Jan 082013

For a manned mission to Mars, you can either go slow (using conventional propulsion on a minimum energy transfer orbit) or fast (using some form of more exotic propulsion). And you can either go in a small, cramped low-mass habitat, or something heavy but spacious.

Obviously, fast and spacious would seem to be the way to go. However, fast and cramped would be okay, and possibly slow and spacious would be acceptable.  But evidence suggests that slow and cramped is a fast route to psychological failure.

Fake mission to Mars leaves astronauts spaced out

A fake mission to Mars with six trained “astronauts,” in a small “spacecraft” that took 17 month led to four of the six being more or less useless wrecks well before the end. Of course, these were six *men,* no women; that could be problematic (of course, having men fight over women – or women fight over men – would not be much of a help). Having this be 17 months in microgravity would only make the situation worse… probably *far* worse.

Fixes for this would include:

1) Bigelow-style inflatable habs to increase volume, so the astronauts can get the hell away from each other

2) Much larger crew complement so people don;t have to stare at the same faces all the time

3) Send Mars landers, habitats, infrastructure, etc. ahead of the humans via efficient-but-slow, but sling the humans on a sprint trajectory using advanced propulsion such as NERVA, Orion, Medusa, etc.

Seems to me the best answer would be to go with a 4,000 ton Orion vehicle with a crew complement of a few hundred. Get there lickety-split in comfort and style.

 Posted by at 12:45 am
  • wrm

    Reminds me of Asimov’s _The Martian Way_

  • Have to wonder about the kind of crew discipline that *lets* one member fall into a 25-hour day.

    Also, the article implies they were all on the same watch sked, which can’t help in terms of getting tired of the same faces/personalities. You’d think they’d’ve run them in pairs in three watches, and changed the pairs every few weeks.

    Seems like there is a lot more than can be done to keep the crew functioning than just lock them up with a to-do list; the Russians are supposedly pretty good at it (and so are the navies that run long-term nuclear-missile submarines). Was this an official Russian Space Agency project?

    • Anonymous

      > Have to wonder about the kind of crew discipline that *lets* one member fall into a 25-hour day.

      It reminds me a *lot* of “Universe 25.” http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/42/wiles.php

      Just with a whole lot less mice.

      > long-term nuclear-missile submarines

      Not *this* long, and not this few people. And not this *boring,* apparently. If a space mission is technically designed right, there should be virtually nothing for the crew to do during transit… the ship shouldn’t break, no need to maneuver, just sit and wait. And that’s not such a good thing for humans.

      > Was this an official Russian Space Agency project?

      European Space Agency.

      • It’s like Universe 25, but artificially established late in the game: they’re overcrowded to begin with, at a stable population. Overcrowding is a technical flaw, as bad as insufficent fuel.

        That ties back to: “If a space mission is technically designed right, there should be virtually nothing for the crew to do during transit.” I disagree: a crew with nothing to do is a design flaw, as much as a crew with too much to do. Expandable (with effort) living space, a “farm,” ongoing astronomy/microgravity science, things of that nature are probably essential to long-duration spaceflight.

        It’s a big-picture version of the “payload vs. pilot” issue with early astronauts/cosmonauts: they get restive and pouty if they haven’t got enough to do, and need jobs they believe to be mission-essential.

        Providing this on long-duration flights may require drastic revaluation of crew safety, as there is a significant relationship between increased useful activity and increased risk.

        I wonder if the “classic” approach (von Braun, et al) of a multiple-ship mission doesn’t offer advantages. There would at least be a means of getting away from each other.

        • Anonymous

          > I disagree: a crew with nothing to do is a design flaw

          Let me rephrase: the *spacecraft* should be mind-bogglingly dull from the standpoint of the crew needing to constantly tinker with it. You want a ship that hardly ever breaks, and when it does, it fixes itself.

          • You do — but maybe we shouldn’t. (Totally flies in the face of my engineering philosophy at work, in which if we do our jobs right, our day, and that of the operators, is dull, dull, dull. “Excitement” means we failed.) The crew has to be kept engaged in the mission. And that ain’t easy.

          • Anonymous

            Mission critical stuff should be as rock-solid and boring as possible. If the crew needs activity, make it in areas where if they slip up, they or the mission *don’t* die. Not really sure what that would be, though. “Do science” is the obvious, but not very helpful, solution. The preferable answer would be “drive the ship,” which means powered flight all the way. Which would be fan-bloody-tastic, but we’re nowhere near that yet.

  • Michael the Somewhat Civilized

    This makes me wonder what might have happened on those flybys planned in the 60s.

    • Anonymous

      A lot of interpersonal violence, very fast. Let’s face it… they were chain smokin’ fools in the 1960’s. Lock up a half dozen alpha males in a small space for a year with no smokes? Yeah, that’s a beatin’.

  • James Nutley

    Exotic propulsion is usually pitched because admin wants to reduce the number of launches per mission (looks good in the “risk reduction” math). IMO, save the cost of development and double or triple up with S-II style Hydrogen/Lox stages. Decent ISP, plenty of DeltaV, Throw them there faster and bring them up short to acquire Mars orbit. Coming back you can rely on Earth’s atmosphere for at least some of your deceleration.

  • publiusr

    This is why I take a dim view of that spartan private Mars mission-even more than the one-way trip.

    Maybe not a have-to, but I would like to see one of those Saturn (SLS) launched ring-type stations sent as a cycler. Each astronaut gets his own segment.

    A Falcon heavy would launch a small, Fast-Taxi to catch up with it and dock to it. A second Falcon heavy would send a lander. The lander docks on one side of the hub, the capsule on the other. As they pass Mars the lander drops, and an ascent stage from Mars ascends and docks in the lander’s berth. The return crew ride back in comfort and acclimate to increased gravity on the way back, and descend in the Dragon-taxi.