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Mission to Mars

In 1962 President Kennedy asked us to look to the stars he said:
“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; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” (Kennedy, 1962)
 As a child it inspired me – as did Star Trek – and yes I had a telescope for my eighth birthday and looked to the stars. For my ‘works experience’ as a 15-year-old I went for two weeks to work at the at the Bayfordbury Observatory in Hertford just outside London.
I was also inspired by my father who had also worked on the UK’s Blue Streak programme which was being developed to maintain the independent nuclear deterrent for the UK but also to give the UK the possibility of developing their own space programme. Government apathy killed the project.
I used to love reading Edgar Rice Burroughs famous book series - no not Tarzan - but John Carter of Mars. Who wouldn't want to be transported to Mars with super human powers and meet a beautiful Martian Princess?
I loved the idea of working on the stars and thought of doing astronomy at university, but I discovered another passion - politics - and the question was which would I focus on. I did study Physics at Surrey University to leave doors open but my path to the stars was not to be.
Today President Obama announced in an article on the CNN web site the US governments aim to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. By doing so he echoes President Kennedy's vision and challenge:
 “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.”
Just an amusing aside there is a conspiracy theory in the US (where else!!) that Obama has already been to Mars as a teenager. I guess we may hear about that from Donald Trump in the final Presidential Debate.

One of the reasons that the US was able to reach the moon was the competition with the Soviet Union who had managed to put the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, in Vostok 1 capsule. Their chief designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolev created substantial plans for manned trips to Mars as early as 1968 to 1970. This would be with closed-loop life support systems and electrical rocket engines. The plan was to launch the rockets from large orbiting space stations, these plans were much more ambitious than America's goal of landing on the moon.
For my birthday this year Michael and Carrie two of my friends bought me my own plot on Mars.
Eon Musk is asking for people to pay $500,000 for a one-way trip to Mars. That may be out of my range. We are entering a new Space Race with the completion of Space X, NASA and also Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos's spaceflight company Blue Origin. It is also planning its own ‘mission to mars’. This week he announced their new rocket the ‘New Glenn’ that is capable of putting payloads into orbit. He said:
 "Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it's going to work, it's not an experiment." 
If you also add to that China’s announcement to place a Mars orbiter, lander and rover on Mars in mid-2020. Then we do have another Space Race emerging. The last Space Race gave us satellite tv, laptop computers, smoke detectors, dust busters (to collect dust on the moon), telemedicine, the joystick, 3D graphics and virtual reality, Satellite navigation, Aircraft anti-icing systems, Scratch-resistant lenses, Freeze drying, Water purification, solar cells etc. What will this one give us?

Neil Armstrong said when he was in space: “I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Are we ready to take to the stars? Having watched the recent Presidential debate in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK we seem to be looking inward and seeing each other’s differences not what binds us as members of the human race. We need to grow as a species before we take to the stars.

Edgar Mitchel, Apollo 14 astronaut said it very well.

He probably would now add national politics to this. To end this blog I share President Obama’s final comments in his article:
 “Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We'll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time. But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we'll know that because of the choices we make now, they've gone to space not just to visit, but to stay -- and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth.” (Obama, 2016)


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