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mars express
June 2, 2003 1:12 PM   Subscribe

The European Space Agency's Mars Express blasted off from Russia's Baikonur base today carrying the British-built Beagle 2 space probe atop a modified version of Russia's Soyuz rocket (a modified ICBM) tasked with finding water and life on Mars. Will it overcome the curse of Mars? Of 30 missions to Mars, 8 have gone as planed, a %74 Martian mission failure rate.
posted by stbalbach (13 comments total)

 
First the Beagle 2, then the American and Japanese missions later this year, but the $64 question, to my mind is: Large, durable robots; or manned expedition?

In favor of the former, recharged with a nuclear reactor, they can be used prepare a site for humans, such as landing strips, buildings, water mining and cistern storage; even such radical ideas as hard rock tunnel construction to make radiation-resistant habitats. The biggest advantage is that no human is at risk until *extra* oxygen and water are available.

Sending humans at first would be solely exploration and survival--they would almost *have* to come home as soon as they could, but they would learn more and faster for future missions.

Other factors: if either of the "space elevator" projects are successful, the total mass of materials sent to Mars radically increases--the have your cake and eat it too scenario. If possible, a Martian elevator would also become a priority.

The "orbiter" *and* "lander" concept like what was used on the Moon, but on a grander scale. This solves many problems.

Last but not least, "underground city" technology coupled with Martian mining. The more done with Martian materials, the less expensively shipped from Earth.
posted by kablam at 2:24 PM on June 2, 2003


I love the R-7 rocket, which is what the Soyuz uses. It was the first ICBM, launched the first satellite, and launched the first man into space. And they've kept on using it. For fifty-five years. And it's still the prettiest rocket today.
posted by zsazsa at 3:39 PM on June 2, 2003


The biggest advantage is that no human is at risk until *extra* oxygen and water are available.

Not just that, but the lack of humans occupants and the life support they require (including things to keep them occupied on the 6-month journey) will reduce the payload mass of the mission, which is a good thing from a cost and engineering standpoint. Furthermore, by the time the scout and return missions get around to happening (est. not before 2014, realistically probably into the 20s or 30s) we may be looking at really competent AIs and robots that could handle unforeseen events as well as humans can.

To my mind, the biggest benefit of a manned mission is psychological. To win the public's hearts, minds, and billions of dollars, you will probably need to have a manned mission. It's difficult to capture the popular imagination (and cash) with stories of our brave robots risking their circuits for the greater glory of the US of A.
posted by moonbiter at 5:09 PM on June 2, 2003


"Well, here we are !"

moonbiter:
To my mind, the biggest benefit of a manned mission is psychological. To win the public's hearts, minds, and billions of dollars, you will probably need to have a manned mission. It's difficult to capture the popular imagination (and cash) with stories of our brave robots risking their circuits for the greater glory of the US of A.

You might find this article interesting:

NASA engineers did not understand the popular enthusiasm aroused by Apollo. They thought the Giant Leap for Mankind was not the lunar landing itself, but the technological prowess it displayed.

This led to the mistaken inference that the way to maintain popular support, and hence generous funding, was to propose megaprojects of great technical complexity, regardless of whether they were intrinsically interesting.

posted by MzB at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2003


We need another planet. It's manifest destiny, but this time with no indigenous peoples to eradicate first.
posted by Poagao at 7:08 PM on June 2, 2003


I want to know why we Brits seem unable to give our space missions cool names. "Beagle 2".
posted by nthdegx at 12:24 AM on June 3, 2003


nthdegx, I think it's in reference to the shipt that took Charles Darwin on his trip around the world, The Beagle.
posted by PenDevil at 1:08 AM on June 3, 2003


:s/shipt/ship
posted by PenDevil at 1:11 AM on June 3, 2003


I want to know why we Brits seem unable to give our space missions cool names. "Beagle 2".

I think we might lack enough data points for statistical validity.
posted by biffa at 2:35 AM on June 3, 2003


Ah, of course! Still rubbish.
posted by nthdegx at 2:35 AM on June 3, 2003


"The Beagle has landed"

Sounds pretty cool to me.
posted by MrImpossible at 3:30 AM on June 3, 2003


"The Beagle has landed"
Sounds pretty cool to me.


Were you by any chance watching the BBC breakfast programme yesterday?

Actually I am quite fascinated by the Beagle 2 mission as I have a number of friends who have worked on its construction. Notably, one of them puts its chances of ploughing straight into Mars at about 40%.
posted by biffa at 3:45 AM on June 3, 2003


It's interesting that in Britain, Beagle 2 has been presented as the main part of the mission, rather than just a relatively small part of the overall package. In terms of science, the 7 instruments on board Mars Express are much more important, yet not as sexy to the general public.

I think it is unlikely that the mission will go to plan, given the time and money constraints the team had to work under. It's even more unlikely that Beagle 2 will actually discover water and/or carbon in Martian rocks. Nevertheless, even a negative result will tell us something about Mars.

Say what you like about Colin Pillanger (and I've heard words which I won't repeat here!), but the man is a quite briliant publicist.
posted by salmacis at 5:06 AM on June 3, 2003


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