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Proposal using Shuttle External Tanks for Mars Missions
In planning a manned Mars mission, NASA's major concerns for crew health are radiation from Solar storms and health problems associated with weightlessness. The Space Island design addresses both of these concerns.
There are theories suggesting that we may someday be able to construct a light weight radiation shield, using some sort of electronic field. That likelihood, however, is still years away. As of now, scientists have only one way to protect against radiation: by surrounding the crew with large masses of shielding. In our design, this radiation shielding would be provided in several ways. First, the hull of the ship is 1/2" thick aluminum alloy. This alone will provide shielding against background cosmic radiation. Second, the shear size of the ship cuts down the exposure from small Solar flares of any single area; as the ship rotates, some portion of the ship will always be in shadow, lowering overall average exposure. Third, and most important, when a severe storm occurs the crew can withdraw to the inner portions of the ship, placing more of the ship's mass between them and the radiation. This is only practical in a large vessel with a lot of volume per person. The Space Island ship pictured here is constructed of 28 modules. Each module has as much volume as a Boeing 747. In a pinch, the entire crew of 100 could be housed comfortably in any one of those 28 modules. During a storm, the crew would withdraw to the center module of the ship's hub, being completely surrounded by six other modules, which are used for water, fuel, supplies, and equipment storage. Here the crew will be fully protected from any Solar storm.
Long periods of weightlessness are known to cause bone loss and muscle atrophy, among other things. Aboard Mir and the International Space Station, facilities are provided for the crew to exercise, which overcomes some of the health concerns associated with weightlessness. Unfortunately, exercising in zero-g is difficult to accomplish, and not much fun. Normal exercise, such as sports, dance, jogging, etc., are out of the question. The only exercises that are of much value in zero-g are calisthenics using tread mills and various types of resistance training. These exercises can be used, but they have not been completely successful in arresting the effects of weightlessness.
Our ship solves the health issue quite simply: eliminate the problem by eliminating the cause. In other words, eliminate weightlessness. The ship's rotation provides about 1/3 normal Earth gravity (1/3-g). This does two things for human health. First, even 1/3-g gives us a lot of exercise by simply walking, working, and day-to-day living. Second, it also makes possible more enjoyable forms of exercise, such as dance, volleyball, racquet ball, etc. The large size of the ship will allow room for these or other activities.
Why such a large vessel? Why not a make a faster trip with only one or two modules? The reasons for having a large vessel become evident once it reaches The Red Planet. There will be plenty of room to live and work. There will be enough room for physical activities as discussed above. There will be space for growing food onboard. Additionally, there will be space for almost any conceivable experiments that we may wish to include in the mission. In short, the mission will accomplish more and will be able to do more science.
The large scale of the ship provides another important consideration. We have the opportunity to plan this trip as a colonization, rather than an exploration. In other words, we may choose to make it a one-way trip. This vessel will be as large, or larger, than the Space Island stations planned for Earth orbit. It is large enough to be self-sustaining; growing food, processing raw materials to replenish oxygen and water supplies, and even manufacturing its own rocket fuel. In short, this ship can be a self-sustaining colony in orbit around Mars (or any other planet). A self-sustaining colony has another huge advantage over a small scale mission: safety. The reason that NASA generally rules out a rescue mission when discussing Mars is because of the time needed for another team to reach the planet. In the event of trouble, with a large venture of this kind, time is not so much of a problem. The trip, after all, was planned with the crew being self-sufficient. A rescue or, more likely, a resupply mission therefore becomes feasible.
Once the ship/colony has inserted itself into orbit around the Red Planet, preparations would begin for the first manned landing. Two of the modules near the hub of the station will have been fitted as detachable landers. The landers are standard modules with the addition of rocket engines for landing and takeoff, control systems and thrusters, navigation systems, and landing gear. Basic equipment would be ferried to the surface and an outpost established. Soil samples would be collected, and fuel would be manufactured for future landings and for use by the main ship in maintaining its orbit. Water would also be extracted from the soil for use in replenishing supplies.
When we go to Mars, we want it to be an ongoing enterprise. We don't want to happen on Mars what happened on The Moon (go to The Moon, come home, and quit). The Space Island Colony, being self-sufficient, would remain at Mars, insuring a permanent human presence there. This is not to say that the colony would be totally isolated. There would be many things that the colonists could not manufacture, such as replacement parts for equipment. Just as the colonists in North America received goods from the Old World, the Mars colonists would certainly receive occasional resupply from Earth. Then, in time, the colony would expand itself. As the cycle of growth continued, Mars would become more and more self reliant. Just as the "colonists" of North America are now fully independent, so Mars will one day be able to manufacture everything needed for their own people.
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