Mars Direct

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Mars Direct is a proposal for a Manned mission to Mars. Proponents of the scheme have claimed it to be both cost-effective and that it can be conducted with current technology. It was originally detailed in a research paper by NASA engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker in 1990, and later expanded upon in Zubrin's 1996 book The Case for Mars. It now serves as a staple of Zubrin's speaking engagements and general advocacy as head of the Mars Society, an organization devoted to the colonization of Mars.

Contents

Scheme

The plan involves several launches. Proponents of Mars Direct have suggested that the heavy-lift boosters required would be no larger than the Saturn V used for the Apollo missions, and could potentially be derived from Space Shuttle components.

The first flight would bring an unmanned Earth Return Vehicle to the red planet, with a supply of hydrogen, a chemical plant and a small nuclear reactor. Once there, a series of chemical reactions (the Sabatier reaction coupled with electrolysis) would be used to combine a small amount of hydrogen (8 tons) carried by the Earth Return Vehicle with the carbon dioxide of the Martian atmosphere to create up to 112 tonnes of methane and oxygen. 96 tonnes of these would be needed to return the Earth Return Vehicle to Earth at the end of the mission, the rest would be available for Mars rovers. Proponents of the scheme have suggested that this process would take approximately ten months to complete.

Some 26 months after the Earth Return Vehicle is originally launched from Earth, a second vehicle, the "Mars Habitat Unit", would be launched to coincide with a low-energy transfer window to Mars, and would carry a crew of four astronauts. This would not be launched until the automated factory had signaled the successful production of the chemicals. This vehicle would take some six months to reach Mars. During the trip, supporters of Mars Direct have suggested that artificial gravity could be generated by tying the spent upper stage of the booster to the Habitat Unit, and setting them both rotating about a common axis.

On reaching Mars, the upper stage would be jettisoned, with the Habitat Unit aerobraking into Mars orbit before soft-landing in proximity to the Earth Return Vehicle. Precise landing would be supported by a radar beacon started by the first lander. Once on Mars, the crew would spend 18 months on the surface, carrying out a range of scientific research, aided by a small rover vehicle carried aboard their Mars Habitat Unit, and powered by the methane produced by the Earth Return Vehicle. To return, they would use the Earth Return Vehicle, leaving the Mars Habitat Unit for the possible use of subsequent explorers. The propulsion stage of the Earth Return Vehicle would be used as a counterweight to generate artificial gravity for the trip back.

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