Sunday, December 25, 2011

Elon Musk Plans To Put Millions Of People On Mars

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I'll Put Millions of People on Mars, says Elon Musk

posted Dec 22, 2011 9:10 PM by Michael Stoltz   [ updated Dec 22, 2011 9:29 PM ]
By Greg Klerkx, New Scientist, 12.22.11
The swashbuckling SpaceX founder says that he can get to Mars on a shoestring within 20 years – thanks to the fully reusable rockets he's determined to build.
ELON MUSK has an unusual new decorative item in his office at SpaceX, the California-based space company he founded in 2002. On his desk are the usual models of the iconic Saturn V rocket and Apollo spacecraft alongside pieces of the SpaceX vehicles Musk envisions as their successors. Photographs of his five children are dotted among the space memorabilia. Hung on a wall there is a large photo of Muhammad Ali. And near it is a very lethal-looking sword. Perhaps it is appropriate given Musk's fearsome reputation as an entrepreneur.
By the age of 30, Musk had set up and sold two companies, including the online payment business PayPal, and he started two more before turning 40: SpaceX, and the electric vehicle business Tesla Motors. The sword was awarded to him in June as part of the Heinlein prize for accomplishments in commercial space activities, set up in honour of the American science fiction writer Robert Heinlein who supported the idea of commercial space travel. "It sure beats your average trophy," says Musk.
The sword is a replica of the one wielded by the swashbuckling hero of Heinlein's novel Glory Road. However, Musk perhaps more closely resembles Valentine Michael Smith, the charismatic protagonist of Heinlein's most famous book,Stranger in a Strange Land. Both are comfortable in the role of outsider, often remaining aloof, almost ethereal; both evince an almost super-human focus and energy. Another link is more obvious. Smith is born on Mars and comes to Earth; Musk would like to be the person who takes humankind to Mars.
That moment may be closer than anyone thinks. Musk declared recently that he could put a human on Mars in 10 to 20 years' time. It is a remarkable claim, yet even more astonishingly Musk tells me that he could do it for $5 billion, and possibly as little as $2 billion - a snip when you consider that the International Space Station (ISS) has cost at least $100 billion to build and operate, or that $2 billion is roughly the cost of launching four space shuttle missions.
Musk doesn't just want to stop at one human. In his Heinlein prize acceptance speech, he said he wants to put 10,000 people on Mars. Musk rarely makes public statements merely for effect but a call for 10,000 would-be Martians is extraordinary, even by his standards. When I query him on this point, he pauses. Is he reconsidering? Yes... but, as with so much else about Musk, not in a predictable way. "Ultimately we don't really want 10,000 people on Mars," he says, after letting the pause linger a few seconds more. "We want millions."
The first time I met Elon Musk was at a party for someone else's spaceship. It was 2004 and I spotted him amid the high-fiving crowd of VIPs gathered at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to celebrate the first successful sub-orbital flight of Burt Rutan's now-legendary SpaceShipOne.
Musk went almost unnoticed in the heaving crowd, which isn't altogether surprising. Back then Elon Musk was not yet "Elon Musk" - international icon, purported inspiration for Iron Man's playboy alter ego Tony Stark in the movie franchise, and would-be rescuer of humankind's hopes of interplanetary glory. In fact, as the guests strained to lay hands on SpaceShipOne's sleek composite frame, Musk seemed almost reluctant to join in.
What's true about Musk, then and now, is his iconoclasm about the new space revolution, which is often characterised by doing things, like SpaceShipOne, without the help of space agencies such as NASA. As we stood on the steaming Mojave tarmac, Musk politely praised SpaceShipOne's achievement but quickly noted that getting into orbit would require eight times the speed and about 65 times the energy. He said that symbolic victories wouldn't achieve what he was certain was humankind's ultimate destiny: to become a multi-planetary species. And unlike Rutan who believes NASA is a nemesis to be vanquished, Musk believes that NASA is a critical part of any space-faring future.
Fast-forward seven years and Musk's importance to the modern space industry is undeniable. SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket last year, the first successful new rocket in a generation that could carry heavy loads and the first of its class built from scratch by a privately financed company. In December 2010 another Falcon 9 carried a reusable capsule called Dragon that can be fitted for cargo, crew or a combination of both. It completed nearly two orbits before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean where it was recovered in much the same way as NASA retrieved returning Apollo capsules.
SpaceX is now preparing to send the Dragon capsule to dock with the ISS early next year. Dragon's closest competitor, the Orion capsule built by the US aerospace company and long-time NASA partner Lockheed Martin, won't attempt such a feat until 2013 at the earliest.
As well as making history, SpaceX is making money. Last year the company signed a $492 million deal to launch Iridium satellites, the largest single commercial launch contract in history. It also has a $1.6 billion contract to service the ISS, with options to provide another $3.1 billion's worth, too.
"I feel like what SpaceX has done considering the resources we've had is pretty impressive," says Musk. "We started off with just me in the beginning and now we're almost 1500 people. And that's double what we had two years ago."
Such numbers dwarf the achievements of previous space entrepreneurs. But Musk isn't your typical space junkie. True, he read Heinlein and Isaac Asimov as a boy growing up in South Africa. He also built model rockets with his younger brother and frequent business partner, Kimbal, which he says "was a little more challenging in South Africa because there was nothing off-the-shelf. We made the rockets and mixed the fuel." But when it came to spaceflight ambitions, Musk was always more Scotty than Kirk: "I never wanted to be an astronaut or anything like that," he says.
Musk does have a driving cosmic ideology though: "This is the first time in four billion years that life has the possibility to move beyond Earth," he says. He passionately believes we need to move fast to avoid losing the knowledge and expertise we have built up. "The window to become multi-planetary is open now and we need to take advantage of it now, just in case it closes," he says.
Pronouncements like this, which Musk offers frequently, have occasionally led to accusations of egomania. But rather Musk seems to be someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly. "Pah!" is his response to those lamenting the demise of the space shuttle. "It is a massive opportunity!" The only vaguely kind words Musk has for the shuttle is that it was an experiment in the right area: rapid reusability. "That's been critical in every mode of transport in history, whether it's horses, bicycles or cars," he says.

Reusable rockets

The urgency in Musk's voice makes it clear that reusability is what truly motivates him where SpaceX is concerned: "That we don't really have it with space travel has been a choice and I think a tragic one," he says, his voice tinged with regret. "It's meant we've not gone beyond Earth's orbit in a generation. I want to change that. Rapid reusability is what will take us to Mars."
The fact that humans have not yet been to Mars isn't down to lack of interest. Schemes, sketches and plans for sending humans to the Red Planet have been around as long as the space age itself, beginning with NASA rocket guru Wernher von Braun, who envisioned a massive Mars-bound spacecraft built in orbit. The Saturn rockets - and even the space shuttle - were mooted for use in Mars missions, as were more daring concepts such as nuclear rockets.
Virtually every conceivable part of a Mars mission has been, or is, the subject of testing and experimentation by one of the world's space agencies or their satellite companies and laboratories. While there continues to be debate about hazards like deep-space radiation and micrometeorite impacts, there is broad agreement over why any serious humans-to-Mars plan has failed to get off the drawing board. It's simply too expensive.
The price tag for a Mars mission varies as widely as the concepts for achieving it, from $20 billion to $500 billion. And as the decades pass, the cost has typically gone up, not down. NASA still aspires to send humans to Mars one day, though it has largely abandoned actual planning.
Musk knows that his rockets aren't yet affordable enough for a feasible Mars mission. The reason is that of the $60 million cost of launching a Falcon 9, just 3 per cent is fuel. The remaining $58 million is predominantly hardware - all of which can only be used once. So, Musk admits that with the present Falcon design he has lost the reusability fight.
But that is set to change. In September Musk announced the company's plans for developing a fully reusable space launch system. The concept would see the rocket's first stage - the one that separates at the lowest altitude - reignite its engines and coast to a vertical landing at the launch site. If that sounds tricky, the following part of Musk's plan is harder still.
The rocket's second stage, which would be well into orbit after delivering its payload, needs to flip nose-first and endure the fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere with a special heat-shielded nose cone, before flipping over again, firing its engines and landing like the first stage. Even if it works, the extra fuel and heat shielding are likely to add weight and cost, which could make Musk's reusable rockets far more expensive than his current Falcon line-up.
"Reusability is ridiculously hard," he says. "But it's the thing we're working hardest at."
Musk is eventually hoping to build this kind of reusability into SpaceX's newest launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy. Scheduled for testing in early 2013, Falcon Heavy will be the largest rocket flown since NASA's Saturn V launched astronauts to the moon. Musk says that a reusable version of the rocket could deliver a payload of up to 15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram. That makes his $5 billion humans-to-Mars price tag seem realistic. Even so, the Falcon Heavy would need to be "heavier" still to carry the minimum 50-tonne payload needed for a Mars mission. But Musk, whose title at SpaceX is CEO and chief technology officer, is working on that too.
At no point in our discussions does he withdraw or alter his 10 to 20 year time-frame for Mars. Even at the far end of that range, Musk would be only 60 when the first Martian expedition launched. Would he consider going on that first trip? "If someone had solved the rapidly reusable launch system problem, then yes, I'd definitely go," he says. "But if it were simply a one-time flight, then no, because I'd need to stay and keep at the challenge with SpaceX. It is too important. This is something that I'm in for the long haul."
[Images: SpaceX]

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Report From The Russian Space Agency On The Phobos Mission Failure

Dear Jack Waldbewohner,

Since you are a valued member of the Planetary Society team that helped launch our Phobos LIFE experiment, I want to share with you excerpts from a letter we just received from our colleagues at the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

As you’ll read, the Phobos-Grunt (Soil) spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit after it was launched last month, carrying our LIFE capsule on what we hoped would be a round trip to Mars’ moon Phobos and back.

The letter came from Lev Zelenyi, Director of the Space Research Institute. It reads:

“As you may already know, the launch of the Phobos-Soil spacecraft was a failure. On November 8, 2011 the spacecraft was put into the near Earth orbit, however, the booster did not turn on, and, therefore, the spacecraft did not manage to change this initial orbit and transfer to the interplanetary trajectory. The reason of this failure has not been determined yet.

“Immediately after this unpredictable event all forces of the mission control team were concentrated in order to attempt to establish communication with the spacecraft. Several foreign organizations, in particular, ESOC-ESA, DSN-JPL-NASA, NORAD-STRATCOM, numerous amateur observers tracked the spacecraft to establish communication with it and determine parameters of the orbit, its orientation and attitude. However, despite people being at work 24 / 7 since the launch, all these attempts have not yield any satisfactory results. We are grateful to our foreign colleagues, who provided us with every list of information about the spacecraft which was crucial at the time.

“Currently, the spacecraft is rotating at the near Earth orbit, lowering every day, and we expect that it is to enter the atmosphere in several weeks. Lavochkin Association specialists will continue their attempts to establish connection with the spacecraft and send commands until the very end of its existence. We are working nevertheless on the issue of re-entry and probability of where and which fragments may hit the ground (if any).

“We would like to express our deep gratitude to you and all the scientists and specialists for collaboration on the Phobos-Soil Mission, preparation of scientific instruments and provision of ground support. We are deeply sorry about the failure of the Phobos-Soil Mission. We hope in future to continue our collaboration on space science projects.”

The loss of Phobos LIFE is a blow, but we are already recovering and looking forward to the future. We are even now analyzing the microorganisms that flew with our Shuttle LIFE project on the last flight of Endeavour, and we are seeking out future exploratory opportunities to share with you.

With your invaluable help and support, we know that together we will make our future in space vibrant, coming ever closer to our shared goals of understanding and appreciating the worlds around us.

Thank you again for all your support.


Bruce Betts,
Phobos LIFE Project Manager

The Space Review: The perils of spaceflight prediction

The Space Review: The perils of spaceflight prediction:

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pug Pharm Announces Strategic Partnership with Project Whitecard - PR Newswire -

Pug Pharm Announces Strategic Partnership with Project Whitecard - PR Newswire -

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South Africa Space Agency To Support Curiosity Mission

South Africa to support launch of major new US Mars mission
17th November 2011 
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The South African National Space Agency’s (Sansa's) Space Operations directorate will be supporting the launch of America’s latest Mars probe, the $2.3-billion Mars Science Laboratory. This was revealed by Sansa on Thursday.
“It is a privilege to be part of this space mission and this gives testament to the technological expertise that is available in South Africa to support such large scale investments,” said Sansa Space Operations telemetry, tracking and control international contract manager Tiaan Strydom.
The new probe is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida, on November 25 – although the launch window extends until December 18, so allowing for delays in case of glitches or bad weather. It will be carried aloft on an Atlas V/541 launch rocket. The key event that will be monitored by Sansa Space Operations’ Hartbeesthoek Telemetry Station will be the separation of the Mars Science Laboratory from the the Atlas V launch vehicle.
The Mars Science Laboratory is the latest mission in the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa) Mars Exploration Programme, which is managed for the agency by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology (better known as Caltech).
When the Mars Science Laboratory lands on the surface of the Red Planet – scheduled for the period August 6 to August 20, 2012, in the 154 km diameter Gale Crater – it will deploy a rover vehicle named Curiosity. This is more than five times more massive than, and has ten times the mass of the scientific instruments carried by, each of Nasa’s previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. (Opportunity is still active, seven years after landing on Mars in 2004, although it was only intended to work for three months. Spirit lasted six years, failing last year.)
Curiosity is designed to operate for at least one Martian year (686 Earth days). One of its main missions is to gather information that will help determine whether Mars ever was, and could still be, able to support microbial life. It will be able to analyse soil samples scooped from the surface and powders created by drilling into rocks.

The Discovery Enterprise: Weirdest Planets

The Discovery Enterprise: Weirdest Planets:

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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Mars Society Issues A Call To Action!

Mars Society Announcements
6:27 AM (39 minutes ago)
to bcc: marsnews
Mars Society Announcement

November 7, 2011

A Call to Action: Save the Mars Missions!

Dear Friends:

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has zeroed funding for NASA’s future Mars exploration missions.  The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, currently on the pad being readied for launch will be sent, as will the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter scheduled for 2013, but that is it.  No funding has been provided for the Mars probes planned as joint missions with the Europeans for 2016 and 2018, and nothing after that is funded, either.  This poses a grave crisis for all of us hoping for a human future in space.

NASA’s Mars exploration program has been brilliantly successful because, since 1994, it has been approached as a campaign, with probes launched every biennial opportunity, alternating between orbiters and landers. As a result, combined operations have been possible, with orbiters providing communication links and reconnaissance guidance for surface rovers, which in turn can conduct ground-truth investigations of orbital observations. Thus, the great treks of the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003, were supported from above by Mars Global Surveyor (MGS, launched in1996), Mars Odyssey (launched in 2001), and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO, launched in 2005). But after serving 10 years on orbit, MGS is now lost, and if we wait until the 2020s to resume Mars exploration, the rest of the orbiters will be gone as well. Moreover, so will be the experienced teams that created them. Effectively, the whole program will be completely wrecked, and we will have to start again from scratch.

Furthermore, if the OMB cuts are allowed to prevail, we will not only destroy America’s Mars exploration program, but derail that of our European allies as well. The 2016 and 2018 missions have been planned as a NASA/ESA joint project, with the Europeans contributing over $1 billion to the effort. But if America betrays its commitment, the European supporters of Mars explorations will be left high and dry, and both the missions, and the partnership, will be lost.

America’s human spaceflight program is currently completely adrift. Unless it is reorganized as a mission-driven directorate committed to efficiently achieving important objectives within a meaningful timeframe, it may well prove to be indefensible in the face of the oncoming fiscal tsunami. But the Mars program is defensible. It has real and rational objectives, reasonable costs, and a terrific track record of success. It can and must be saved.

There is no justification for the proposed cuts.  The U.S. federal government may be going broke, but it’s not because of NASA.  Since 2008, federal spending has increased 40 percent, but NASA spending has only increased 5 percent. Trillions of dollars of out of control entitlement spending cannot be remedied by cuts in NASA, or even in the entire discretionary budget, defense included.  Rather, the financial bleeding needs to be staunched where the hole is, and nowhere else.  

In any case, cost is not the issue.  With the Europeans putting up their share, a matching $1 billion contribution from NASA spread over the next six years would be sufficient to fund both the 2016 and 2018 missions at a level of a billion dollars each.  This would require less than 1 percent of NASA’s current budget.  There is no excuse for not doing this.

The Mars program is not being terminated to make funds available for future missions to other planets. In fact, there is no money in the OMB plan to fund any of them, either.

America’s planetary exploration program is one of the great chapters in the history of science, civilization, and of our country. Its abandonment represents nothing else than an embrace of American decline. This is unacceptable.

Mars is key to humanity’s future in space. It is the closest planet that has all the resources needed to support life and technological civilization. Its complexity uniquely demands the skills of human explorers, who will pave the way for human settlers. It is, therefore, the proper goal for NASA’s human spaceflight program, and the proper priority for its robotic scouts. The human spaceflight program may be in disarray, but the scouts have been making progress, and are set to make more, if only we continue with them.

If we allow the OMB to shut down the Mars exploration effort, NASA will lose its most effective endeavor – one of the few that delivers the goods that justify the entire space program as a national enterprise, the nation will lose one its crown jewels, the scientists will lose their chance to find life beyond Earth, and humanity will lose the one significant effort that is making real and visible progress towards opening the frontier on another world.  We can’t let that happen.

So friends, here is where we need to make a stand. There is no excuse for wrecking the Mars program. The nation can afford it, and walking away from it is walking away from success, from our allies, from science, from greatness, from the pioneer spirit, and from our future. Everyone needs to mobilize now to save the 2016 and 2018 Mars missions!  Write your congressman, or better yet, call up his or her local office and set up a meeting. Have a talk with your Senators’ local staffers as well.  Write the White House, and let the people there know what you think.  Write to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.  He needs to hear from you too.

This is a fight we can and must win. It’s time to speak up!

Robert Zubrin
President, Mars Society

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Discovery Enterprise: H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon

The Discovery Enterprise: H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon:

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ITAR-TASS : Russia looks at staging simulated Mars mission onboard ISS

ITAR-TASS : Russia looks at staging simulated Mars mission onboard ISS:

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Astrobiology Magazine

Astrobiology Magazine:

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Looking for life on Mars? Dig deep, new study suggests. -

Looking for life on Mars? Dig deep, new study suggests. -

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Mars Rover Discovers 'A Completely New Thing' : Discovery News

Mars Rover Discovers 'A Completely New Thing' : Discovery News:

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Astronaut confident NASA will rebound from 'limbo' | The Des Moines Register |

Astronaut confident NASA will rebound from 'limbo' | The Des Moines Register |

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NASA: If Life Existed On Mars, It Was Probably Underground (PHOTOS)

NASA: If Life Existed On Mars, It Was Probably Underground (PHOTOS):

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Asteroid 2005 YU55 To Narrowly Miss Earth (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Asteroid 2005 YU55 To Narrowly Miss Earth (PHOTOS, VIDEO):

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Friday, October 28, 2011

NASA Plans To Terminate Planetary Exploration Programs

Mars Society Announcement
Zubrin: Obama Readies to Blast NASA
By Robert Zubrin, Washington Times, 10.26.11
Word has leaked out that in its new budget, the Obama administration intends to terminate NASA’s planetary exploration program. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, being readied on the pad, will be launched, as will the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter scheduled for 2013, but that will be it. No further missions to anywhere are planned.
After 2013, America’s amazing career of planetary exploration, which ran from the Mariner probes in the 1960s through the great Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Galileo and Cassini missions, will simply end.
Furthermore, the plan from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also leaves the space astronomy program adrift and headed for destruction. The now-orbiting Kepler Telescope will be turned off in mid-mission, stopping it before it can complete its goal of finding other Earths. Even worse, the magnificent Webb Telescope, the agency’s flagship, which promises fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the laws of the universe, is not sufficiently funded to allow successful completion. This guarantees further costly delays, with the ensuing budgetary overruns leading inevitably to eventual cancellation.
The administration’s decision to derail planetary exploration and space astronomy is shocking and portends the destruction of the entire American space program. As an agency, NASA is a mixed bag. It includes a large bureaucracy and wasteful, pork-driven spending. But it also includes departments that are technically superb and really deliver the goods. First and foremost among NASA’s most productive divisions are the planetary exploration and space astronomy programs. Kill those, and what is left will be indefensible.
NASA’s planetary and space astronomy programs are not merely good scientific work. They are epic achievements representative of humanity’s highest ideals in its search for truth. As a result of a string of successful probes sent to the Red Planet over the past 15 years, we now know for certain that Mars was once a warm and wet planet and continued to have an active hydrosphere for a period on the order of a billion years - a span five times as long as the time it took for life to appear on Earth after there was liquid water here. Thus, if the theory is correct that life is a natural phenomenon emerging from chemistry wherever there is liquid water, various minerals and a sufficient period of time, life must have appeared on Mars. If we can find it, we will have good reason to believe we are not alone in the universe.
The Kepler observatory has discovered more than1,000 other solar systems, and if it’s allowed to continue operating, it could well find other worlds like ours. The Hubble Space Telescope discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, indicating the existence of a basic force of nature that previously was unknown. The Webb Telescope will be five times as powerful as Hubble. If it can be completed and flown, there is no telling what discoveries it could make. From the laws of gravity through nuclear fusion, many of our most important discoveries in physics were made through astronomy. We have no idea what the processes were that allowed for the creation of matter, energy and the universe. Webb might help us find out. The potential gains to humanity from such expanded knowledge are beyond calculation.
The ostensible reason for the administration’s decision to kill planetary exploration and space astronomy is budgetary discipline. Yet while federal spending has grown 40 percent since 2008, NASA’s funding has remained virtually the same. It is not NASA that is bankrupting America, but OMB. If the administration needs to cut budgets, it should start with those of the regulatory agencies that are strangling the nation’s businesses rather than NASA, which helps the economy through scientific discoveries, technological innovation and the inspiration of youth to pursue careers in engineering. Furthermore, if there were a need to cut NASA, it would make more sense to trim almost anywhere else in the agency. Instead, the administration’s goal seems to be to destroy the entire space program by hitting it in its most vital parts.
The desertion of America’s great exploration enterprise is an offense against science and civilization. It represents a radical departure from the pioneer spirit, and its ratification as policy would preclude any possibility of a human future in space. It is an inexcusable decision, and it needs to be reversed.
Robert Zubrin is the president of Pioneer Astronautics and author of “The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must” (Free Press, 2011, second edition).
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