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A Man on Mars in Two Weeks? It's Possible
04.09.13
 
Multimillionaire Dennis Tito recently announced that he wants to send a manned spacecraft on a Mars flyby in 2018. Round trip, he expects his Inspiration Mars mission to take 501 days.

Friedwardt Winterberg

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Theoretical physicist Friedwardt Winterberg discussed sending a spacecraft propelled by thermonuclear micro-bomb propulsion to Mars at the April Colloquium. Credit: NASA/Joe Atkinson

Theoretical physicist Friedwardt Winterberg thinks it's possible to get to Mars in significantly less time, not just by days or weeks, but by months — and quite a few months at that.

Winterberg talked about his concept for a quick trip to Mars during the April 2 Colloquium at NASA's Langley Research Center.

According to Winterberg, a spacecraft propelled by thermonuclear micro-bomb propulsion could reach Mars in about two weeks. His idea is a refinement of Project Orion, a study from the late 1950s that proposed sending a spacecraft to Mars and beyond with a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft.

"I suggested in my paper in 1969 to use ion beams to ignite a micro explosion combined with a magnetic mirror that reflects the fireball and then can produce thrust," he said. "That was new and the Orion project didn't have that possibility."

Getting to Mars via thermonuclear micro-bomb propulsion would allow humans to make the trip quickly, which Winterberg thinks is crucial.

"The best robot cannot make decisions from one moment to another when confronted with new and unexpected results," he said.

First-hand human observations, on the other hand, would give us a better chance of discovering that there may have once been life on Mars.

For now, Winterberg concedes that a project like the one he's proposing is just too expensive — by his estimates, costs would exceed $100 billion. But he hopes people will one day recognize the value in investing large sums of money into space exploration.

"For space, we need expenses comparable to military expenses," he said. "And that, of course, should be the will of mankind, not to spend money on military, but on going into space — to increase the horizon of knowledge in every direction."

By: Joe Atkinson

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