Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2153rd Meeting

Speaker: S. Fred Singer, President, Science & Environmental Policy Project
Topic: “A Manned Mission to the Mysterious Moons of Mars”

President Collins called the 2153rd meeting of the Philosophical Society of Washington to order at 8:20 p.m. on November 22, 2002. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2152nd meeting and they were approved.

The speaker for the 2153rd meeting was Fred Singer, director of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Arlington, Virginia and Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. The title of his presentation was, “A Manned Mission to the Mysterious Moons of Mars.”

The International Space Station project has consumed on the order of $100 billion, producing sound technical advances but meager scientific returns. However, the Space Station project can provide the basis for manned exploration of Mars, with huge scientific returns for only a modest additional cost. The most effective project is to place a manned laboratory on the Martian moon Deimos and explore the Mars surface with robots. Returning Martian samples to the Deimos laboratory for analyses allows for prompt decisions for further exploration of promising Martian locations compared to sending the samples back to earth and then figuring out where to look next during the next visit. Augmenting the mission with manned sorties to Mars itself and to the other Martian moon, Phobos would add considerably to planetary science and surely satisfy those who look forward to human habitation of Mars. Here Mr. Singer pointed out that the Martian moons were discovered by our own Naval Observatory here in Washington in 1877.

Mr. Singer then divided his presentation into three topics. The first, “Why should we be interested in the subject of a manned mission to Mars,” the second, “What should be done?” and lastly, “How do we do it?”

The first topic, “Why should we be interested?” is answered in straightforward fashion, to improve our scientific understanding of Mars, its moons, and related subjects. Areas that need objective study include understanding the internal structure of Mars and its moons, and understanding the origins and geology of Mars and its moons. For example, we could get data on the origin and geologic evolution of Mars, which would surely include information on the climate changes that transformed Mars from a warm and wet, Earth-like planet into the dry, cold one we now behold.

Introducing the next topic, “What should be done?” Mr. Singer pointed out that our Apollo program was never really finished. Essentially, we visited and looked at the Earths moon, lost interest and ran out of money. Further, the current Space Station program is not an end in itself. We need a clear end goal – a program with strong public support, such as a manned mission to Mars. The simplest approach for a manned mission would be a fly-by of the planet. However, a two-year flight that puts astronauts near Mars for only a few hours would not be very cost-effective or inspire much enthusiasm. A more complex, but the most practical and cost effective approach is to establish an inhabited station near Mars – but not on it. Here a manned space laboratory orbiting Mars for weeks or months without landing would give the highest benefit for the least cost, particularly if the lab was anchored to one of the stable Martian moons. It would cost about $30 billion and would not require the complicated and costly propulsion system needed by manned spacecraft that could enter and leave the Martian atmosphere. Further, the lab would be close enough to direct remote-controlled rovers on the Martian surface to gather data and collect samples. The data and the samples would then be analyzed there at the local lab. Mr. Singer described how these studies could not be done effectively with unmanned spacecrafts and rovers controlled by scientists back here on Earth. The communication delays are too long with an hour required for a control signal to make the trip from Earth to Mars. Further, it would take a year or more for a sample to be returned for analysis.

Mr. Singer pointed out that a real cost benefit analysis for a Martian mission is not easy because it's difficult to get reliable cost numbers for the benefits. However, the cost side of the equation is straightforward. There are really three manned mission scenarios. Each involves a man - either at the Johnson Space Center in Houston driving an unmanned Martian rover, a man on the Martian surface also using an unmanned rover because he can't easily move around on the dusty planet, and lastly a man at a base on gravity-free, atmosphere-free and dust-free Deimos also using an unmanned rover. The latter approach is easier, faster, safer and most importantly – cheaper.

The last topic, “How to do it?” involves a budget of less that $30 billion and averaging about $2 billion per year for 15 years. The cost is well within the existing NASA budget and would entail 5 years of low-cost preparation work followed by 10 years of more expensive implementation effort. Further, there are no showstoppers and the design trade offs involve propulsion costs versus transit time and avoiding hazards of radiation and meteoroids. With a manned mission to Mars, a rich scientific harvest and a wonderful adventure await us.

Mr. Singer then closed his presentation and kindly answered questions from the floor. President Collins thereupon thanked Mr. Singer for the Society, welcomed him to membership, announced the next meeting and made the usual parking announcement. He then adjourned the 2153rd meeting to the Social Hour at 9:40 p.m.

Attendance: 52
Temperature: 17°C
Weather: Clear
Links: Singer, S. Fred. “Send People, Not Probes, to Mars”. New York Times (September 18, 1993)
Singer, S. Fred. “To Mars by Way of Its Moons”. Scientific American (March 2002)

Respectfully submitted,
Bill Spargo
Recording Secretary

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