Monday, December 17, 2007

Mars Now, Mars Future

I just had a look at Mars with my little Orion StarBlast telescope from my front porch. The sky was clear and Mars was a small, bright, and rather wiggly disk. It was wiggly mostly because I didn't really allow enough time for my telescope to get down to the cold ambient temperature before getting too cold myself and feeling guilty about three other things I needed to do before bed. I admit it, I'm not much of a winter observer! Mars will reach its closest point to Earth tomorrow night (about 88 million kilometers or 55 million miles), but I can't count on it being clear two nights in a row. Maybe I'll go out again (unfortunately I didn't).

Of course Mars is a lot bigger and closer in spacecraft imagery, and even bigger and closer in some people's imaginations. My small contribution to that category is not exactly fiction, but a picture book of possible future human exploration of the red planet. I created this a year or so ago using screen captures from Orbiter (with various add-ons) plus a few NASA images. The pictures illustrate how an early Mars mission might work using the Mars for Less approach, a variation of Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct that uses medium lift launch vehicles and modular docking-based construction of the Mars vehicles in low Earth orbit. The cool thing about this (for me at least) is that I worked with a team of people (Grant Bonin, Andy McSorley, and Mark Paton) to create the Orbiter add-ons so we could simulate flying the whole mission in Orbiter: multiple launches, LEO assembly, navigation, Mars entry, landing, the whole shebang. We wrote a paper on that project that I presented at the Mars Society Conference in August 2006 (PDF slides and text are available). Andy also has a web page with more pictures from the project.

Mars... Just Imagine (3.6 MB PDF) is a free educational picture book that is once again available on-line thanks to my friend "MiGMan" who has added it to the Orbiter section of his wonderful Flight Simulation Museum.

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