surface. This data effectively maps the distribution of various important elements across the Moon. For example, the Lunar Prospector GRS has identified several regions with high iron concentrations.
The idea is to ship the factories that build the factories that build the factories that build the factories that can build large ships in large quantities.
If we are talking about taking advantage of resources not available on Earth, the untold riches of the Asteroid Belt are eminently more accessible from Mars.
That is not fair comparisson. Saturn V needed to also lift the rocket that came back.
It's really a zero-sum game, unfortunately.
What, bring the moon under iron control? I like the way you think!
The most logical plan I heard was the following: Solar power works way better, and potentially nonstop at the poles of the moon. Use that energy to cook moonrock into building materials and lauch it all into orbit on an electromagnetic mass driver. Then design and build Oniell cylinders, once we have rigorous tests of artificial gravity on humans. If you want a Mars base after the fact, go for it. Put a station in orbit around Mars that recieves deliveries from the moon.
the problem is, unless you're at the pole, you have 2 weeks of power followed by 2 weeks of pitch black darkness, so you have to have a lot of batteries or the station isn't livable 50% of the time.
Seriously, I bet there are many rich people willing to go to the moon, if reasonable safe and fast. And this probably could be done with the moon quite soon ... and all of that would be a BIG push for everything else in space.
(especially if we manage to build rocket factorys on the moon...)
TL;DR Version (From show notes): We have not explored much of the moon at all, we can extract fuel and manufacture things on the moon, we need to understand how humans function long term in low gravity (rather than freefall), and finally, there are some unique science opportunities on the moon.
So is Mars. I do think we should be seeking out extremophiles on Earth and seeding Mars with them to see if anything takes hold, but I seem to be in a minority of one on that notion. :-)
("probably terran!" ... reference to the the mars chronicle from K.S.Robinson)
We already have. It's a liveless rock. How much more do we keep moving the goal posts and beating that dead horse?
Turns out the planet was earth - they were in Antarctica.
Clearly not comparable, but there's a big difference between salt flats in Namibia or the seater in Antarctica and landing in downtown manhattan or the Brazilian rainforest.
We've successfully sent half a dozen probes to mars, we've barely scratched the surface.
Potential areas for life might be in vulcanic areas underground.
Might not be a high chance, granted. But the chances that anything from your project survives are far lower - but it would definitely damage research on current or historic life on mars a lot.
That's true. But life does have a way of spreading around. And beware of constantly shifting the goal posts.
I agree, except for the fact that the moon has already been done, and Mars has not. That being said Mars would be a colossal waste of money, robbing resources from real science that is currently getting done in space. If you think the James Webb telescope stymied other scientific efforts, just wait until the US goes all in on Mars.
It'll be an exciting 2018 for us, we have two moon rover missions from India - Chandrayaan 2 from ISRO, and Team Indus.
How can India justify a moon mission when you can barely walk round Delhi with tripping over homeless children?
Educated people will continue fleeing if nothing is done to keep them in. You cannot solve homelessness by giving out houses, jobs are the biggest help.
"If you take one thing away from this post, remember that the very best way to help the homeless, and how we can turn things around, is to provide them housing in safe areas surrounded by supportive services."
If SpaceX sends a manned Dragon around the moon, that's only going to be a thousand times more important than landing tiny rovers on the moon.
Even 160 kilometers has quite a bit of atmospheric drag, and Spaceshipone only just broke 100 kilometers.
The intention of the prize is not to cover the costs but to kickstart an ambitious private space movement. One needs to be very lean, inventive, and somewhat risk-taking under those conditions. It forces one to think of business models that make the whole thing independent from a possible prize money (and government funding, which under GLXP rules is limited to 10%).
Don't underestimate the PR value. Space Ship One cost $25M to win the $10M X-Prize, but having a big prize can capture the imagination of the media and by extension the public.
Seeing how difficult it is to circumnavigate the world in a wooden ship with recent technology and stuff, also keeping in mind that nobody has circumnavigated the world in a galleon in the 21st century, is it safe to say that Magellan was a fraud?