The first section provides the background to sending a human mission to Mars. Analogies are made with early polar exploration and the expeditions of Shackleton, Amundsen, and Mawson. The interplanetary plans of the European Space Agency, NASA, and Russia are examined, including the possibility of one or more nations joining forces to send humans to Mars. Current mission architectures, such as NASA’s Constellation, ESA’s Aurora, and Ross Tierney’s DIRECT, are described and evaluated.
The next section looks at how humans will get to the Red Planet, beginning with the preparation of the crew. The author examines the various analogues to understand the problems Mars-bound astronauts will face. Additional chapters describe the transportation hardware necessary to launch 4-6 astronauts on an interplanetary trajectory to Mars, including the cutting edge engineering and design of life support systems required to protect crews for more than a year from the lethal radiation encountered in deep space. NASA’s current plan is to use standard chemical propulsion technology, but eventually Mars crews will take advantage of advanced propulsion concepts, such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, ion drives and nuclear propulsion.
The interplanetary options for reaching Mars, as well as the major propulsive maneuvers required and the trajectories and energy requirements for manned and unmanned payloads, are reviewed . Another chapter addresses the daunting medical problems and available countermeasures for humans embarking on a mission to Mars: the insidious effects of radiation on the human body and the deleterious consequences of bone and muscle deconditioning. Crew selection will be considered, bearing in mind the strong possibility that they may not be able to return to Earth. Still another chapter describes the guidance, navigation, and control system architecture, as well as the lander design requirements and crew tasks and responsibilities required to touch down on the Red Planet.
Section 3 looks at the surface mission architectures. Seedhouse describes such problems as radiation, extreme temperatures, and construction challenges that will be encountered by colonists. He examines proposed concepts for transporting cargo and astronauts long distances across the Martian surface using magnetic levitation systems, permanent rail systems, and flying vehicles. In the penultimate chapter of the book, the author explains an adaptable and mobile exploration architecture that will enable long-term human exploration of Mars, perhaps making it the next space-based tourist location.
Until China successfully launched taikonauts into orbit, China’s space program had attracted little international attention. The book opens with an analysis of the short fifteen-year history of the China National Space Administration and its long list of accomplishments. Chapter 2 assesses Sino-U.S. technological and commercial interests in space and their implications in fuelling a potential space race. The national security objectives of the U.S. and China are examined, showing how their intentions are increasingly leading to the military integration of space technologies. Chapter 3 describes China’s anxieties about U.S. space power, its obsession with national prestige, and how manned spaceflight is viewed as a crucial element to sustain the legitimacy of the Communist Party. China is currently focusing on similar goals to those of NASA’s Constellation Program - lunar and Mars exploration. The following chapter examines the ambitious plans of both nations, and evaluates whether China’s bold goal of landing taikonauts on the Moon by 2020 is matched by the necessary capability.
In Chapter 5 Dr Seedhouse describes the space hardware being developed by the U.S. and China and the strides taken by China in its attempt to match the technological capability of the U.S. The following chapter provides an overview of China’s introductory manned spaceflights and shows how, despite a lack of experience, the Chinese may soon be in a position to challenge the U.S. in a race to the Moon. In Chapter 7, the author discusses how China’s manned space program can boost the country’s international prestige and also examines the notion of manned spaceflight as a risky way to boost national status and the potential implications of a disaster akin to Challenger and Columbia.
Chapter 8 addresses the questions of alliances and cooperation between NASA and ESA and China and Russia, or, alternatively, the U.S. and China pursuing their space ambitions alone. The implications of each way forward in the context of a looming competition in space are considered. Chapter 9 discusses the repercussions of a Chinese space program overtaking NASA and whether the U.S. has the political will to advance its own space program to prevent its position as sole space superpower being usurped. Given the mutual suspicions existing in both countries, it is perhaps inevitable that Washington and Beijing are on a collision course in space. The final chapter describes the implications of such a confrontation and discusses what, if anything, can be done to avert a new space race.
Then, on October 21, 2014, tragedy struck. SpaceShipTwo was on its most ambitious test flight to date. Seconds after firing its engine, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship was breaking through the sound barrier. In just the three seconds that it took for the vehicle to climb from Mach 0.94 to Mach 1.02, co-pilot Mike Alsbury made what many close to the event believe was a fatal mistake that led to his death and the disintegration of SpaceShipTwo. Miraculously, the pilot, Peter Siebold, survived the 16-km fall back to Earth.
Soon after the event Branson vowed to continue his space tourism venture in spite of this. Already a second SpaceShipTwo is being built, and ticket-holders eagerly await the day when Virgin Galactic offers quick, routine and affordable access to the edge of space. This book explains the hurdles Virgin Galactic had and still has to overcome en route to developing suborbital space travel as a profitable economic entity, and describes the missions that will be flown on board SpaceShipTwo Mk II, including high-altitude science studies, astronomy, life sciences, and microgravity physics.
Section I begins by describing how Astronauts for Hire (A4H) was created in 2010 by Brian Shiro, a highly qualified NASA astronaut candidate, and a group of other astronaut candidates. Erik introduces A4H's vision for opening the space frontier to commercial astronauts and describes the tantalizing science opportunities offered when suborbital and orbital trips become routine.
Section II describes the vehicles astronauts will use. Anticipation is on the rise for the new crop of commercial suborbital and orbital spaceships that will serve the scientific and educational market. These reusable rocket-propelled vehicles are expected to offer quick, routine, and affordable access to the edge of space, along with the capability to carry research and educational crew members. The quick turnaround of these vehicles is central to realizing the profit-making potential of repeated sojourns by astronauts to suborbital and orbital heights.
Section III describes the various types of missions this new corps of astronauts will fly and who will hire them. For example, suborbital flights may be used to do high altitude astronomy, life science experiments, and microgravity physics. This section continues with an examination of the types of missions that will accelerate human expansion outward, to Exploration Class missions through lunar bases, the establishment of interplanetary spaceports, and outposts on the surface of Mars. Along the way it describes the tasks commercial astronauts will perform, ranging from mining asteroids to harvesting helium.
Commercial spaceports in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Alaska, as well as in countries like Curaçao and Sweden, are becoming home to dozens of private aerospace companies and provide a place where cutting-edge technology can be developed, tested and launched into space. Based on original interviews with principles at the various companies involved and on-site observations at the Mojave Air and Space Port, the author traces the early days of the spaceport movement and outlines what lies ahead.