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February 03, 2004

Europe's Manned Mars Program

This AP story on the European Mars program was quite entertaining.

LONDON (AP) - European scientists set out plans Tuesday for manned missions to Mars that aim to land astronauts on the Red Planet within 30 years.
By pure coincidence, a month after President Bush decides to redirect NASA towards a Mars mission, Europeans pipe up and say "me too! me too!"
Like President Bush's proposed mission to Mars, the outline put forward by the European Space Agency involves a "stepping stone" approach that includes robotic missions and a manned trip to the moon first.
As a first maybe they should try a suborbital ballistic flight, followed by an orbital mission. Unfortunately they can't repeat something like our Mercury program because there's no way to shoehorn an Englishman, a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, and a Spaniard into a Mercury capsule.
"We need to go back to the moon before we go to Mars. We need to walk before we run," Dr. Franco Ongaro, who heads the ESA's Aurora program for long-term exploration of the solar system, said at a meeting of Aurora scientists in London.
"Back to the moon"?! "Walk before we run"?! They haven't even risked someone's hide on a European built rocket yet.
"These are our stones. They will pave the way for our human explorers."
How about paving the way by getting into orbit first?
The ESA has planned two flagship missions to Mars - ExoMars would land a rover on the planet in 2009, and Mars Sample Return would bring back a sample of the Martian surface in 2011-2014.
Even if NASA stopped now, the ESA effort would be the fourth Mars rover on the red planet. The sample return mission would be useful, but very difficult to pull off. NASA has an effort underway to accomplish it, but signs of life would probably nix any such effort, as European greens would scream about the possible contamination and destruction of all life an earth. After all, they recoil at the thought of bug resistant corn.
Other test missions will include an unmanned version of the flight that would eventually carry astronauts to Mars to demonstrate aerobraking, solar electric propulsion and soft landing technologies.
Thus incurring all the expense and none of the payoff. Without the astronauts how are the life support systems being tested? Consider the required mass of such a ship, due to radiation shielding, the separate landing stage, the required ascent stage, and the fact that it also has to return home. You've got all those components, all that fuel, and a giant propulsion system gambled on a test flight of a system that doesn't have a human around to fix anything. Questions of whether they could actually build it aside, as long as they're sending it anyway, would they mind if we stuck a couple astronauts onboard to just ride along?
A human mission to the moon, proposed for 2024, would demonstrate key life-support and habitation technologies, as well as aspects of crew performance and adaptation to long-distance space flight.
To the moon by 2024? So as children not yet born are sitting in college they can watch a blue suited Frenchman exclaim "Dis's one small step for a man (whose nationality was the subject of fifteen years of high level negotiations, endless committee meetings, wrangling over the program's structure, some kickbacks, the ever present bribes, and of course the occasional threat to withdraw from the EU ), and one giant leap for everyone who was jealous that the last first step was taken 55 years ago by some nobody from a place called Wapakoneta Ohio, which hardly shows up on a map. Damn those Americans…" Of course given our plan to return to the moon by as early as 2013, maybe the Europeans could sleep over at our moon base after they land.
The program is expected to cost $1.13 billion over the next five years.
According to Bush's early plans, our new human exploration program will so far cost about $12 billion a year over the same five year period. Do the math. If they spend ten times as much as planned they'd just be holding even, without having the benefit of the massive NASA infrastructure we've already built. And our program is just one program in a total NASA budget over this same period of $86 billion.
Colin Pillinger, the British scientist behind the recent ill-fated Beagle 2 expedition, said it was important to determine whether life existed on Mars before pressing ahead with a manned mission.

"Would it be right for us to tamper with the ecology on another body?" he asked. "My opinion is that it probably wouldn't."
Their wacko environmental concerns have already presented a show stopper. If they're unwilling to even go to Mars, all subsequent steps are null and void. If there's life on Mars it's either microbial or very, very good at camouflage. Either way, after an American takes a big dump on the surface I think concerns about possible contamination will be moot.
The ExoMars rover would use solar arrays to generate electricity and travel several miles across the surface of Mars.
The lunar rover not only had a 57 mile range but carried two crude, loud Yankees to boot.
It would have onboard software enabling it to operate autonomously and, like Beagle 2, a set of scientific instruments designed to search for signs of past or present life.
In short, it will act like Spirit and Opportunity, if they can get it to land successfully. Keep in mind that the success rate for Mars missions is still very low.
Mars Sample Return would be a more complex mission requiring five spacecraft - an interplanetary transfer stage, a Mars orbiter, a descent module, an ascent module and an Earth re-entry vehicle.
And the odds of all these components working successfully the first time remain vanishingly small. Automated rendezvous and docking in Mars orbit, transfer of the sample, returning from Mars orbit, and earth re-entry. As an aside, it’s the most ambitious and complex mission the Europeans have ever attempted, and they haven't yet even developed re-entry technology to allow a spacecraft to survive re-entry from deep space.
The module would contain a drill to collect soil samples and was expected to send back around a pound of Martian soil.
After all our rover missions we'll already have a very good idea of the components of the Martian soil, so even if they succeed, all they'll be able to say is "It's dirt. Weighs about a pound. Kind of dirty." We too are prepping a Mars sample return mission, but it's not the most ambitious thing we've done, if you recall the Shuttle and the Apollo program on top of all our other space probes. Now consider that they're launching a two stage mission (parts of the program arrive in Mars orbit two years apart) to return just one pound to earth by around 2105, yet now they claim to suddenly have a manned Mars program. They claim to have a working manned space program, which apparently doesn't involve actual manned space flight, possibly because they're only spending $544 million a year on the program. As discussed here, the total ESA budget is only $3.4 billion a year, and their spending on manned space flight is decreasing, possibly because they noticed a lack of actual manned space flight. The European Mars space agency, in typical European fashion, complains about the situation
Why is Europe not leading?
Starvation cannot be an option

The USA, with a GNP equivalent to that of Europe, invest on average a factor of 6 to 7 more government money in space sciences:
why is that so?
In addition, these funds are continuing to increase:
why is that so?
Then of course it goes on to state that
Europe should become a/the major power in spaceflight
Apparently by hitchhiking rides on everybody else's manned vehicles...
Commissioner Busquin
Beyond the green Book a statement about the revival of Spaceflight in Europe: There is a revival of Spaceflight in Europe! […] The race to Mars started. It is a symbolic project which fills our youth with enthusiasm. It is necessary to find new visions. This is the message which I heard on behalf of the young people that I could meet throughout this consultation.”
We've been challenged to a race to Mars! Though currently running fourth, behind the US, Russia, and China, and despite decreasing their manned space budget, the Europeans intend to win, if someone else will pay for it. And getting back to the original article, it continues with
Scientists hope the expedition has a better outcome than the Beagle 2 trip.
What an understatement. Why not just say "Scientists hope the mission doesn't end in complete and mysterious failure"?
The British built lander, due to land on Mars on Christmas Day, has not been heard from since it separated from the ESA's mother ship, Mars Express, in mid-December, despite several efforts to contact it.
"Despite several efforts to contact it"? Poke it with a fork. It's dead. Kind of the like the odds that the Europeans will either massively increase the ESA budget or risk their prestige on manned flights while lagging the American efforts. Imagine, if you can, a more politicized version of NASA where decisions require a room full of ambassadors, bold statements about humanity, yet little actual funding. Just as a reminder of how nutty and Eurocentric they can be, they're embarked on a European/Chinese satellite navigation system, boasting that
The day is almost here, for example, when you will be able to use your mobile phone equipped with satellite navigation receiver to find your way when entering an unfamiliar city.
Snicker. Everyone already has a GPS system, and GPS phones are already becoming commonplace. But never fear, in 10 years the Europeans will have spent much of their space budget to build a completely redundant and incompatible system. And the big need for such a system?
Why Europe needs Galileo
Satellite navigation users in Europe today have no alternative other than to take their positions from US GPS or Russian GLONASS satellites.
Oh cry me a river. A massive satellite spending program, which is really just a way to funnel money from the rest of Europe in order to buy more Arianne launchers from France, predicated on next to nothing.
The current capabilities of GPS and GLONASS, although very adequate for some user communities, present some shortfalls. First, the lack of civil international control presents a serious problem from the institutional point of view. Second, GPS or GLONASS cannot meet all civil aviation requirements for precision and non-precision approach phases of flight.
So all this spending because the GPS system doesn't provide enough jobs for European bureaucrats, and isn't quite good enough for landing aircraft purely on satellite systems, a problem apparently so unimportant that it hasn't yet resulted in a single aircraft currently failing to land on the runway. They further justify this redundant system by saying
Nevertheless, other studies support the case that further benefits will arise from route guidance, improved personal emergency, management of taxis and ambulances, less pollution by reduction of travel times and creation of 140,000 jobs. An estimate of all benefits for the period 2000 and 2020 is illustrated below. Economic benefits 62.000 million Euros Social benefits 12.000 million Euros Total benefits 74,000 million Euros The total investment cost for the Galileo operable system is some 3.2 billion Euros. From 2008 onwards the annual cost will be around 220 million Euros including operations, maintenance and replenishment.
It's a jobs program. I wonder how many jobs they can get out of their Mars program?

February 3, 2004 in Science | Permalink


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I had to laugh at the 'We' in "We need to go back to the moon".
As if they had been there already.

Posted by: Sam Boogliodemus at Apr 12, 2004 4:17:56 AM

My personal favorite was "The lunar rover not only had a 57 mile range but carried two crude, loud Yankees to boot."

The summer of '72, after my freshman year of college, I worked as an intern for Boeing, at Kennedy Space Center.

That summer I stood reverently inside the main engine exhaust bells of one of the Saturn V's used for Apollo 16 or 17, I don't remember which. Those birds were both waiting to be rolled to the launch pad from the Vertical Assembly Building. They left for the Moon a week or so apart.

I also laid these adoring hands on the lunar rover that went with 17. You may remember it, since it was the only rover that broke a fender... the same fender I laid ungloved hands on, of course.

All of this was under adult supervision, I swear. Boeing had the contract with NASA to make both the rover and the Saturn V first stage. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, "The most powerful liquid fueled rocket in the history of the world".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there hasn't been a European analogy on this theme since 1491-92, when another lucky lad, apprentice to a Spanish tradesman or merchant, briefly boarded the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria just before they sailed West.

Posted by: Astro Boy at Apr 23, 2004 9:58:04 PM

I hope Europe stops wasting money into mars and the other promotional programs and uses the money for us european citizens.
The US have money and it's better they waste it into space crap instead of making wars.

Posted by: goonlikethis at Feb 3, 2005 11:36:12 PM

Yeah I know its an old story but you americans are such a bunch of arrogant wasters. You pipe on that you have the money and all and you have been there, seen it and done it yet its you lot who have the biggest debt in the world and won't pay it back because your so far stuck up your own arses that you continually blowt shit...24/7...Lets not forget where all the great stuff was invented...

It is Europe and Asia who have contributed to the best inventions in the world (Mainly India, Germany and the UK)...I mean when the Japanese surrended what did you do with all those evil experimenters that experimented on your POWs...you asked them what they found out and asked them to work for you!! I like it guys!!

Who came up with the microchip, the jet engine, cures for incurable diseases...and so forth...you guys just tagged along in history and threaten when you wanted your own way...And who funded the IRA against the UK...America! If I had been blair I would have told you guys to stick your IRAQ war where the sun don't shine...(where most of your lots heads are now!)

Posted by: colinC at Jun 19, 2006 11:39:34 AM

Great post, interesting points.

Increase Vertical Jump

Posted by: Darren Davis at Aug 12, 2007 3:07:41 PM