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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

Mars: the next generation's Apollo

Man on Mars

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message board MESSAGE BOARDS
   Destination Mars

Conference aims to bring brains together, jump-start plans for manned mission

September 3, 1999
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT)

In this story:

How to raise $40 billion

Washington, Houston and back to Cambridge


By Robin Lloyd
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- All the space glitterati will be there: Buzz Aldrin, James Cameron, Franklin Chiang-Diaz, Robert Zubrin, Jennifer Harris.

You may not recognize every one of those names.

But the folks at Mars Week, a conference this fall to generate enthusiasm for a business plan for a human mission to Mars, will be thrilled to see the Apollo 11 moonwalker, the filmmaker planning Mars-themed screenery, the shuttle astronaut, the Mars Society founder and the Pathfinder flight director.

The point no longer is to prove that a Mars mission is possible or that prominent astronauts, engineers and scientists endorse the idea.

No one doubts America's engineering know-how and can-do now that we've put a man on the moon and bounced a lander on Mars.

The point of Mars Week, organized by a group of Boston-area graduate students, is to prove that we want it and can afford it.

"This is our Apollo for our generation," says Jeff Munson, 25. "We aren't going to let this thing rest."

Munson is completing two master's degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while finishing up his first year of work with Think Mars, a student group that started with MIT graduate student Justin Talbot-Stern and grew to include Munson and 100 other people in the past 10 months.

For Talbot-Stern and the rest of Think Mars, the challenge posed by a human mission to Mars is irresistible.

"This is the hardest, most difficult challenge facing the next generation -- going to Mars," Talbot-Stern says.

"The previous generation had the moon as their target. We haven't had such a noble target. I sort of see human exploration of Mars as the younger generation's response to the moon generation's challenge."

How to raise $40 billion

During Mars Week, the Think Mars group will spread the word -- that we can afford and must rally for a human Mars mission -- and get others to do so as well, discussing mission architectures, colonization strategies, funding and marketing techniques and outreach.


  Think Mars week at MIT
  • Friday, October 1: "All about Mars 1" technical forum with 3 invited speakers
  • Saturday, October 2: "All about Mars 2" technical forum with 8 invited speakers
  • Sunday, October 3: "Let's Talk About Mars" workshop

       Registration form


    Think Mars started its work by entering a NASA contest. The group's goal was to write a complete business plan for human exploration of Mars in accordance with NASA's objectives.

    NASA agrees with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin -- a human Mars mission could be done for about $40 billion.

    How do you pay for that?

    Luckily, Think Mars members included students at some of the nation's top business schools -- MIT's Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Business School.

    They proposed a semi-commercialized model blending funds from media rights, sponsorships, investors and land rights, as well as the government.

    The group's most novel innovation was to suggest funding based on the anticipated technology transfers and licensing fees that would result from the effort.

    Will Clurmon, an MIT alumnus who now is a product manager for Lycos, helped mentor the group along with 30 MIT faculty and a long list of NASA and other aerospace experts, including Sheila Widnall, a past secretary of the U.S. Air Force who's now at MIT.

    The group studied the economic benefits society reaped following the Apollo mission.

    "What these guys have that's fundamentally different is they have a trillion-dollar story," Clurmon said.

    "It will take a while for it to come out, but if you can capture some of that through technology licensing as MIT and Stanford and others have done with their technology licensing offices, you start to have a viable business," he said.

    It's not your standard Internet venture model, he says, but it can work.

    Washington, Houston and back to Cambridge

    In January, NASA selected Think Mars to develop its mission business plan as part of its first-ever NASA Means Business student competition.

    Think Mars spent five months putting together a plan, watching their group grow to include nearly 10 percent of MIT population of graduate students.

    Moon flight vs. Mars flight
    Distance to the moon: 238,856 miles
    Distance to Mars: 141 million miles
    Flight time to the moon (Apollo 11): 4 days
    Flight time to Mars: 7-11 months
    Percent of Earth's gravity on the moon: 16%
    Percent of Earth's gravity on Mars: 38%
    Average surface temperature on the moon: -10 degrees Fahrenheit
    Surface temperature on Mars: -76 degrees Fahrenheit
    Number of human moon landings: 6
    Number of human Mars landings: 0

    In May, the group briefed NASA and presented their findings at a conference in Houston, findings which NASA plans to integrate into its official Mars Exploration Business Plan.

    Think Mars members briefed more than 400 people at the Johnson Space Center, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Team leaders briefed members of Congress in July.

    NASA's mission model includes sending six astronauts to Mars for up to 600 days. But there is no talk of jump-starting the effort.

    Talbot-Stern thinks it'll happen around 2020 or 2030.

    "I'd like to see it in 2015," he said. "I'd like to see it happen tomorrow, but we'll just have to see about it."

    Think Mars will carry into this academic year, even though Talbot-Stern is taking a year off to start up an Internet firm and other students have become distracted with studies.

    For the short term, the plan is to whip up support at Mars Week, which starts on October 1 at MIT.

    Talbot-Stern wants the event to be inspirational, to show people that it's technically and financially possible to put humans on Mars.

    "Sure there are hurdles and technologies that must be overcome but it's possible," he said. "It's a matter of putting brains together."

    NASA reveals site for next Mars touchdown
    August 25, 1999
    Mars a dynamic world of shifting sands
    August 10, 1999
    Martian spring reveals frozen water at south pole
    August 3, 1999
    Scientists debate implications of Mars pictures
    July 20, 1999
    High-resolution images help prepare for Mars landing
    June 28, 1999

    Think Mars
    NASA - Mars Global Surveyor
    1999 NASA Means Business Student Competition
    The Mars Society
    MIT Sloan School of Management
    Harvard Business School
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