The president and founder of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, has recently released a DVD detailing how humanity can send the first astronaut towards Mars by 2018.
Despite the plan being very ambitious, there was no detailed road map explaining the needed steps on visiting Mars, an important detail if one desires to attract investors. The plan also seemed a little "accelerated," something Brian from LiftPort made note of previously.
Although Dr. Zubrin does not provide a road map for exploring Mars, Buzz Aldrin seems to have filled in the gap. Despite presenting this blueprint last year, his approach makes more sense logically, although he does push back the Mars time frame to 2030.
(Popular Mechanics) My blueprint for manned travel to Mars, based on reusable spacecraft that continuously cycle between Earth and Mars in permanent orbits, requires much less energy over the long term. Once in place, a system of cycling spacecraft, with its dependable schedule and low sustaining cost, would open the door for routine travel to Mars and a permanent human presence on the red planet. Its long-term economic advantages make it less susceptible to cancellation by congressional or presidential whim. In effect, this system would go a long way toward politician-proofing the Mars program.
The key advantage of a permanently orbiting spacecraft, or Cycler, is that it must be accelerated only once. After its initial boost into a solar orbit swinging by both Mars and Earth, the Cycler coasts along through space on its own momentum, with only occasional nudges of thrust needed to stay on track. This dramatically reduces the total energy required for a Mars mission. Because conventional chemical rockets are so thirsty--the mass of the Apollo 11 craft that carried us to the moon was more than 90 percent fuel on takeoff--every pound saved pays a huge dividend in the form of less propellant and smaller, cheaper boosters.
What makes Buzz's plan realistic is the fact that it incorporates returning to the moon first by 2018, something humanity can easily muster within the next decade. He also promotes the idea of building factories on the lunar surface, and using the moon to help assemble the next generation of space ships, making it easier to launch towards Mars.
For those who lack the time to read all six pages of his explanation, he does provide a quick visual road map (pdf) which helps envision the whole project while putting everything in perspective.
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