This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 12 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.
To offer comments and suggestions on the following material, please use this shared Google document.
12. Humanity on Mars
Goal 12 of RAFT 2035 is that the UK will be part of an organisation that maintains a continuous human presence on Mars.
A continuous human presence on Mars will help transform humanity’s perspective, from being inward-looking and Earth-bound, to being outward-looking and cosmos-embracing.
As an alternative, robot exploration of Mars could carry out many useful scientific experiments, but having humans present there too will provide a significant additional perspective. A round trip visit to Mars by robots can act as an important prelude to a round trip visit by humans.
Journeys to Mars can also provide useful information and experience that will assist subsequent trips to the asteroid belt, with the possibility of mining the asteroids, as mentioned in Goal 10.
When astronauts reached the Moon in the late 1960s, it raised the consciousness of people all over the Earth who avidly watched the adventure on TV screens. Conflicts between different nations were forgotten, for a while at least. The astronauts carried an American flag, but could also be seen as representatives of the entire planet.
The “earthrise” photograph, taken by astronaut Bill Anders while orbiting the moon in Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968, helped ignite a worldwide grassroots “whole earth” movement. Anders observed, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth”.
Reflecting on the perspective provided from the windows of Apollo 8, American poet Archibald MacLeish wrote these words in the New York Times:
To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.
Rusty Schweickart, an astronaut on the next flight in the same series, Apollo 9, undertook a space walk as part of that trip. For five minutes he simply stared at the Earth below him. He later summarised his thoughts as follows:
You look down there and you can’t imagine how many borders and boundaries you cross, again and again and again, and you don’t even see them. There you are – hundreds of people in the Middle East killing each other over some imaginary line that you’re not even aware of, that you can’t see. And from where you see it, the thing is a whole, the earth is a whole, and it’s so beautiful. You wish you could take a person in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, “Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What’s important?”
Changes in focus
Back in the 1970s, it was widely assumed that humans would visit Mars before the end of the century. However, in the years that followed, Nasa’s interest was diverted instead onto an international space station, which produced its own line of benefits – including learning how astronauts can spend ever longer periods of time away from the Earth.
It has been independent entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos that have, more recently, rekindled the idea of interplanetary travel, making impressive progress with their companies SpaceX and Blue Origin.
What is needed now is productive collaboration between the best elements of public and private initiatives. Moreover, the project will benefit significantly from input from around the world, including resources in the UK.
One important field of innovation could be in new types of rocket, that would reduce the amount of time required to travel between the Earth and Mars. As summarised by a BBC review article “New engine tech that could get us to Mars faster”, alternative engine mechanisms potentially include:
- Solar electric propulsion
- Nuclear thermal electric propulsion
- Electric ion propulsion.
To accelerate progress with Goal 12, two interim targets for 2025 are proposed:
- Humans will walk on the Moon again, helping humanity to rediscover a sense of cosmic delight. These new visitors to our nearest cosmic neighbour should include women as well as men, and people from many different nationalities.
- A round trip mission to Mars will be underway, using robots, to collect rock samples and then return them to Earth.
Expertise from the United Kingdom can assist both of these projects.
Humanity’s journey into the wider cosmos involves, not just physical movement, but gradual mastery of the most powerful energy sources of the cosmos. This includes taming the enormous energy of nuclear fusion – the subject of the next chapter.
For more information
- An IDA (Institute for Defence Analyses) assessment, Evaluation of a Human Mission to Mars by 2033
- The Earthrise photo
- “Earth from the Moon” photo montage
- The Mars Society
- The 2019 book by Robert Zubrin, The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility