Founder of the Mars Society and popularizer of ideas about Mars colonization, an American aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin told the reporter from "My Planet" about his plan of a manned mission to Mars, Mars Direct.
MP (My Planet): I'll start with a general question - the theme of spaceflight has been abandoned for several decades already after its peak in the 60-70s. And now we are back to it again. Is that so?
RZ (Robert Zubrin): The subject of a space program hangs in the air for a long time, we needed a thorough goal. And currently this goal is settlements on Mars. Mars - is a science. Mars - is the future. It is a challenge. Science, because Mars - is the Rosetta stone, which is about to reveal to us whether life is a common phenomenon in the Universe.
By saying that Mars is a challenge, I mean that one can hardly inspire a new generation by an idea, repeating what their grandparents used to do, let's say, go to the Moon. Mars has now become for us the same what the Moon was for people in the 60s. If we want to develop, we need to go over our heads. Mars holds our future, because if we get to Mars in our century, after 100, 200 years there will be a new human civilization having its own culture, dialect, social system and inventions. This is something great, and if you have the power to do something great, you should do it.
MP: Is there an alternative way of our development besides colonization of the solar system?
RZ: I don't think so. The whole world is not a native environment to man. Native environment for us is Kenya, from where we had come. We are tropical animals, so we have thin arms with no fur on them. We left Africa and colonized the Earth due to the technologies development: fire, construction, clothing manufacture, etc. A man in his natural state couldn't survive even one winter night here in Moscow. And after have become this global human species (which may be called type 1), we have created for ourselves a lot more options than we would have if stayed in Kenya.
On the basis of this development, we have come to the line break, when we can become a civilization of type 2, which has access to the resources of the solar system. Our huge potential is the diversity of species, which is crucial in biology. Genus is considered viable and strong, if it has different subspecies. Because then, if conditions change, genus will survive. The same technologies that make possible space flights - electronic communications, rocket launchers, aircraft equipment – "compress" the world in the same time. Cultures are mixed: Chinese restaurants on every corner in the U.S., Starbucks coffee shops in Moscow, literature in different languages... On the one hand it's good, it gives new energy. But if we all live on the same planet, eventually it will lead to a loss of diversity. And the second type of civilization (civilization of the solar system) will be replaced by the type 3 - space civilization.
Message should be the following: study the science, and you’ll become an explorer of the new world. Such a challenge will bring us millions of young scientists, doctors, inventors, entrepreneurs in the field of technology.
MP: Is there a lack in technologies preventing flights to Mars?
RZ: I wouldn't say it's about technologies. Certain hardware-based elements are lacking, special aircraft system must also be created. We do not need a fundamentally new technology, but the revival of launchers with large carrying capacity. In the U.S. there were such missiles in the 60s and 70s, and in Russia there was one in the '80s – the "Energy".
MP: Do you have a step by step plan in preparation for the mission flight to Mars?
RZ: First and foremost, we must accept this challenge and determine the time frame of the mission. You can't just say: "I'm going to Mars, and once that happens." You need to have a clear temporal landmark: for example, the first flight will happen in ten years.
This plan will identify a set of necessary aircraft systems. Next, we will start to develop these systems and, as soon as they are ready, will fly.
My project is called Mars Direct. This scenario requires a space launch vehicle comparable to the "Saturn-5" by capacity. The mission is divided into two launchings. First, a spacecraft, including reentry vehicle, is launched and landed on Mars. In result of the reaction of the hydrogen delivered from the Earth, the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Mars and the electrical energy from the nuclear reactor methane and water are produced, which will serve as fuel for the return of the apparatus. Next two more boosters are launched: a reentry vehicle and a manned spacecraft with the crew, possibly counting four astronauts. They land on the site 1, where they find a fully fueled (with gases from the Martian atmosphere) reentry vehicle. After the landing, a living module of the ship turns into a planetary base to stay on Mars during research for one and a half Earth years. After have worked on Mars, the crew goes into a takeoff rocket (by that time enough fuel is produced) and starts directly to Earth, leaving the base on Mars. So each launching enlarges the network of settlements. Perhaps initially the bases will be dispersed to several hundred kilometers away from each other - so you can explore different areas before deciding where to perform the following landings and create the home base. There is nothing beyond the technologies available to us today.
Mars used to be a living planet with rivers, lakes and oceans, and they had stayed there for billion years. According to the theory that life is a natural chemical development, life on Mars was supposed to appear. And if we find fossils there, we can prove that the development of life from the chemical elements is a common phenomenon in the entire Universe.
MP: Who should take part in the implementation of the plan? Probably governmental organization?
RZ: If we look to the past: Columbus, Lewis and Clark were sponsored by government. The state initially helped them to hit the road, and only then the private initiative came into play. Here is the same: the state can assist in the beginning of the plan realization, and then private sources are connected. Private initiatives can help to make the project more economically viable. For example, the company SpaceX manufactures space rockets, which are much cheaper than others. The U.S. without a doubt could implement the program on their own. International cooperation is needed not because we don’t have enough budget. Strictly speaking, it is necessary to strengthen international relations. In particular between Russia and the United States.
Currently, the relations between the two countries have significantly deteriorated, we can even say they are in a dangerous condition. There's no valid reason for conflict between them, and although we never fought, there were situations when a disaster could happen. I believe that the Russian-American space program can contribute to our cohesion. In ten years it should become an ambitious program of flights to Mars. This program will inspire and interest people, especially young people, and will make a great adventure from space. Message should be the following: study science, and you can become an explorer of the new world. Such a challenge will bring us millions of young scientists, doctors, inventors, entrepreneurs in the field of technology.
We will understand if the life on Mars is built by the same model that on the Earth, or the samples of Martian life differ at the biochemical level. It’s crucial not only for understanding of the diversity of life forms in the Universe, but also of the nature of these forms.
MP: This is about benefit to the life on Earth. But speaking of Mars, what information can we learn and what resources can we get?
RZ: First of all there are some fundamental questions of natural science. Mars used to be a living planet with rivers, lakes and oceans, and they had stayed there for billion years. According to the theory that life is a natural chemical development, life on Mars was supposed to appear. And if we find fossils there, we can prove that the development of life from the chemical elements is a common phenomenon in the entire Universe. The entire history of life on Earth is the development of more simple forms into more complex and when a greater potential for different types of activities appears, the evolution happens and the intellect is developed. And if life is everywhere, therefore, intellect is everywhere. So we're not the only intelligent beings in the Universe.
If we conduct drilling operations on Mars, deep in the soil the microorganisms living in there for 3 billion years can be found and exposed to the biochemical analysis. We will understand if the life on Mars is built by the same model that on the Earth, or the samples of Martian life differ at the biochemical level. It’s crucial not only for understanding of the diversity of life forms in the Universe, but also of the nature of these forms. Life on Earth is born according to the same model: we all use the same set of amino acids, the same RNA-DNA – method of replication and transmission of the information from generation to generation. It doesn’t matter if we speak about mushrooms, crocodiles, bacteria or people - in this sense we are the same. Can life on Earth be considered a model for life formation everywhere else? We will be able to know that going to Mars.
It means, we'll know what the life is. It's the same that to understand what the language is. If we possessed only one language and knew about only one language, we would have no idea of the language as phenomenon. In my language part of speech marks the word order, in your language endings mark part of speech, in Chinese tones play this role. There are many different models of how language can be arranged. Thus, knowing what life is, we'll make fundamental discoveries in biology. For now it's hard to even estimate how much progress in science it will entail.