Leon Jaroff at Time asks “Who Needs Manned Spaceflight?” — and James Van Allen (of all people) responds with criticisms of manned missions to Mars that reveal a startling lack of knowledge on (or willful blindness to) the means for making them happen:
Like many scientists, James Van Allen, best known for the discovery of the radiation belts that bear his name, is aghast at the Mars proposal. He points to “the difficulty and the danger and the cost, all of them monstrous problems” and notes that the budget the President proposed for the project “is far too anemic to anywhere meet the need.”
Right, because the administration has not yet proposed the expenditures for the actual missions to the Moon, and the missions to Mars are even further in the future. The plans are still being worked out. Don’t get impatient: there’s still plenty of time for sticker shock.
This is where it gets good…
A manned mission to Mars, Van Allen notes, would require a minimum of a year and a half — six months to reach the Red Planet, six months of research on the surface and six months to return.
An opposition class mission would indeed take about a year and a half — but only but around thirty days of that time would actually be spent on Mars, not six months.
Each astronaut would require about five pounds of food and water daily. “They talk about growing broccoli and other vegetables on the spacecraft,” he says dismissively,
Who is “they”? There’s plenty of talk of growing food in greenhouses on the surface, yes, but en-route?
“and recycling water.” Still, for a five-man crew, a mission of that length would require carrying along some 20,000 pounds of food and water.
You say “recycling” like it’s a bad thing. ISS does it. Mir did it. Recycling is workable as long as you don’t expect to close the loop…but if we’re going from one water-rich planet to another, closed-loop isn’t required.
“Then, too, you have to bring along a good supply of oxygen and reconvert exhaled carbon dioxide to replenish it.”
Unless you can tap the atmosphere for additional oxygen (which, yes, would have to be separated from CO2 just the same, but you wouldn’t have to bring a huge additional supply of oxygen along. CO2 is CO2.).
And it wouldn’t be a robots-über-alles piece if it didn’t throw out the obligatory megabuck pricetag:
But what about the total cost of the mission, which would include establishing a Moon base from which the spacecraft would be launched? Experts calculate that it would be in the neighborhood of a cool $400 billion, unwelcome news at a time when the national debt stands at $500 billion and is rising.
UPDATE: Mark Whittington gives Van Allen’s comments a thorough wire-brushing.