Building a spacecraft for a human mission to mars

The lunar landings of the 1960s sparked the imagination of even the most conservative engineers and left the world eager to learn more about our planetary neighbours. The focus turned to Mars, a mysterious planet that scientists believed could harbour extraterrestrial life. For many today, these ambitious plans are filed and half forgotten, but in 1965 engineers were confident they could visit the red planet in a matter of years.

An article in The Engineer’s archive outlines a strategy for a fly-by of Mars in a six-man spacecraft. The flight, it said, could be launched in eight years and would take 22 months to complete. ’The mission calls for assembly of a 250ft-long spaceship in orbit 200 miles above the Earth,’ said the report. ’The vehicle would consist of three Saturn S-IVB rocket stages joined in tandem and propelling a 100-ton spacecraft made up by linking an Apollo vehicle to a 21.5ft-diameter, 42ft-long space laboratory.’

With the use of probes, Mars has taught us a lot about space travel

The plan, proposed by an engineer from the Douglas Missile and Space Systems Division, was to modify existing technology in order to reduce the time taken to build the spacecraft.

The report continued: ’While the time spent close to the red planet would be brief… it has been pointed out that the balance of the interplanetary passage would enable [the astronauts] to carry out many planetary and astronomical observations from a vantage point outside the Earth’s influence never before possible.’

Nearly a half a century later, and a human mission to Mars has yet to be undertaken. Many look back on plans such as these with regret. But with the use of probes, Mars has taught us a lot about space exploration. And with the private sector reviving human space flight, it still has the potential to teach a great deal more.