“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, were the immortal words that President J. F. Kennedy spoke when he announced America’s intention to travel to the moon. In the grand scheme of things the moon is small potatoes. Mankind is poised to to take the next teetering step to conquering the stars, a trip to Mars. The enormity of the undertaking can not be overstated. The Science Channel is exploring the hurdles that need to be overcome to turn this dream into reality in their groundbreaking series Mars Rising. William Shatner narrates this interesting and innovative documentary series. Who better to tell us how to get there than Captain Kirk!

This week (Tuesday, Nov 6, 9pm) we get the second installment, Rocket Power. Going to the moon is like going to the local 7/11 for a slurpee, going to Mars is more akin to driving coast to coast non stop in a 1978 Ford Pinto with no Triple A coverage!

“It’s a daunting engineering task, but, that’s what makes it exciting”  Canadian Filmmaker James Cameron tells us. Although James Cameron may be better known for his work with the Titanic project, he is also part of the NASA team looking at the problems of getting us to the Red Planet. He brings new skills to the NASA dining table, he has a great understanding of survival in a hostile environment, and Mars is nothing is not hostile. In episode two of Mars Rising – Rocket Power we get to look at the challenge of building rockets for the mission to Mars.

The Atlas platform served us well in our conquest of the Moon, but Mars will require a new generation of heavy lift launch vehicles. The current thinking is that it will take at lease 10 launches just to get the hardware in orbit. To achieve this a new class of heavy lifter is being designed. Dubbed the Aries class it comes in two flavors, Aries One is the crew launcher, and Aries 5 is the ‘18 wheeler’ of the space program, it will have the capability of lifting a hundred tons. This is far more than the current workhorse, the Shuttle can handle.

There is no doubt in my mind that an enterprise like manned missions to Mars far exceeds the capabilities of a single country, the cost factor is enormous. The only hope for success is co-operation, yet that does not seem to be happening at the moment, the two space superpowers have divergent ideas about the direction forward. NASA preferring to return to the ‘tear drop’ capsule design known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). Orion to it’s friends! While Russia prefers a winged Shuttle like vehicles that it calls Clipper.

Either way though there is broad agreement on the need for heavy lift rockets, and the need to assemble the huge craft in orbit. This idea by the way is not new, 50 years ago German rocket pioneer Von Braun proposed this very idea for a Mars mission.
Rockets as we know them today require a chemical reaction to work, chemicals are heavy, and they are inefficient. Weight is one of the biggest challenges facing the mission. One solution may be a trip ‘back to the future’. Nuclear power can reduce the weight requirement by 50%. One thing is clear though, for this mission to be successful many of our systems will need to be rethought.

This is ‘must see’ TV.

Simon Barrett


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