The first technically feasible idea for going to Mars was proposed by Wernher von Braun over 65 years ago. It consisted of a fleet of 10 chemical rocket powered spaceships that were to be assembled in Earth orbit. Total crew size for the fleet was 70 people.
It was an incredible vision.
Total planned Earth orbit departure mass for the fleet was 37,200 metric tons. That is 90 times the mass of the International Space Station that currently orbits the Earth. It was also a use once fleet.
Obviously, cost was a very significant issue.
So people began looking for ways to reduce the cost to something that was actually affordable.
One of the first follow-on proposals was the solar electric Sun Ship.
This was followed by the nuclear electric Umbrella Ship.
After that came the nuclear electric Mars Ion Rocket.
All of these were significant improvements over von Braun’s original proposal, but they were still too expensive.
There have been many others.
Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, “Project Orion” studied the idea of using nuclear pulse propulsion. This was a concept that used small nuclear bombs and a pusher plate to accelerate a spacecraft. It was a great idea in that it offered both high thrust and high performance. Unfortunately, it also meant mass producing thousands of small easily transported nuclear bombs.
Nuclear thermal powered rockets are another type of spacecraft that have been considered for going to Mars.
Variable thrust ion rockets, otherwise known as VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket), are another.
They all work. They all have advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, none of them are affordable enough to make large scale colonization or trips by private individuals possible.
So what is the answer?
A big part of the problem is that all of these spacecraft have to carry the propellant and supplies for a round trip. Afterall, there are no gas stations and grocery stores in space. This leads us to the ideas of outpost space stations, local sources of propellant, prepositioned supplies, and cycler spacecraft.
Index of Articles
- Opening the High Frontier
- Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
- In the Beginning . . .
- Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
- Combination Launch Systems
- It’s All About Speed!
- Visions of the Future
- The Call of an Unlimited Future
- Combination Launch Systems, part 2
- Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
- and someday . . . Starships!
- Mars: how to get there
- Outpost Space Stations
- Dreams of Space
- The Moon or Mars?
- Skyhooks and Space Elevators
- Stratolaunch and the X-15