Options for a First Mars Expedition
Ohio Aerospace Institute, NASA Lewis Research Center, 21000 Brookpark Rd., Cleveland, OH 44135
A first Mars expedition will be greatly facilitated by use of in-situ Mars resources for producing return propellant. While most discussions of Mars resource availability assume that a Mars mission will target an equatorial or mid-latitude site, I argue here that there are significant advantages to a polar site. Polar regions have two distinct advantages over lower latitude sites.
Polar regions facilitate easy access to mars volatiles in the form of frozen water and carbon dioxide. This is important not only for production of rocket fuel for the return to Earth, but for production of fuel for local mobility. A polar expedition would not have to bring hydrogen from Earth to produce propellant, but could extract hydrogen by simply melting available ice.
Also, during the Mars summer, both the Sun and the Earth are constantly above the horizon. This allows continuous power generation without the requirement for heavy power storage systems, and allows direct communications to Earth.
While a polar site may be less desirable for geology, since the terrain is ice-covered, geological studies of non-ice-covered terrain can easily be accomplished by use of a long-range rover, and there are unique exploration possibilities to gather information available from polar science which are not found elsewhere on the planet.