J.E. Brandenburg, John Kline,* Ron Cohen**, and Kevin Diamante
Florida Space Institute, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
*Research Support Instruments, Princeton, NJ
**The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo CA
Mars Direct by Robert Zubrin (1) was a watershed event in the exploration of space and most probably, in human history. It demonstrated that the very things that make Mars desirable – its atmosphere and near terrestrial surface conditions – allow a Human Mars Mission (HMM) to be mounted to at much lower cost and Mass In Low-earth-orbit (MIL) than previously conceived. Prior concepts for a Mars mission were based on the experience of the Apollo missions and assumed that Mars was a Moon–like planet, bare of resources. However, the Mars Direct concept of using the richness of Mars resources themselves to assist in the mission has given rise to many other ideas, all focused on the goal of reducing the cost of a HMM further. It is the purpose of this article to briefly summarize a new proposed architecture for a HMM, that builds on the foundation of Mars Direct with several new concepts to hasten the day of the first human footsteps on Mars.
Mars X relies primarily on vehicles that either exist or once did. Even the MAV is simply a modified version of the Atlas V. The only truly new vehicle is the SAMET-propelled MTOIV, which consists of a ring-shaped, space station-derived crew habitat, a propulsion unit consisting of modular solar panels derived from the space station, and a cluster of twenty MET modules which have low technical risk and use present day technologies. Thus technical risk and R&D is concentrated on the crew habitat on Mars, which should be made as similar to the crew habitat of the ship as possible and in the MAV and its in-situ fuel plant, which by themselves are straightforward applications of presently understood technologies. The small nuclear reactor, necessary for the whole enterprise, is similar to demonstrated small nuclear power plants used by the US army in the Cold War for portable arctic bases. Given the low technical risk of this enterprise, it appears reasonable that it could be done in ten years for $20 billion.
Mars X is flexible; the rapid development and public acceptance of space nuclear power can be incorporated in the architecture to speed Mars X. It is suggested that a nuclear-electric propulsion fly-by mission to Pluto, since it would be robotic and one-way, would help build public confidence in such propulsion technology.