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We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle and the completion of Station assembly, the most current question in the Space world has been “what’s next?“. The obvious answer in everybody’s mind seems to be “Mars“. Yet, Space organisations around the world, policy makers, and even scientists and astronauts, are going out of their way to offer reasons why Mars, while not excluded, should not be the next step. They go to great lengths to explain why Mars is not the obvious answer.

The reasons offered are logical and well founded in science, economics and politics, yet totally contradictory to actual practice. The same institutions and individuals advocating against Mars are ever more vigorously preparing for taking humans to the Red Planet.

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 1960, there have been seven flyby attempts and seven successful flyby missions; eleven orbit attempts and eight successful orbit missions; seven landing attempts and eight successful landings on Mars, and one on its moon Phovos. During this time, four man-made rovers have walked the surface of Mars.

No other planetary body is being looked at, measured and poked, as much as Mars is.

On this day, Mars is being orbited by three spacecraft, while an equal number of rovers are at work on its surface, all actively researching current and past conditions on the planet and resources available:

The 2001 Mars Odyssey – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA


The 2001 Mars Odyssey has been mapping minerals and chemical elements, identifying pockets of buried water ice, measuring the surface temperature, determining radiation levels in low-Mars orbit, and supporting ongoing exploration performed by the rovers on the ground.

Spirit & Opportunity – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA





The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations, and have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.

Mars Express – Artist’s Impression
Credit: ESA



The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. Its main objective is to search for sub-surface water and perform a series of remote-sensing observations designed to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere, the planet’s structure, geology and composition.


The MRO on a polar orbit – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA



The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking out the history of water on Mars, while also testing a new telecommunications system that serves as the first link in an “interplanetary Internet” between the Earth and the Solar System.

Curiosity self-portrait
Credit: NASA




The Curiosity rover, a full-blown laboratory, is analyzing samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks of Mars, to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.



Only two weeks ago, India launched it’s first mission to orbit Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission and, as these lines are being written, NASA is preparing to launch the MAVEN spacecraft which will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind in an effort to acquire insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and its habitability.

And there’s still more to come.

Elements of the ExoMars program 2016-2018
Credit: ESA

ESA, in partnership with Roscosmos, has now embarked on an ambitious long-term robotic exploration programme, called ExoMars. An ESA-led orbiter – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – capable of tracing methane in the Martian atmosphere, will be launched in 2016, followed by the Agency’s flagship ExoMars rover, in 2018. ExoMars will have the ability to drill up to 2 metres beneath the Martian surface searching for chemical evidence that might have been preserved from solar radiation.

Also in the near future, NASA’s InSight mission will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

Clearly, mankind has been going, and is still going to Mars! The scientific objectives  of all the above missions may vary in their specifics, yet they all seem to be pointing to the same general goal: sustainability of life on Mars. “Life as we know it”, that is.

At the same time, back on Earth and in orbit,  numerous experiments are being performed researching and advancing human ability to withstand long duration space flight from a physiological and psychological perspective. Mars spacesuits are being built and tested. And desert or arctic locations are being used to simulate the inhospitable environment of the Martian surface.

Finally, institutions and industry are racing to develop the technical capabilities to launch us beyond LEO and into the Solar System. NASA next space vehicle, for example, is being built with the explicit parameter of being able to carry humans to Mars.

All the pieces of the puzzle are pointing in one direction: The commitment to put humans on Mars has already been made. The denial phase is over. Let’s move into acceptance.


Additional sources: NASA’s Mars Exploration ProgramThe Planetary SocietyWikipediaRussian Space Web 


The First International Space Exploration Symposium in Japan

I will be attending a two day symposium organized by JAXA in Tokyo. The theme is Space Exploration for Humanity and the Future. It will open Tuesday October 30 at 1300, Japan time. The complete program can be found at the following address:


I will try to cover the event live on Twitter with pictures. Even if it proves difficult (power supply problems, etc.) I will write about it here later in the week.

As you can see, the philosophical aspects of space exploration will be discussed but also its future. With the attendance of top executives from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Mitsubishi HI, SpaceX among others, we can expect some interesting talks about the commercial aspects of space exploration.

I also intend to make use of the event to contact persons interested in starting a SpaceUp or Space Tweetup events in Japan in the near future.
Anyone interested can contact me through my Twitter account @ScienceInSpace
I am looking forward to having an active exchange with my fellow Spacetweeps from all around the world.

Philippe Valdois


The Russians always launch

Extreme weather no objection for Soyuz

Weer Magazine article spreadCircumstances at Baikonur were perfect when cosmonaut André Kuipers was launched into space last December: Temperatures around -30 degrees Centigrade and crystal clear skies. Why do the Russians continue using their remote base in the middle of Kazachstan’s endless steppe?


SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Launch Day!

SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Launch Day!

More launch pads, SoyuzTweetup and a Launch!

Launch dayBaikonur, 21 December 2011 – Finally. Today is the day we have been living up to for a long time. The launch of Soyuz TMA-03M, with ‘the’ Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers on board. It is still dark outside when I wake up around 8 o’clock. Today our program consists of two major visits. First we will go to the furthest launch location at the cosmodrome: the Proton launch facility. Then we have some time in the city before going to launch pad 1 for the launch in the early evening.


SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Day 3

Launch Pads, Space Shuttle and Public Outreach

Gagarin MonumentBaikonur, 20 December 2011 – After breakfast at our hotel we are greeted again by our guide Elena and driver Said. The uncomfortable van is heated up and waiting for us, this time with the Tsenki security lady already inside. When we leave she hands us two “cosmodrome rules” forms and asks us to sign a list with our names on it. No idea why this was not needed yesterday, but we happily comply. We are waved past the city exit checkpoint, and easily pass the cosmodrome entrance checkpoint. Then again a long empty road to the cosmodrome facilities. This time we go straight on, towards the far end of this middle section at site 250. This launch pad is no longer active, but of great historical importance, as it was built for the Russian space shuttle Buran in the 1980’s.

SoyuzTweetup Baikonur – Day 2

A week in one day

Soyuz rocketBaikonur, 19 December 2011 – At the moment I write this I have spent 28 hours in Baikonur. That is 26 more than when I wrote my blog yesterday. But it feels like more, way more. A day with a full schedule and weird coincidences, which can turn an ordinary trip into a great adventure! It definitely turned these 26 hours into an experience that feels like a week. It started with the alarm clock at 7:30 this morning… (more…)

SoyuzTweetup: A new virtual space tweetup concept?

When starting the initiative for a space tweetup in Baikonur I was hoping for a large number of live attendees to accompany me to Kazakhstan for the December 21 launch. But with launch dates being suspended indefinitely after the Progress M12-M loss in August, and a late announcement of new – still uncertain – launch dates around Christmas, it is not a surprise that many interested would not risk an expensive trip to the middle of nowhere under those circumstances.

So here I am, rethinking the idea of the tweetup. How can we have a tweetup without any other spacetweeps in Baikonur? Well, the answer is simple: I will have all fellow spacetweeps travelling with me! This is 2011! Virtual presence at a  tweetup is as valuable as physical presence! Past launch events have shown that tweeps do not necessarily need to be onsite to have great interaction with each other and with folks present! Livestream video is now commonplace during all international launches, be it by NASA, Roscosmos, Arianespace or even the Chinese space agency. A combination of Twitter and these live images make for a great event.

So no need to be disappointed about travelling to Baikonur by myself (well, in a small tour group with a handful of non-tweeps space fans). I will represent all my spacetweep friends that follow the event through several news updates, video feeds and my reports on twitter! And I will do my best to add some couleur locale to all that news. Sort of a live onsite reporter on twitter for all my followers. I will do the travel and stand the blistering cold, while the other participants can enjoy the experience from the warmth of their own home or office 🙂

I am looking forward to traveling to Baikonur with all of you! Please follow my live adventures here, from 17 until 24 December.

Note: Remco will travel to Baikonur to attend the launch of Soyuz TMA-03M on 21 December 2011. On this date NASA astronaut Donald Pettit (@astro_pettit), ESA astronaut André Kuipers (@astro_andre) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononeko will be launched to ISS. Here they will join the current ISS crew to form a normal 6-men crew again, as expedition 30 and 31.

Russian launch to mark golden anniversary of human spaceflight


Russia and the world will begin celebrations Tuesday of the golden anniversary of humankind’s first steps into space with the launch of two Russians and one American aboard a Soyuz bound for the International Space Station.

The flight will also carry Meco, the Space Tweep Society Birdonaut, into orbit for a lengthy stay aboard the orbiting lab.

It was April 12, 1961, in which Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted-off from a then-secret launch site to become the first human ever to not only fly in space but to orbit the earth.

Russia in his honor has named the crew’s Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft Gagarin in honor of the late-cosmonaut.

Two Cosmonauts, Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineer Andrei Borisenko, and NASA astronaut and flight engineer Ron Garan are scheduled to lift-off aboard a Soyuz-FG rocket on April 4 at 6:18 p.m. EDT (4:18 a.m. April 5 local time), from the Baikonur Cosmosdrome in western Kazakhstan.


Sputnik – The Launch of Space

Sputnik 1 was launched 53 years ago, on October 4th, 1957. In many ways, it can be seen as the launch of the space age. Being the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, it started the space race which led to Buzz and Neil landing on the moon in 1969 and contributed to the demise of Communism.

Most of the people writing nowadays about space weren’t alive yet in 1957, myself included. As such, we cannot fully grasp the feelings that swept through the United States of America knowing a USSR made object was flying invisible and uninterrupted above its skies. However, from the events which proceeded it is obvious, to put it mildly, that it was a very big deal.

In the full blog post I drew parallels with the first Wright brothers flight in 1903, discussed satellites in our daily lives and CubeSats. I also supplied some useful links regarding this historic day.

Read the full blog post here: http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/10/sputnik-launch-of-space.html

P.S. You can still add entries to my Poll regarding the Discovery launch at http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/09/next-space-shuttle-launch-informal-poll.html. Thanks!

Russian Resupply Craft set for Wednesday Launch

A Soyuz U stands ready for it's Wednesday lift-off from Baikonur. (Yuznhy Space Center)

Russia’s Soyuz Prepares for Lift-off Tomorrow. (Yuznhy Space Center)

A Russian cargo spacecraft will journey into earth orbit on Wednesday carrying supplies and equipment bound for the International Space Station.

A Soyuz U rocket with the Progress M-05M (37) resupply craft is set to launch at 1:15 pm EDT (1715 GMT) on Wednesday, from Pad 1 at the Baikonour Cosmosdrome in Kazakhstan.

The two-stage Soyuz U rocket stands a few inches above 167-feet tall at launch. It’s twenty core stage engines and eight smaller stabilizer engines provide much of the thrust during the first few minutes of flight.

This will be the thirty-seventh Progress to ferry supplies to the space station.
The Progress is scheduled to dock to the Pirs Docking Compartment at about 2PM on Saturday afternoon.

The unmanned cargo ship will carry 110 pounds of air and oxygen; 220 pounds of water; 1,918 pounds of propellant; and 3,031 pounds of experiment hardware and spare parts for the station’s six person crew.

On Sunday, the six-member station crew will open the hatches to Progress and begin unstowing the supplies.

The current Expedition 23 crew includes Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi, Mikhail Kornienko, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Alexander Skvortsov.

The nearly 24-foot Progress uses two solar arrays to power the vehicle’s time in space. Nine minutes after launch, the craft will begin to deploy the arrays and a high gain antenna.

On April 22, the trash-filled older Progress M03-M (35) undocked from station to make room for the new craft’s arrival. Mission control in Moscow will fire its deorbit thrusters today for three minutes at 2:05 pm EDT (10:05 pm Moscow) to send it toward a reentry where it will burn up.

During the craft’s recent solo flight, a program test known as the
Radar-Progress technical experiment was performed.

“The experiment is aimed at defining density, sizes and reflectivity of the ionosphere environment around the vehicle, which is caused by operations of the Progress` liquid propellant engines,” Russian Space Agency public affairs told this reporter in a recent message.

Fragments of the craft are expected to splashdown at just before 3 PM EDT over the southern Pacific Ocean in a region located at 42 degrees south by 141 degrees west.

The next Progress launch is to take place in two months on June 28.


Russia Announces They Have a Mini-Space Shuttle

The Russian Space Agency announced on Friday that they have a delta winged space shuttle in which
they say can deliver payloads to orbit.

the Multipurpose Aerospace System (MAKS), the Russian shuttle has the
same style and size as the American Air Force’s recently launched X37-B

unlike the X37-B which used an Atlas 5-501 rocket to achieve orbit on Thursday, the MAKS will use an airplane carrier to achieve the initial
climb to orbit.

manufacture Molnia’s Vladimir Skorodelov, a general designer in the company’s research and development, acknowledged
his country’s mini-shuttle on the heels of the American launch of
two space shuttles this month — Discovery and the X37-B.

spacecraft was designed in ’80s and it is still in work. This is a
reusable multipurpose aerospace system of the same size as U.S. Х-37,”
Skorodelov stated to TASS news.

Skorodelov also mentioned that Russia is eager to see it launched soon.

space agency stated that the cost of sending 2.2 pounds of cargo
into space is between one to two thousand dollars. They stated that the
American shuttle costs nearly $20,000 for the same weight.

Russia experimented with an unmanned space shuttle in the 1980’s, which had nearly the same dimensions as the U.S. orbiters.

Soviet Union’s space shuttle Buran (below) made one unmanned trip into space
in November 1988. But the fall of the Soviet Union, and the country’s cash-strapped space program canceled their shuttle program in 1992.

Review: “Space Tourists” provides a rare glimpse of Kazakhstan


Reposted from The Space Review, Monday February 1

Space Tourists Poster

Going into Space Tourists, a film that had its North American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary, I was expecting a barrage of X PRIZE Foundation footage and personal video shot by Anousheh Ansari on the International Space Station (ISS). Instead, it was clear from the start that Christian Frei’s space documentary was going something completely different. Anousheh Ansari paid $20 million for her dream experience aboard the ISS, being launched from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz rocket. As Anousheh elegantly states, “How do you put a price on a dream?”

Anousheh’s space mission wasn’t simply a tourist paying a lot of money to go to space, but she had a very profound and personal mission that wasn’t captured in the film. The film definitely uses Anousheh’s beautiful quotes from her experience, but the footage that was selected included mostly domestic chores and very little on the science that she was conducting. This selection was probably used to help contrast with another major part of this movie, the Kazakh scavengers of rockets. A secondary industry exists in Kazakhstan that I never thought existed. The documentary followed a group of metal salvagers on their journey to recover falling rocket stages that they fetch to sell the aluminum and titanium to China. This footage is so rare that it makes this movie a must-see for anyone in the space industry and anyone with an interest in cultural and historical impacts of space on small communities. Amazingly, portions of the second stages of the Soyuz rocket sometimes land in populated areas. The metals are sometimes considered a gift and they are used to repair holes in roofs—sometimes holes they created. The film also mentions concerns that the toxic propellants used in these stages may be adversely affecting the local environment.The movie starts with helicopter footage of Anousheh returning to Earth with a violent retrorocket blast from her capsule on impact, a measure used to soften the landing on hard Kazakh terrain. The story then shifts back in time to focus on photographer Jonas Bendiksen’s journey to the former Soviet Union. As a space enthusiast in North America, this is where I really started to appreciate footage of old rocket parts randomly scattered in small towns, used in playground rides and in statues commemorating the proud and growing space industry. Statues of Sputnik and paintings on old brick buildings dilapidated over time set the tone of the movie, indicating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was also the collapse of the space program. Footage of Baikonur Cosmodrome was eerie as it reminded me of the historic and rusty launch pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Boarded up buildings near the Russian launch facilities in Kazakhstan where employees once lived gave a sense of how big an operation was in play during the Cold War, and a rotting Buran (USSR’s space shuttle design, copying the USA’s Shuttle fleet) showed evidence of significant space program cutbacks.

Overall the movie had excellent contrasts between life on the ISS and workers in Kazakhstan and how in some cases they depend on each other in a strange symbiotic relationship. Another movie highlight was the old Russian space folk music used in the background that showed how deep into the culture space had once penetrated. The story did jump around a lot and perhaps stretched out too much in some parts, but getting to see such unique and rare footage was fantastic.Space Tourists makes many subtle points, but repetitive commentary on the financial need for commercial activities reaffirms a somber instead of exciting tone to the activities. The movie has additional stories of Microsoft Word & Excel’s chief architect Charles Simonyi training at Star City for his personal spaceflight while Anousheh is on the ISS. The movie then tries to look ahead at the future by following the former Ansari X PRIZE team Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA) during a balloon lift hardware test, and their intent to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE at the team summit that was held the International Space University. ARCA’s team lead and President, Dumitru Popescu, is passionate about space because “it’s fun” and that he is not that interested in being a “tourist” but wants to build his own hardware. Although the side story has cool footage and a personal look at ARCA, it wasn’t necessary for the story.

The Soyuz is the most reliable and robust launch vehicle ever built and watching scenes of its integration made it seem very routine and safe. Watching the rocket roll out on a train track, get tilted upright, loaded and launched gave me an overwhelming feeling of how routine space was becoming. After all, it’s only rocket science!

Ryan L. Kobrick is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) in Aerospace Engineering Sciences researching lunar dust abrasion funded by NASA’s Graduate Student Researchers Program. Ryan’s space CV includes three internships/contracts at the X PRIZE Foundation, four two-week Mars simulations at the Mars Desert Research Station, and a 100-day Mars simulation at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station with a crew of seven. Ryan is the Program Manager on the 2010 Yuri’s Night Global Executive, a member of the Executive Advisory Committee for the CU-Boulder chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (CUSEDS), and is the Director of Research & Development for the “We Want Our Future” initiative. Opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not represent those of CU-Boulder or NASA.