“It’s a daunting engineering task, but, that’s what makes it exciting” says Canadian Filmmaker James Cameron. James Cameron may be better known for his work with the Titanic project, but what he brings to NASA’s dinner table is a unique understanding of hostile environments. It is for that reason that he is part of the team looking at how to conquer Mars. In episode two of Mars Rising – Rocket Power we get to look at the challenge of building rockets for the mission to Mars.

Atlas served us well in our conquest of the Moon, but Mars will require a new generation of boosters. 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, for this mission to be successful many of our systems will need to be rethought.

Episode 3 Mars Rising – Staying Alive premieres tonight at 7pm eastern on Discovery. Tonights episode looks at the challenges, both physical and psychological that the crew would have to face on a mission of this sort. With a total duration approaching 1000 days, there are many aspects that need consideration.

Simon Barrett


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