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Human Exploration: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs?

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Human Exploration: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs?

With all the recent success of NASA's unmanned missions, many people are beginning to wonder if human's presence in space, particularly on Mars, is worth the extra costs and risks associated with it. After all, the rovers and data collectors we already have on various planets are doing a good job, and at a fraction of the price it would cost us to send a human out there. On the other hand, landing humans on Mars could lead to the eventual habituation of the planet, as well as bring a human perspective to the experience unable to be captured by the robots we're currently trolling the planet. Overall, however there is too much to be gained to let budget issues and risks to astronauts (there are many willing to take them) stand in the way of human space exploration.

While the ability to land a human on Mars is at hand, there are still many small technology advances needed and loose ends to tie. The most important advances still needed are those involved with a safe descent and ascent from Mars' atmosphere. This would require new entry vehicles, new launchers and transfer stages as well as further development of the In Situ Propellant production. Once the landing and taking off difficulties are solved, we have to look at the time scale for the mission. In order to get there safely and minimize the risks to astronauts, the trip time can't be much more than 6 months. Furthermore, in order to make any progress and utilize the advantages that human presence brings, they'll need to be there for 500 days or so. This would require a reliable Mars calendar, which we don't yet have as well as advances in surface mobility, robotic support, systems reliability and a source of power.

Once all these details can be worked out (and they are currently being addressed), the overall chances of success will be high enough to make a manned mission to Mars worthwhile. NASA has stated on many occasions that they are pursuing the means to put a human in space and now that they are on the verge of accomplishing that, I feel there is almost no way that a mission isn't attempted in the near future.




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