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Professor envisions future of space

Posted by: Sigurd - Sat Jan 17, 2004 2:36 pm
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Professor envisions future of space 
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Post Professor envisions future of space   Posted on: Sat Jan 17, 2004 2:36 pm

Press Enterprise Writer

BLOOMSBURG — Within 100 years, space may be a place explored by companies instead of governments, with hotels orbiting the Earth and private citizens taking pleasure trips to the moon, says a BU professor.

And despite President Bush's recent speech calling for a mission to Mars, Michael Shepard said he thinks a private company might make it there first.

The seeds are already planted for private exploration, said Shepard, a geoscience professor who played a part in selecting the site for the recent Mars rover landing.

A group called X Prize is offering a $10 million prize to the first company to send three people into space, return them safely and repeat the trip in the same ship two weeks later.

From what Shepard's heard, the first attempts could be within the year.

After that first private flight, Shepard said he expects private companies will become more professional, eventually developing space ships that could orbit the Earth.

Tickets for the flights wouldn't be cheap, he said. But he thinks people with an extra million dollars would be willing to pay for them.

"Then some company will put a Hilton in orbit," Shepard said. The next step after that would be private trips to the moon, he said.

And then, maybe, Mars.

He said that he expects private companies could make it to Mars before a government does.

He was unsure if any government would be willing to endure the costs associated with a trip.

First, there's the financial cost.

"We could do it, but it's a matter of who wants to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into it," he said.

Shepard said Bush's plan to increase NASA's budget by $1 billion over five years would still not be enough to pay for a trip. In fact, the first President Bush, proposed a similar mission that died once the government realized the multi-billion price tag on the project.

Second, there's the human cost.

"We're going to lose people. People are going to die," Shepard said. "And when that happens, will the will to continue still be there?"

Unprecedented ship

If any company or government does send a manned mission to Mars, it would be much more complicated then sending a rover, Shepard said.

"The rover is not coming back, people would have to," he said.

The rover doesn't need air, food or water.

All those things add to the weight, complexity and price of a manned mission to Mars.

The mission would require a spacecraft like one that's never been built before, Shepard said.

The capsule that carried man to the moon fit three people, "and it was fairly small," he said.

The trip to Mars would take six months to get there; the astronauts would likely stay a year, and it would take six months to get back.

Put them into a ship the size of the capsules that went to the moon, "and they'll be nobody alive to come back," Shepard joked.

He said he imagined there would have to be a larger ship and a larger crew.

Once they landed, a human crew would be dealing with some harsh weather. The daytime temperature on Mars approaches a high of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, temperatures can get down to minus-150 F.

"Astronauts would need a good pair of thermal underwear," Shepard said.

Unmanned ships

Before any ship with people in it is sent to the Red Planet, Shepard said there will likely be a number of unmanned probes sent in advance.

Some would determine if the landing site is hospitable to humans.

Another unmanned automated ship could be sent that would manufacture rocket fuel from the chemicals available on the Martian surface. That would reduce the weight and supplies the ship would need to take to the planet, Shepard said.

While that may sound like something from a "Star Trek" episode, Shepard said it's a realistic proposition.

"No one's built them, but they're within our grasp. It's not like we have to invent a warp drive," he said.

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. - Lord Kelvin, 1892

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jan 18, 2004 6:28 pm
hmm.... that's very interesting, i still think that a government will get there before private companies, but i could definitely see a private company being the first to, say, mine a NEA, or maybe even get back to the moon. obviously that would depend on several factors, but i think that definitely by 2020 we'll have private companies sending stuff/people to the moon, and that very well may be before america gets back there.

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