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The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Mars Now: Project Plan and Working Hard

In this post, I'd like to delve into the more interesting elements of the Mars Now project and our findings concerning Mars and missions to go there. For an introduction to the Mars Now project, please see this post.

The literature review confirmed my suspicions that there would be a lot of material concerning the technological feasibility of going to Mars, but little in the way of policy, economics, law, and the humanities/human perspective. Space agencies all over the world have worked on designs and reference mission architectures on how to send people to Mars, but little has been done to discuss the various other factors above and how they would affect the mission. Additionally, our scope was narrowed even further, considering only "one way" missions, those involving humans going to Mars and living out there lives there. It may sound like a far-fetched concept, but there are some interesting points to be made.

Currently, Mars One is the only other group seriously considering one way missions to Mars. Their mission, to send humans to Mars to form a settlement and broadcast their efforts as a reality TV program, has been becoming more and more popular. Their call for volunteers for the journey received over 200 000 applicants and even those who normally consider themselves unconcerned with Mars or human space exploration have been following the news with interest. A non-profit organization, Mars One certainly has captured the public attention, but it has also caught the scrutiny of many who claim that the technology has not been addressed, the ethics of the situation are still blurry, funding mechanisms do not yet exist, and that funding the mission through a reality TV program is a possibly foolish endeavour.

Our team's literature review supports some of this scrutiny as the challenges involved seem too great to support a human colony on Mars, at this time. The team is positive that the technology can and will be developed if interest in that area is present, but we're also concerned over other aspects.

We will soon be launching a website which will further elaborate on our goals and progress, but for now, you can see some of our ideas here.

After an extensive voting process, we finally chose a name for our team, something a little easier to deal with than, "One Way Missions to Mars". Trying every variation we could think of concerning Mars, the Red Planet, Ares, acronyms, and the desire to stand out by talking about "one way" missions, we finally choose the name Mars Now, which stands for Mars Next One Way. It's a simple name, but one which is catching, not already taken, and highlights the important aspect of our mission, the one way aspect.

Now, I have mentioned "one way" several times, but I have not defined it yet. The important aspect involved is that it will not be a return mission, that the humans who embark on the journey would settle on Mars. This aspect brings about much difficulty but also has some advantages. The first difficulty is that it is quite unlike every other space mission ever conceived. From going into space, stepping on the Moon, through to working on the ISS today, the plan has always involved bringing the astronauts safely back after a certain time.
Unlike rovers, which do not come back.
"Self-portrait" of the Mars Curiosity Rover, which landed on Mars on the 6th of August, 2012
Settling humans off-Earth is quite unlike anything conducted before and carries a lot of technological, political, economic, and ethical challenges. However, our team believes there may be several advantages of such a mission. Many have argued that settlements off-Earth should be established so as to help ensure the survival of our species. If something drastic was to happen to the Earth and its populace, the human race could be extinguished all too easily. Such a mission would bring people, resources, and countries together promoting international cooperation. The ISS was an amazing example of this collaboration and floats above us as a symbol of peaceful cooperation. A third reason is that return missions do not support sustainable human space exploration. Human space exploration has seen some stability through the use of the ISS, but that program is currently at risk of being terminated. A colony on Mars would require continued support and would drive technological, scientific, and political progress.

Of course these points are qualitative and may sound far-fetched, but as one of our visiting professors, Jim Dator, once said, "Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous." Dator believed that the future was always in flux, hence futures, and that ideas which seem ridiculous now will drive change and growth. More practically speaking, the enthusiasm for Mars has never been higher, and many agencies are thinking of sending people to Mars, so thinking about these aspects now could prepare us for the future(s).

Project Plan Cover Page created by Adrian Eilingsfeld

With that in mind, Mars Now's Mission Statement is as follows:
"To analyze and propose solutions to the challenges of a one way human mission to Mars emphasizing important non-technological aspects, in order to better inform the public and influence future decision-making, by providing an interdisciplinary approach to the project."
 And the mission objectives are:
  • To examine the non-technological aspects involved in one way Mars missions and emphasize their importance to mission success;
  • To assess the feasibility of current and near future technological systems that would facilitate one way Mars missions and comment on challenges restricting mission success;
  • To examine scientific requirements that would facilitate a one way Mars mission;
  • To propose an integrated approach for planning and executing one way human Mars missions;
  • To communicate the importance and relevance of this project to interested parties and general public through the use of professional networking, marketing, social media, and conference attendance.
It took many iterations and much deliberation among the team in order to come to this statement and these objectives, but I think the effort was worth it. We are hoping to create something which can help complement the technical reports seen from the space agencies and help fill in the gaps found in our literature review. Technological and non-technological aspects are important for mission success and we want to make that point clear. Even if the technology exists, if there are no funding mechanisms to support it, the mission will not succeed. Even if there is funding, policy must be created, agreed upon, and passed by the public and private organizations which will support the mission. Before all of this, the ethics and law must be clear on how we should conduct ourselves and this mission so that we do so in the most positive manner for all involved. 

Owing to the grand nature of the work, and lack of time we students have at the ISU, the focus of the mission has been broken into three phases. For each phase, the team will focus on the challenges faced in a one way Mars mission during that part of the mission and will propose solutions based on the literature and creative thinking. The phases will be examined by all the ISU disciplines and in this way, we aim to have an integrated approach to the design of one way Mars missions. The ISU disciplines are Engineering (ENG); Science (SCI); Human Performance in Space (HPS); Space Applications (APP); Policy, Economics, and Law (PEL), Management (MGB), and Humanities (HUM).

The phases are entitled, Mission Preparation, Launch and the First Steps on Mars, and Settling Mars. During phase 1, we will only focus on the challenges in mission preparation. The difficulty here lies in the fact that true mission preparation would need to consider all three phases in order to properly design the mission, but in an effort to spread the workload, the distinction is "when/where will those involved in the mission actually encounter the challenge?"

So, perhaps the challenge you are thinking of is ensuring the colonists have air, food, water, and shelter on Mars. While you would prepare for this well before launch, in our report this would be a Phase 3 subject. Training the colonists, coming up with the funding, launch vehicle design, creating policies to ensure the type of cooperation needed to start the mission, these would be phase 1 concerns. The phases are difficult to distinguish at times, but as the Content Project Manager, it is my responsibility to help make this process smoother.

After forming this process, and getting the team started on the Project Plan, I have made one observation and had one made for me. The observation I made was that the organization of the team seemed to be working well. It had started to work for the literature review but we were faced with a lack of time. Now that we had a little more time and experience, the hierarchical structure was working, and more frequent meetings with fewer people were more efficient than larger meetings. The observation I had made for me was that we needed a set of criteria, requirements. In order to keep the team designing and considering challenges in parallel, we needed consensus as to the requirements and stages of our Martian colony. How many people were going? How many were needed to start a colony? How long would this take? The answers to these questions are difficult and will narrow our work quite a lot, but this will give the team more focus and these assumptions will be made with reason and stated for the benefit of future work.

We work hard, but we also take the time to remember that we are students, busy, professional, and people who like to have fun! Last week, we had a team dinner involving all-you-could-eat tartes flambées which was fun and we look forward to the next event!

And all you could drink, if all you were drinking was Coco-Cola and Sprite!

Stay tuned here as we build our website, collect more information, and perhaps challenge the other team project (human population and migration) to some Mars vs. Earth lasertag/paintball Red vs. Blue style!

As always, thanks for reading!

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