the puzzle of the journey to the Red Planet

Written by Steven mark

The book. In July, no less than three space missions will leave for Mars: the American Mars 2020 (a large rover, or astromobile), the Chinese Tianwen-1 (an orbiter, a fixed lander and an astromobile) and Hope, an orbiter launched on a Japanese rocket on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. As for the European ExoMars, for lack of being able to settle important technical questions in time, it has been postponed to 2022. This effervescence puts the Red Planet back at the heart of the space adventure, and will inject adrenaline into those who, like the hot boss of SpaceX Elon Musk, dream of the day when these missions will no longer be robotic and will take men. However, as astrophysicist Francis Rocard in his latest book dissects it with all surgical thoroughness, this day is not about to arrive.

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In charge of solar system exploration programs at the National Center for Space Studies, the author is familiar with the Martian project of NASA, the only space agency in the world capable of envisaging such an epic. He recalls in the preamble that“Sending a crew to the Red Planet is therehorizon goal of American space policy in the area of ​​human exploration. ” Mars is the long-term priority, the target on the horizon, no other global destination can be envisaged.

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The trouble with the horizons is that they have the detestable habit of backing away as one advances towards them. Ruthless, Francis Rocard lists the immense obstacles to overcome before thinking of sending humans to Mars (and establishes the no less colossal budget for achieving this, which will amount to several hundred billion dollars). Because if we talk about this adventure for a long time at NASA, almost everything remains to be done.

A mountain of constraints

The Space Launch System, the heavy launcher intended to put the pieces of the space “train” into which the astronauts will climb into Earth orbit, has been in development for years and has not yet flown. And nothing else has started. Neither the propulsion module to go to Mars, nor that where the crew will live, nor the system of entry into the Martian atmosphere, nor the rocket which will bring up the travelers once their mission is finished, nor the homes of the base on the ground, neither the rovers who will assemble it beforehand, nor its energy supply system, nor those who will extract resources on the Red Planet (essentially water, but also enough to produce fuel to take off), nor the vehicle pressurized for the movement of astronauts on the Martian regolith, nor their combinations…

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Steven mark

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