As US Abandons Manned Flight, China, Russia, Europe Train For Space Colonization with Mars500

As US Abandons Manned Flight, China, Russia, Europe Train For Space Colonization with Mars500


June 7, 20103:12 PM MST

As I have indicated in Seizing The Future, The Future Factor and other books, there are a host of military and economic reasons for a nation to explore and colonize space. Not the least of these is gaining access to the mother lode of rare minerals and energy resources found on the

Moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars. There is also a more transcendent reason for pursuing this mission: As I argued in The Future Factor, our species is destined to establish a human presence throughout the universe, and ultimately to transform and perfect it.


From the 1950s to the 1970s the United States and the former USSR dominated space exploration. Now, a number of countries, including a variety of European and Asian countries as well as Brazil have been sending up communication and military satellites and making preparations for ambitious manned space missions. A few years ago China became the third nation to launch a human into space. Japan just announced its plans to establish a robotic moon colony by 2020.


To prepare for human space flight to distant orbs, a number of countries this week initiated a project called Mars500, a mission designed to examine the physical and psychological stresses astronauts might encounter during a 520-day trip to Mars.


An international team of six researchers will experience this simulated manned mission to Mars housed in a virtual spacecraft sitting inside a large hangar at Moscow's Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

The spacecraft is actually a series of interconnected steel cylinders called "Bochka," or barrel. Inside the spacecraft are small (32 square feet) windowless living quarters, personal cabins furnished with a bed, desk, chair and shelves. The self-contained environment is equipped with enough food, water, and other supplies to last the whole trip as well as video games, books, and other materials to amuse the crew during their leisure hours.


The crew will spend the first 250 days “flying” to Mars, and after landing will explore the simulated model of the Martian terrain attached to the spacecraft module. Then the crew will embark on a 230-day return flight, finally exiting the enclosed environment in November, 2011.


The six-person crew was chosen from hundreds of applicants. The commander, a recently- married Russian commander named Aleksei Sitev, 38, has worked at Russia’s cosmonaut training centre. The doctor, Sukhrob Kamolov, 32, and one of the researchers, Aleksander Smoleyevsky, 33, are also Russian. Other researchers include Wang Yue, 26, from China’s space training centre, and Diego Urbina, 27, an Italian- Colombian. The flight engineer is 31 year old Frenchman Romain Charles.


Mars500 will provide these countries with a wealth of knowledge about the technological obstacles and psychological trials and tribulations a space crew will encounter both during the flight to Mars and while on the planet itself. By mission’s end China, Russia, and theEuropean Space Agency will be years ahead of the US on the space learning curve.


Clearly the US is falling behind in the global space race. Recently the Obama administration decided to direct NASA's funding away from manned space flight to the Moon and beyond. The US is even ending its shuttle program this year.

Although the President did give lip service to the goal of colonizing Mars in the mid-2030s, many critics, including Mars Society president Robert Zubrin, were unmoved by this weak and ambiguous commitment to space exploration. "It basically means that they don't have to start working on it while they're in office," Zubrin said.




Sadly, it appears that Obama plans to expend little energy or resources on the space program for the remainder of his term. He will provide the occasional “vote of confidence” to private companies such as SpaceX when they successfully launch rockets they have constructed.


However, while SpaceX’s recent successful launch ofFalcon 9 is laudable, many have suggested that the company was merely replicating technological feats NASA achieved half a century ago.




The Mars500 program must serve as a wake-up call to the administration and the American public that the rest of the world is about to venture “where no man has gone before,” and leave America in its “space dust” in the process. The next Congress must pressure the President to reconsider his decision to decelerate the US space program, and convince him to begin the process of restoring the American space program to its former glory.





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