This FAQ explains the purpose of the Mars Society, answers questions about Mars Direct and the general feasibility of a
humans-to-Mars mission, gives some rationale for human Mars exploration and provides information on how to join us.

Contents

  1. 1 Q: What is Mars Direct?
  2. 2 Q: How much will sending humans to Mars cost?
  3. 3 Q: Why are cost estimates for a Mars mission so different?
  4. 4 Q: Sending humans to Mars is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
  5. 5 Q: Why should we go to Mars at all?
  6. 6 Q: Why not just send robots? They're cheaper and there's no risk of death.
  7. 7 Q: Why concentrate on Mars when there are so many problems on Earth?
  8. 8 Q: Won't sending humans to Mars distract NASA from other important work?
  9. 9 Q: What is meant by the terms "conjunction-class" and "opposition-class" missions?
  10. 10 Q: What is meant by a Mars "launch window"?
  11. 11 Q: Do we need to go to the Moon first to prepare for a Mars mission?
  12. 12 Q: Wouldn't launches from or refueling stops at a Moon base be easier than going straight from Earth to Mars?
  13. 13 Q: How can you reliably make rocket fuel on Mars? What is "in-situ resource utilization"?
  14. 14 Q: Isn't it risky to send the crew of a Mars mission separately from their return fuel?
  15. 15 Q: How long would a Mars mission last?
  16. 16 Q: When will the first humans set foot on Mars under Mars Direct?
  17. 17 Q: What are the dangers from radiation in transit and on the surface of Mars?
  18. 18 Q: Won't the lack of gravity during the trip to Mars hurt the astronauts?
  19. 19 Q: What are the effects of Mars gravity on humans?
  20. 20 Q: What about the "human problem"?
  21. 21 Q: What are the risks of contaminating Mars with Earth life forms, or vice versa?
  22. 22 Q: What is the Mars Society doing to prepare for humans to Mars missions?
  23. 23 Q: What is the Mars Society doing politically to push for humans to Mars missions?
  24. 24 Q: How can I join the Mars Society?

Q: What is Mars Direct?

A: Mars Direct is a sustained humans-to-Mars plan developed by Dr. Robert Zubrinthat advocates a minimalist, live-off-the-land approach to space exploration, allowing for maximum results with minimum investment. Using existing launch technology and making use of the Martian atmosphere to generate rocket fuel, extracting water from the Martian soil, and eventually using the abundant mineral supplies of Mars for construction purposes, the plan drastically lowers the amount of material which must be launched from Earth to Mars, thus sidestepping the primary stumbling block to space exploration and rapidly accelerating the timetable for human exploration of the solar system. 

The general outline of Mars Direct is simple. In the first year of implementation, an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) is launched to Mars, arriving 6 months later. Upon landing, a rover is deployed that contains the reactors necessary to generate rocket fuel for the return trip. After 13 months, a fully-fueled return vehicle will be sitting on the surface of Mars. 

During the next launch window, 26 months after the ERV was launched, two more craft are sent up: a second ERV and a habitat module (hab), the astronauts' ship. This time the ERV is sent on a low-power trajectory, designed to make it to Mars in 8 months -- so that it can be landed at the same site as the hab if the first ERV experiences any problems. Assuming that the first ERV works correctly, the second ERV is landed at a different site, thus opening up another area of Mars for exploration by the next crew. 

After a year and a half on the Martian surface, the first crew returns to Earth, leaving behind the hab, the rovers associated with it, and any ongoing experiments conducted there. They land on Earth 6 months later to a hero's welcome, with the next hab/ERV already on the way to Mars. 

With two launches during each launch window -- one ERV and one hab -- more and more of Mars will be opened to human exploration. Eventually, multiple habs can be sent to the same site and linked together, allowing for the beginnings of a permanent Mars base. 

Q: How much will sending humans to Mars cost?

A: Estimates of the cost of a human Mars exploration program over the years have been wildly disparate, leaving much confusion in their wake. On the high end of the scale was the Space Exploration Initiative proposed by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 at $450 billion; Mars Direct occupies the low end of the scale at roughly $30 billion. 

Q: Why are cost estimates for a Mars mission so different?

A: The differences in cost estimates are mainly due to the amount of new hardware which must be developed and used under any given proposal. Some Mars exploration programs have advocated assembly of large spacecraft either in orbit or on the Moon, while others have called for advanced propulsion systems such as nuclear engines. Developing these new technologies and the infrastructure necessary to support them drives costs up rapidly. Mars Direct achieves its low cost in two ways: by using only existing technologies, adapted for the specifics of a Mars mission, and by generating rocket fuel for the return mission -- by far the largest mass component, and therefore most costly non-development expense of any Mars mission -- on the surface of Mars. 

Q: Sending humans to Mars is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

A: If done in a cost-effective manner such as Mars Direct, human exploration of Mars can be accomplished easily under the existing NASA budget -- which currently accounts for less than 1% of federal discretionary spending. A total mission cost of $30 billion, when spread out over the 20 years envisioned by Mars Direct (10 years to first flight, 10 years afterwards during which five missions are flown), represents approximately 10% of the $300 billion NASA budget for that time frame (based upon current annual funding levels of $15 billion). 

Funds allocated to a Mars exploration program are not simply disappearing from the American economy, either -- indeed, the vast majority of those $30 billion goes to pay the salaries of engineers, support staff, even factory workers whose plants would assemble the hardware necessary for Mars missions. Meanwhile, the technological advances that are a natural by-product of space exploration programs -- which in the past have included MRIs, velcro, and the microwave oven, to name a few -- will help drive economic activity for years to come.

Q: Why should we go to Mars at all?

Q: Why not just send robots? They're cheaper and there's no risk of death.

A: Sending humans to Mars is undeniably more expensive and dangerous than simply sending robotic probes. However, the benefits to be gained from sending humans -- in addition to appropriate robots -- are so dramatic that it is easy to justify the added issues involved in doing so.

Before we can even answer the question of why humans are better explorers than robots, we first need to answer the question of whether it's too dangerous to send humans to Mars. In answering that question, we first need to consider the secondary question: too dangerous for whom? There are many of people who, if told that they could be part of an expedition to Mars only if they abandoned all hope of returning to Earth, would jump at the chance. Thousands more would sign up for a trip where their chances of returning were only 50/50 (including the writer of this piece). Looking back over time, people have always been willing to risk their lives for things they care about, for great missions of exploration -- why should today be any different? More importantly, why should people who will be staying safely here on Earth deny the people who wish to take that chance the opportunity, just because the explorers might die?

Given, however, that those who will eventually venture to Mars would prefer to come back safe and sound, it is still in the best interests of everyone involved in such a trip to minimize risk to the astronauts. In order to do so, one must first understand the largest risks explorers will face going to Mars (keeping in mind that every single risk cannot be forseen or understood -- this is not the case in day-to-day life, let alone a trip to another planet). In no particular order, these are radiation poisoning, low-to-zero gravity, psychological problems, equipment failure, and supplies running out.

Thankfully, there are excellent ways to mitigate or entirely annihilate the risks posed by each of these problems. Radiation issues are addressed elsewhere in this FAQ, as well as in this response to a New York Times article on the subject. Zero-g on the trip there and back is not the way the mission is designed, and given the amount of time cosmonauts have spent in zero-g with no long-term effects, Mars gravity should pose few, if any, problems. Mental health issues are likely overstated, and are already being researched in Mars simulations across the world. Equipment failure and a lack of supplies are both nullified as issues, as the mission architecture calls for redundancy in both equipment and supplies. Chances are, whatever the potential problem, the issue has either already been addressed, or can easily be addressed during the course of proper mission planning.

Now that we know that going to Mars is not "too dangerous," we can look at why humans are much, much better explorers than robots. First, consider the difference in the effective range and mobility of a human vs. a robot. Whereas in their first several months on Mars, the Spirit & Opportunity rovers were happy to go 2 kilometers each, a human could travel considerably greater distances in the course of an afternoon. Humans can simply step over rocks, gullies, or other obstacles that present robots with daunting, perhaps insurmountable challenges. This difference becomes particularly relevant if, for example, the interesting piece of Martian real estate happens to be just over the horizon of the landing site -- somewhere a human could likely get to in a matter of hours, or possibly days, but that a robot might not be able to reach at all.

Humans are also considerably better at going beyond pre-programmed objectives, techniques, etc. than robots. If mission objectives change due to a new discovery, there is no need to reprogram a human. This saves time, money, and a chance at disaster -- after all, a human will never enter a cycle of infinite reboots because a programmer forgot to clear out their memory. Even in cases where there is no change in the mission profile, a human is superior to a robot: for example, a trained geologist would be considerably better at identifying specimens which are worth investigating than would a robot. Perhaps most important of all, though, humans bring along their instincts about what lines of research are worth following up on -- something no robot could ever bring to the table.

Best of all, human missions are virtually guaranteed to last much longer than current rover missions: while the minimum duration for the Mars rovers to be considered a success was 90 days, a successful human mission -- i.e. one which returned the astronauts to earth -- would take 910 days (roughly 2.5 years), with 550 of those days (about 1.5 years) spent on the surface of Mars.

Even with all of these advantages, however, it still makes sense to send robots to work alongside humans. Robots deployed by humans are excellent at reaching spots which could be dangerous or inaccessible to humans -- for example, they can be lowered down a sheer rock face, or placed into a canyon that they might not return from. Robots can also be used to maximize exploration value on expeditions -- if an interesting spot is noticed along the day's path, a robot can be deployed to spend as much time as is necessary in the area while the humans press on towards their original goal. Manually controlled robots can even be used to perform minor repairs on the habitat, including repairs on objects underneath the habitat -- something that can be a cumbersome process in a spacesuit, or perhaps entirely impossible.

If we want to get the most out of missions to Mars, we should send humans *and* robots.

Q: Why concentrate on Mars when there are so many problems on Earth?

A: Many prominent people, such as actor Patrick Stewart (who depicted Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek), have argued that it makes more sense to use government resources to solve Earthly problems, and that we should only attempt a humans to Mars mission after Earth's problems have been solved. 

Given the imperfect nature of humanity, however, this simply amounts to a cheap cop-out. Humanity will never solve all of its problems, even given an infinite amount of time -- much less within the time each of us has remaining on Earth. 

Equally important is the fact that humans to Mars missions could actually help solve some of those very same problems. For example, long-term plans for space exploration currently include development of nuclear propulsion systems, which when combined with the abundant supplies of helium isotope H-3 available on the Moon and Mars, could provide a practically pollution-free, virtually inexhaustible supply of cheap power for all of Earth that would end our dependence on fossil fuels. 

Q: Won't sending humans to Mars distract NASA from other important work?

A: A properly managed humans to Mars program can be accomplished without unduly burdening NASA resources, budgetary or otherwise. This can be best illustrated in terms of the percentage of launches -- expressed in terms of current Shuttle launches -- necessary to support Mars Direct. Before the Columbia disaster, NASA averaged six Shuttle launches per year. Mars Direct requires two launches per Mars launch window-- roughly one launch per year. This means that a sustained human Mars exploration program can be accomplished using 16% of NASA launch capability, leaving plenty of room for other projects. 

Additionally, if the hardware necessary for Mars exploration is constructed in a modular fashion, subsets or recombinations thereof could be used to support other programs, such as the Lunar base envisioned in President Bush's recently announced initiative. Using one design in multiple missions drastically cuts costs and development times, and could thus actually accelerate other exploration programs. 

Q: What is meant by the terms "conjunction-class" and "opposition-class" missions?

A: There are two basic possibilities for a practical Earth-Mars trajectory: opposition- and conjunction-class trajectories. The two are so named because they are based on the relative positions of Earth and Mars at launch: opposition occurs when Mars is closest to Earth, and conjunction occurs when Mars is furthest from Earth. These positions can be visualized best when thinking of the Sun, Earth, and Mars lying across a straight line. At opposition, the Sun is in the middle, Earth is to the right, and Mars is further right. At conjunction, Mars is on the far left, the Sun is in the middle, and Earth is on the right. 

Q: What is meant by a Mars "launch window"?

A: Due to the trajectories ships must follow when going from Earth to Mars, certain relative positions of the two planets allow for maximum speed with minimum propulsion costs. Whenever such a set of relative positions occurs -- approximately once every 26 months -- a "window" of opportunity opens for a "launch" to Mars. The most recent window was in August of 2005; the next one will open in October of 2007.

Q: Do we need to go to the Moon first to prepare for a Mars mission?

A: While valuable in its own right, human Lunar exploration will teach us very little about how to survive on Mars. The two are drastically different environments:
    1. The Moon has no atmosphere, which means that testing methods of generating rocket fuel from the atmosphere cannot be tested at all.
    2. Temperatures on the two bodies are wildly different: Mars ranges from roughly -90C (-130F) to +10C (50F), while the Moon, during its 672-hour day, averages +100C (212F).
    3. Mars has a 24.65-hour day, very similar to Earth; the Moon has a 672-hour day.
    4. Water exists in abundance on Mars -- as ice seen at the poles by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and frozen into the Martian soil. While water may exist on the Moon, it is nowhere near as available there, and would require considerably more effort to obtain.
    5. Mars' gravity is roughly 1/3 of Earth's; the Moon's is roughly 1/6 of Earth's.

Indeed, comparing the two environments, it might actually be said that we need to go to Mars to prepare for the considerably more harsh environment of the Moon!

It is useful to practice for Mars before we go, but this can be done in the Arctic at 1/1000th the cost of a Lunar training facility.

Q: Wouldn't launches from or refueling stops at a Moon base be easier than going straight from Earth to Mars?

A: As it turns out, the Delta-V (change in velocity; the energy needs of a mission go up as the Delta-V required goes up) required to get from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to the surface of the Moon is actually greater than to get from LEO to the surface of Mars! This is because spaceships going to Mars can use a technique called aerobraking -- using the resistance from a planet's atmosphere to slow a moving body -- whereas Moon ships must expend more energy to slow themselves down.

In order to get to the surface of the Moon, a Delta-V of 6 km/s is required -- 3.2 km/s to get from LEO to the Moon, 0.9 km/s to slow into Lunar orbit, and 1.9 km/s to slow from orbit into actual landing. To get to the surface of Mars (given a launch with Mars at conjunction), a Delta-V of 4.5 km/s is required -- 4.1 km/s to get to Mars, 0.1 km/s for post-aerocapture orbit adjustments, and 0.4 km/s to slow from post-atmospheric-entry speeds. Therefore, using the Moon as a refueling point is pointless, as simply getting there is more difficult than going straight to Mars.

Since the raw materials and infrastructure necessary to construct spaceships do not exist on the Moon, everything that would be launched from the Moon would have to come from Earth to start with. Again, given the fact that stopping by the Moon is more difficult than going straight to Mars, it makes no sense to move the necessary materials to the Moon on their way to Mars.

Q: How can you reliably make rocket fuel on Mars? What is "in-situ resource utilization"?

A: In-situ ("on site") resource utilization is simply the process of using the materials available to you in the environment you are exploring. For Mars missions, this typically refers to using the atmosphere to make rocket fuel.

Generating fuel for a return flight is simpler than it would appear at first. Rocket fuel is typically made of a methane/oxygen mixture, or CH4 + O2. Hydrogen, being an extremely light element, makes up only about 5% of the weight of a rocket fuel mixture, and can thus be imported from Earth; heavy insulation and some gelling of the mixture with methane (as the hydrogen will not be fed directly into an engine) will reduce in-space boil-off to negligible levels.

The remaining elements in rocket fuel -- namely carbon and oxygen -- are abundant in an easily obtainable form on Mars, which has an atmosphere of 95% carbon dioxide, or CO2.The fact that this atmosphere is at an average of 7 to 10 millibar (1 bar is Earth's air pressure at sea level; 1 millibar is thus 0.1% of that pressure), as measured over the course of several years by the Viking probes, is not a problem; simply exposing activated carbon or zeolite to the Martian atmosphere at night, with temperatures as low as -90C (-130F), will cause the material to absorb 20% of its weight in carbon dioxide. When warmed to 10C (50F) during the Martian day, the carbon dioxide will outgas, giving high-pressure carbon dioxide with almost no moving parts or energy input. The gas obtained can be purified first by adding a simple air filter to remove most of the Martian dust; once this is done, pressurizing it to 7 bar will cause the carbon dioxide to liquefy, allowing easy separation of any remaining dust, nitrogen or argon (the other gases present in the Martian atmosphere in measurable quantities, which will remain gas at that pressure) through distillation processes that have been widely used on Earth since their introduction by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700's. The end result of this process is 100% pure carbon dioxide, suitable for use in reactions used to make rocket fuel.

From this point, the carbon dioxide can be reacted directly with the hydrogen brought from Earth in the following reaction:

3CO2 + 6H2 --> CH4 + 2CO + 4H2O

This reaction is mildly exothermic, meaning that it produces heat instead of requiring heat (and therefore power) to run.

If the water obtained from this reaction is run through a simple electrolysis process, i.e.:

2H20 --> 2H2 + O2

The hydrogen trapped in the water as a result of our first equation can be brought back to produce more and more methane, with a large amount of oxygen being produced that could serve as a huge backup to the life-support system of the Mars habitat.

The final result of running these two reactions in combination is an oxygen:methane ratio of 4:1, for a propellant mass leverage of 18:1, the optimum goal for rocket fuel. The leverage ratio would jump as high as 34:1 if the extra oxygen was not used for life support backup, but instead was combined with the carbon monoxide produced in the first reaction for use in combustion devices or fuel cells.

A working device has already been produced for this exact purpose. NASA's Johnson Space Center contracted with Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) in 1993 to have a prototype built. Dr. Robert Zubrin's team created a unit that demonstrated efficiency rates as high as 94% within 3 months. Additional funding by JSC and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory allowed for further improvements, with a resulting unit that operated at 96% efficiency for 10 days straight with no outside intervention, generating 400 kilograms of propellant on 300 watts; the unit itself weighed only 20 kilograms. Studies indicate that when scaled up, the propellant:unit mass ratio would go up significantly, as the percentage of system mass taken up by non-productive elements such as sensors would be reduced to negligible levels.

Q: Isn't it risky to send the crew of a Mars mission separately from their return fuel?

A: Actually, it turns out to be safer to send the fuel and the astronauts separately. Sending out the first Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) one launch window before the first crew ensures that a fully functional, fueled return system exists before the astronauts ever leave Earth; if problems were to occur, their mission could simply be delayed. By comparison, a crew landing with their return system has no way of guaranteeing that damage does not occur to that system during descent onto Mars.

Landing close enough to that fuel supply will be easy, as the rendezvous with the ERV will have a wide margin for error. Contained within the habitat module will be a fully fueled, pressurized rover with a one-way range of 1,000 kilometers; therefore, if the crew lands within that distance, they will be safe. Given a skilled pilot, a homing beacon in the ERV, and modern computer guidance systems, the chance that astronauts would land outside their safety zone is practically nonexistent. This is particularly true considering that, during the Apollo program, one crew landed within 200 meters of a Surveyor probe launched several years previously.

Additionally, sending the second ERV envisioned under Mars Direct on a slower trajectory than the astronauts -- in essence putting it two months behind them -- means that if problems are discovered with the first ERV after landing, or if the astronauts for some reason land so far away from the first ERV that they cannot reach it, the second ERV can serve as a functional backup.

Q: How long would a Mars mission last?

A: This depends on the trajectory taken to Mars, i.e. whether an opposition-class or conjunction-class mission is chosen.

In both missions, Earth to Mars transit time is roughly 180 days. However, since the two planets must also be aligned properly for the return flight from Mars to Earth, this is where their similarity ends. In an opposition-class mission, astronauts would stay on Mars for 30 days, followed by a 430-day return mission that would swing by Venus for a gravity assist, for a total round-trip of 640 days. In a conjunction-class mission, astronauts would spend 550 days on Mars, followed by a another 180-day return leg along roughly the same route as Earth to Mars, for a total round-trip of 910 days.

While on the surface a shorter round-trip time might seem safer, because the astronauts on an opposition-class mission actually spend more time in interplanetary space (610 days vs. 360 days for a conjunction-class mission), hazards associated with a zero-gravity environment and cosmic radiation actually increase. Additionally, life support systems have a considerably higher possibility of failing on an opposition-class mission, as they must run for an extra 250 consecutive days.

Considering that the hazards of an opposition-class mission are actually greater, and that the science and exploration return on such a relatively short stay on Mars is considerably lower than in conjunction-class missions, the Mars Society, along with many scientists, support conjunction-class missions.

Q: When will the first humans set foot on Mars under Mars Direct?

A: If implementation of the plan began immediately, the first phase of the mission -- the Earth Return Vehicle -- would launch in April of 2014, with the first human crew leaving Earth at the next launch window 26 months later, in June of 2016. They would reach Mars 6 months later, in December of 2016.

Q: What are the dangers from radiation in transit and on the surface of Mars?

A: Life on Earth is actually exposed to constant background radiation; as such, humans actually require some radiation to live. For example, someone living near sea level in the United States is exposed to roughly 150 millirem (where 1 rem is the standard unit of radiation measurement in the US, a millirem is one thousandth of a rem, and 1 Sievert, the European measure of radiation, is 100 rem), per year and those living in high-elevation locales such as parts of Colorado receive 300 millirem annually due to the smaller amount of atmosphere shielding them.

Radiation only becomes dangerous when absorbed in large quantities, particularly so if those doses come over short periods of time. A prompt dose, such as would be delivered by an atomic bomb or a meltdown at a nuclear plant, can be as high as 75 rem without any apparent effects. Longer-term doses have much lower effects: according to the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, a dose of 100 rem causes a 1.81% increase in the likelihood of cancer in the next 30 years of a person's life. Russian cosmonauts aboard Mir have taken doses as high as approximately 150 rem, with no apparent side effects to date.

There are two types of radiation which concern astronauts: solar flares and cosmic rays. Solar flares, irregular discharges of radiation from the Sun, are made up of particles with roughly 1 million volts of energy, and can be shielded effectively. Astronauts inside a spaceship during any of the last 3 large recorded solar flares would have experienced doses of 38 rem; if they were inside of the storm shelter designed into the Mars Direct habitat, the dose would have been 8 rem. On the surface of Mars, which offers much radiation protection due to its atmosphere, the unshielded dose would have been 10 rem, the shielded dose 3 rem.

Cosmic rays, which constantly bombard space with an average energy of roughly 1 billion volts, are much more difficult to shield against. However, they occur in considerably lower concentrations than the radiation from a solar flare. In fact, on a conjunction-class flight, astronauts would take an average of 31.8 rem from cosmic rays over the course of a year; on a longer opposition-class flight, they would take 47.7 rem over 1.75 years.

In total, radiation doses of 52.0 and 58.4 rem taken on conjunction- and opposition-class missions, respectively, are well below dangerous thresholds -- even were they to come all at once, instead of over the course of years.

Q: Won't the lack of gravity during the trip to Mars hurt the astronauts?

A: The problem of zero gravity during the trip to Mars is actually not a problem at all: zero-gravity conditions can be eliminated altogether during the trip, as artificial gravity can be created through the use of centrifugal force. After launch from LEO, the upper-stage booster would be used as a counterweight to the habitat module, with a long, durable, multi-thread tether in between. With the two rotating around a central axis, Earth gravity could be mimicked for the duration of the trip; upon reaching Mars orbit, the tether could be cut (as there's no use for the burnt-out upper stage booster). The same process would apply to the return trip.

Q: What are the effects of Mars gravity on humans?

A: Obviously, nothing can be done to alter gravity on the surface of Mars. However, at 38% of Earth's gravity, the effects associated with microgravity are reduced considerably. Considering that Mir cosmonauts have experienced comparable times in zero gravity with no long-term negative impacts -- Sergei Avdev spent a total of 748 days in zero-gravity over 3 missions, and Valeri Polyakov spent 438 consecutive days without gravity -- there is no reason to believe that the maximum stay of 550 days on Mars associated with conjunction-class missions would cause long-term health problems.

A privately funded program to study the effects of Mars gravity, the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program, is currently underway. The Mars Society was the initiator of the project.

Q: What about the "human problem"?

A: The objection is often raised that no group of people can live in such tight quarters for such a long period of time as required by a Mars mission without either going crazy or fighting endlessly, making necessary cooperation impossible. However, on close examination, this argument falls apart quickly.

For the 6-month flight to Mars, the crew of a Mars Direct mission will have a little over 1,000 square feet to live in -- a space that's somewhat small for the average American, but which is luxuriously large for, say, the average Japanese citizen. Once on the surface of Mars, the crew will have that space, the roughly 500-square-foot Earth Return Vehicle, and of course the entire surface of Mars to roam through. Combined with the immense amount of scientific work the crew will be conducting, boredom and cramped living quarters will not be a problem on Mars. The return flight, in the smaller ERV, is the roughest leg of the trip -- but the combination of ample reading material, games, etc., along with the anticipation of a return home to fame and fortune, will make that trip perfectly bearable.

In the meantime, studies are being done with the crews of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station and the Mars Desert Research Station, both Mars Society simulation missions, to research how people live and work together under conditions similar to potential Mars missions.

Q: What are the risks of contaminating Mars with Earth life forms, or vice versa?

A: Actually, it is arguable that this has already been happening for billions of years. During his study of known Martian meteorite ALH84001, Cal Tech's Joseph Kirschvink showed that large parts of the rock were never heated above 40C (104F), proving the theory of University of Arizona researcher Jay Melosh that it is possible for rocks to be ejected from one planet's surface and land on another's surface without being excessively heated. More importantly, this discovery showed that not all rocks ejected from either Mars or Earth are sterilized -- a fact that, when combined with the known ability of microorganisms to remain alive in a dormant state for millions of years, means that Earth life has probably already traveled to Mars, and if life ever existed on Mars, it has already traveled to Earth.

Q: What is the Mars Society doing to prepare for humans to Mars missions?

A: The Mars Society is currently conducting two major simulated Mars missions, in order to test supply requirements, mission hardware, and the ability of crew members to work together under Mars-like settings.

The first of these is the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, located on Devon Island at 75 degrees North in the Canadian Arctic. This location was chosen because it is one of the most Mars-like locales on the face of the Earth: the island is completely uninhabited and unvegetated; it receives almost no precipitation, and is thus nearly as dry as Mars; temperature extremes approach those of Mars; the impact crater where the station is located is similar to many such craters on Mars.

The second site is the Mars Desert Research Station, located near the southern Utah town of Hanksville. This site was chosen because it too resembles Mars -- though not as closely as Devon Island -- and is considerably cheaper and easier to maintain and reach than the FMARS outpost.

Additionally, the Mars Society is the initiator of the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program, which will test the effects of Mars gravity on mice in order to better understand its effects on living creatures.

Q: What is the Mars Society doing politically to push for humans to Mars missions?

The Mars Society is conducting ongoing effort to reach out to Congress, the President, and other important political figures. This is done at both the local and the national level -- with everything from individual members writing their representatives to Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin testifying before Congress and meeting with leaders of the political establishment in Washington.

Members -- or anyone else interested in seeing the cause of space and Mars exploration succeed -- are strongly encouraged to make contact with their Congressional representatives. In order to assist with this effort, sample materials are available for those who may be uncertain how to proceed when attempting to meet with their Congresspersons.

Q: How can I join the Mars Society?

:  

For questions regarding this FAQ, please contact: info@marssociety.org