December 08th, 2022
Mars Society Founder Lays Out Near-Term Mars Goals
Robert Zubrin, Ph.D. solves space expedition hurdles through cost-effective engineering. Since the early days of Space exploration, to the present, his work makes great strides toward the human potential to touch Mars. He is the author of the breakout book “The Case For Mars'' which spearheaded the Mars Society inauguration in August 1998.
“In the way that many social revolutions are launched by a single person with a burning vision and desire to change the world, Mr. Zubrin is the Mars Society,” wrote The New York Times reporter Sandra Blakeslee on August 18, 1998.
The Society's first conference kicked off in 1998 to build toward Mars travel within the next 20 years.
Now, approximately 24 years later, that early vision is rapidly becoming ground-real truth. It was made possible in part by the social impact of Zubrin’s books and earlier works.
Zubrin’s writing put a foundation under Space entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk. Early efforts have led to practical innovations at SpaceX which have launched fleets of Falcons and soon-to-be Starships down production lines.
Better Futures host Michael Laine sat down with Dr. Zubrin on December 5 to explore the best practices for cost effective Space engineering.
Challenging Big Spending Strategy
Zubrin began his foray into Space applying his sciences to NASA. Yet, within NASA, he hit a wall of frustrations stemming from megalodon design plans. When NASA announced its budget for Mars exploration in 1990, Zubrin was hotly critical of it:
“They designed a Death Star,” Zubrin said, as quoted by The New York Times in 1998.
Zubrin drafted the Mars Direct concept. A small spaceship dubbed a 'tuna can' would transport an exhibition of four astronauts to Mars.
Return journey fuel would use the resources of Mars. Early Mars pioneers would take a page from the pioneers of the Old West: travel light and live off the land.
Using that logic, the estimated cost for the Mars Direct program was $20 billion. Its endgame was to settle Mars before politics could kill the program.
Zubrin explained how a small, reusable rocket best works if it is brought up to Space in a large spacecraft, and then deployed from the larger craft. For this, modern Space exploration will need to build mid-way point Space stations. This has led to many programs centering on Cis-Lunar Space, or the area between the Earth and the Moon.
Several projects have ambitions to build “gas stations” manufacturing, operations, and communications platforms (including LiftPort’s Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure) in that region.
Space exploration has become more democratized than ever. Zubrin estimates the modern equivalent of his "tuna can" small space craft concept could rent for around $50,000. With the prospect of reusable rocketry, Space explorers could rent out used equipment. "If someone wants to change their life and immigrate, it's the kind of money people do," he said.
Counting The Costs
Zubrin set a framework that disrupted the idea Space exploration should NOT cost trillions of dollars. In his view, the climate is right for a new Presidential administration to consider a real Mars landing as both affordable and highly relevant to national interests.
Speaking on the advancements made by privately owned companies, Zubrin admired Elon Musk’s no-fuss approach to spacecraft design. Musk, in Zubrin’s view, is more practical and open to the idea of the Mars Direct program than the earlier era innovators were.
“I had this conversation with him (regarding the tuna can). He said, ‘Tell me why I need it.’ That’s exactly the right question to ask,” Zubrin compared Musk’s vision with NASA, noting the critical differences in strategy. Where NASA was creating space vehicles because of potential future use, Musk implements only what is needed to achieve a Mars touchdown. Zubrin praised this mindset as a good strategy that aligns with the concerns of space engineers.
“I absolutely agree with his fundamental position which is ‘don’t tell me what I don’t absolutely need’,” Zubrin added.
Trimming space-consruction budgets down to only those craft needed for specific missions is, in Zubrin’s view, the only plausible way to approach Space engineering.
Musk has taken this mindset to the mass production level. Zubrin explained that Musk is not limiting himself to one big Starship build. Whole fleets of Starship scrafts are in the works. Michael Laine says this is the begining stages of what he calls ‘the Starship Singularity’; it is the point at which ‘everything changes’ due to this new heavy-lift capability.
Entrepreneurs Leading the Way
Laine asked Zubrin his thoughts on the private sector outpacing government sector projects. While defense budgeting for Space may still be higher than the private sector, entrepreneurs are leading the way.
Both Zubrin and Laine noted that this goes far beyond the efforts of Musk's SpaceX, as more and more companies take initiative. As the U.S. Defense Department stated, Space adopters innovation pace will soon be in full sync with government and defense interests. Cooperation is essential to the future of the industry.
In Zubrin’s view, these merging interests go a step beyond cooperation between governments and industry. He believes that modern humanity will become a Space-centered society, and the government will soon recognize that Space preeminence is essential to national survival. All societies will be impacted by Space development as a key component to the modern way of life.
"The war in Ukraine is largely a Space war," Zubrin told Better Futures, using the example of Ukraine’s advantages against the Russian incursion being powered through Space-capabilities technology.
Today Zubrin recognizes an acute interest in Space across the political spectrum.
Zubrin and affiliates forge ahead with progress. Modeled after early Mars Direct program tests in the Utah desert, Mars Society conducts Space exploration education through in-person, on-site missions and virtual reality that simulates real Mars missions.
Mars Society has two analog research stations, one in Utah and one on Devon Island, Canada. NASA explains analog research stations are field test sites that have physical similarities to the extreme conditions of Space. Analog research stations prepare teams for near-term Space exploration.
Also, Mars missions are carried out at analog sites with support from VR tools. These tools make conducting test missions safer and more engaging.
Yet, even these simulated environments come with challenges. Mars Society Ambassadors visit the Mars Arctic 365 program with rifles to protect themselves from the polar bears lurking about. Mars Society adapts to the challenges of a wild frontier of Space progress that is dangerous both on Earth and in heaven.
Mars Society hopes to positively influence the future of human innovation in Space. Volunteer team members host a wide scope of student education programs, innovator competitions, world ambassador outreach, and global chapter houses.
Investing in public space, Mars Society is as much today, as the Times dubbed them in the 90s, a social movement as ever. As STEM education and technology reduces roadblocks to the public, this becomes a future that everyone of every age can have a part in.
Text feature created by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn News.
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