Pasadena, California -- At a conference filled with visions of low-cost space exploration, scientists [on April 29, 1998] concentrated on a thorny problem: How to get man and machinery back from Mars.
Researchers think Mars may be the easiest planet for future manned missions to reach, but getting back from Mars to Earth is another thing.
The answer might just be a Martian "gas station" using the planet's own resources to make fuel for the return trip home, Paul Mueller told fellow space scientists at the third annual International Astronautical Association Conference on Low Cost Planetary Missions here.
While there have been several successful landings on Mars by unmanned craft, taking off from the Red Planet "is certainly more difficult than anything we have done so far," Mueller said.
Mueller, a senior research engineer at the Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory, said that the best way to return samples to Earth in unmanned missions to Mars, as envisioned in NASA's plans over the next six years, was "BYOP" or Bring Your Own Propellants.
"But for any kind of human mission where you are trying to bring people back, there's almost universal agreement that producing the power on Mars is the preferred way to go," he said.
Mueller's team, in conjunction with NASA's scientists at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, are developing a system that will compress carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and mix it with hydrogen brought from Earth to produce water and methane, the basic ingredients needed for a propulsion system.
"The current plan . . . is you land an unmanned propellant production plant on Mars and let it sit there and make propellant and then when it radios back and says it's full and ready to go, then you make a decision to send people. You wait until you have the fuel there until you send your people there," Mueller said.
CNI News readers interested in a detailed discussion of this approach to human exploration of Mars are encouraged to read "The Case for Mars," by Robert Zubrin (Free Press, 1996).
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