Robert Zubrin, Mars Society’s founder, recently presented an interesting take on the journey to the Red Planet, challenging what both SpaceX and NASA are planning for the journey. In a talk delivered on October 23, 2019, during the International Astronautical Congress, Zubrin brought forth his plan dubbed ‘Mars Direct’ arguing that it is more sensible than NASA’s program to utilize the Gateway space station as a launchpad to the station and the architecture of the Starship by SpaceX.
The plan was proposed in the late 1980s by Zubrin. The project aims the launch of an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV), which will travel uncrewed to Mars in a period of six months. The spacecraft will carry a nuclear-powered rover that will manufacture fuel from the Red Planet’s atmosphere, making sure that the ERV is always full. Twenty-six months after the launch of the ERV, two more rockets will be launched to Mars, one of which is another ERV and the other a capsule carrying the astronauts. The astronauts will then spend 18 months on the surface before taking six months to travel back to earth while meanwhile, the next capsule will be travelling to Mars, suggested Zubrin.
Zubrin says that the Starship by SpaceX is being used in the wrong way in the mission. SpaceX plans to use the Starship and Super Heavy rocket, powered by six and 37 raptors (though not all may be used), respectively. The Starship will be launched into orbit by the Super Heavy, which will return to earth for reuse. After the launch, the Starship will travel to Mars after fueling up in orbit, where it will be refueled and eventually deployed back to earth. Zubrin said that the Starship would use too much fuel in its travel to Mars. Hence it could be used to lift payloads and astronaut capsules to space, which will then travel to Mars.
NASA proposes an approach that makes use of its space station, the Gateway. A reusable vehicle that uses both chemical and electric propulsion will be used to transport astronauts between Mars and the Gateway, being serviced at the Gateway as desired. Zubrin said that the use of the Gateway would add lag to the mission because the astronauts will travel to the station before departing for the moon. He also proposes building a heavy Mars lander instead of making the Gateway, adding that the only reason the Gateway is built is the lack of the lander.
This post was originally published on Food and Beverage Herald