Re: Mars vs Rice (was Re: v2.5 vs v3.0)

From: David Blenkinsop (
Date: Fri Oct 13 2000 - 23:59:01 MDT

Earlier, Elaine Walker wrote:
> Sorry to leave the asteroid and O'Neill folks out of this
> discussion, but that just gets too complicated.

Seeing this topic of space development come up, I can't resist
mentioning a kind of variation on Zubrin's "Mars Direct" that would
likely relate to asteroid and/or O'Neill settlements. in the long run.
This is a "Phobos Race" article that was published in the Fall, 1987,
issue of the _New Destinies_ paperback magazine. I know this may seem a
slightly dated source, however, the ideas of "S. Fred Singer, former
astronaut Brian O'Leary, and planetary scientist Bruce M. Cordell" which
this article reports on, are still relevant today. Well OK, I'll 'fess
up and add that I used to read something like this in the old _L5 News_
space advocacy publication, too. There, Eric Drexler sometimes used to
severely criticize the whole idea of spending money on "man on Mars"
expeditions, while at the same time promoting the use of automated
asteroid miners (with Mars' "asteroid-like" moons definitely in the
picture as worth mining). Then too, Drexler used to pan lunar bases on
*our* moon, figuring that he could more cheaply develop the hardware to
do very simple "carpet sweeper" mining of asteroids (or of Mars' moons),
as compared to setting up lunar landers and launchers to do anything
similar in our own Moon's relatively large gravity well. The general
idea was to develop off-Earth material supplies and manufacturing with
as little "up front" investment as possible.

Anyway, getting back to the _New Destinies_ article, the
Singer/O'Leary/Cordell plan, those gentlemen wanted to take the mining
of Mars moons one step further by placing the emphasis on robotic Mars
explorations, with Phobos and Deimos as bases that astronauts could
travel to relatively easily, compared with the extra trouble of actually
landing humans on Mars. Although this particular article didn't quite
say so, I get the impression that it would actually be more "sanitary",
as well as cheaper, if humans just orchestrated the robot rovers from
orbit. Essentially, there'd be no risk of humans biocontaminating Mars'
surface in such a scenario, despite the astronauts being close enough to
control the robots in real time, without the large Earth to Mars
communications time lag.

The only drawback that I can see to this idea is that it would involve
the risk of long duration missions to Mars' vicinity for the astonauts.
At the same time, I'd note that it might well be reasonable to hold off
sending astronauts at all until new methods like advanced solar sails
were available, to get the travel time down to something less than a
couple of months perhaps? Anyway, it makes a nice picture, gives the
astronauts something more interesting to *do* in space than just take
lunar or asteroid rock samples, don't you think? Even if one never set
foot on Mars, doesn't it sound interesting, to be digging into old
streambeds via robotic proxy, searching for ancient life, maybe study
situations generally comparable to Earth's environments even if life
isn't found?

On a technical level, notice how important virtual reality technology
would be for the success of something like this! You'd really want your
astronauts to be able to "get down there", virtually speaking, and steer
their rovers directly to examine whatever is most interesting. So, we've
got lots of issues to think about in a scenario like this, including the
one of whether telepresence technology is going to be up to the task.

David Blenkinsop <>

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