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New Paradigms for manned Mars missions thinking

Keynote talk minutes, by Jeremy Saget, Business Convention, "La Geode, parc de la Villette" Paris

Some Human adventures transcends frontiers par excellence, while combining human challenge, team spirit, sustainable development, along with an international federative project and advanced technology. One consists of the next giant leap for mankind and nothing less than the beginning of our history at a universal scale : we should take the run up to this leap together through manned deep Space missions. Actually, my intention is to take you to Mars, on a short trip in your imagination, to stroll into the future, which is not impossible for anyone who is willing to look up towards this dream which could well come true in the next couple of decades...Furthermore, some of us, who are patiently faithful to a consistant common vision that makes sense, could take the incredible risk of leaving our comfort zone to commit ourselves to a project which is beyond us but one that we can achieve together.

So, we could start our voyage by evoking motivations that incite us to explore the world and beyond to one of the most advanced forms : space exploration in its infance. Why would exploring Mars in particular be the next step in the exploration of the cosmos? Let's anticipate here some implications, benefits and impacts of the near future.

What springs to mind when you think about space exploration? Without a doubt most of you share key moments of our collective imagination. 1961 : Yuri Gagarin the first man in space. 1969 : Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong the first man lands on the moon. Beyond any technological or robotic prowesse man's presence remains deeply rooted in our collective memory and especially the firsts that become landmarks. The risk involved in these two historical events was actually major. Did you know that Yuri Gagarin didn't have control of his capsule because ground control wanted total control in the event of Gagarin losing reason? As for landing on the moon ; this couldn't be tested beforehand which meant Neil Armstrong had to manually take command at a critical moment because of automatic pilot failure.

And yet for more than forty years after the first decade which was stimulated by the cold war we have been stuck in our space stations at « only » 400km altitude. Of course these 40 years have enabled us to learn so much about man's adaptation to space, in order to prepare outerspace missions to the fullest, and I'm only talking about manned missions. Collossal work has been accomplished by 552 astronauts and millions of men and women on earth. The beneficial effects in our daily lives are omnipresent and investment in the space industry is one of the most useful and profitable for society -for every dollar invested we get 3 to 5 back in terms of growth and technological progress !

But, nowadays, the society aversion of risk, the reassurance of the illusion of rational control and structured hyper specialisation, have undoubtly made us more sedentary, let epic breath evaporate, and made us risk living in a closed, retracted, disenchanted world with limited ressources and therefore conflictual. Perhaps this prevents us from soaring higher, in daring to look beyond what we have, and taking a closer look at what we are (Saint-Exupery).

Space exploration takes it's source from the very depths of human beings, from our inside world. The sky and the cosmos appeared very early on in history, in art and philosophy. It's the epitomy of great existential questions. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are we? Closer to us, many are the visionary poets, to quote Jules Verne or even Hergé, who's rocket "Moon objective" largely inspired our generation! Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the pioneers of astronautics, engineers and scientists, equally visionary, have defined the manned mission to Mars -initially planned as soon as the eighties- as the accessible priority objective of the previous century.

If space exploration is a remarkable vector of innovation and scientific, medical and technological progress, it is also the cutting-edge enterprise of humanity which gives its force to cooperation, education, inspiration, effort and human genius. As for Mars, it's a question of the only accessible planet short-term : we are, as ingenious amphibians, on the point of technologically being capable of going there for the first time in the two hundred thousand years of humanity, meeting partially answers about major scientific questions, around the origin of life in the universe.

But if this appears to be a kind of enlightened catastrophism, the technological window open today in front of us could close sooner than you’d believe (asteroids, near-earth centaurs and comets, environmental crises, strong artificial intelligence), therefore it’s logical to prepare ourselves so as to forearm ourselves and to learn right now how to support life on more than a single planet.

Indeed Mars still holds the secret of the conditions on Earth that led to the origin of life on Earth four point one billion years ago. The conditions necessary for life as we know it are present (water, carbon chemistry, energy), so if there is no life on Mars, it is because a decisive element of the process still escapes us and if we do find an extraterrestrial form of life it will be one of the greatest discoveries of the millennium and Universe will be know as bio-friendly! Whatever the case, the scientific stakes and compared planetology are major, in understanding geological and climate mechanisms better and their implications on the future of our planet.

The sustainable development of humanity, as both an advanced life form and a valuable collective consciousness and knowledge, requires long term settling on other planets, beyond the necessity to optimise all critical technology (recycling, optimal use of ressources and energy). "Earth is the cradle of humanity but one cannot live in the cradle forever". (Tsiolkovski).

I'm sure you're asking yourselves how some people decide to invest themselves to such an extent in this kind of project. To reply briefly, showing one path, I would like to call upon two key personalities in our identity. First of all I have to evoke the child we all have within us. I am convinced that he is most apt to become the captain of our soul on condition that he is also a well equipped sage (another form of ourselves which without doubt we should let blossom and indeed may be an excellent copilot). This child is the side to us that is curious, open, pluripotent, intuitive, that allows the plasticity in adaptation. Through him we are born explorers aspiring to leave our comfort zone since, after all, what is more intriguing than the promises of the unknown and discovery? On the one hand, don't forget what we know about ourselves, don't disappear from ourselves because of this impoverishing reason age, but rather enpower ourselves with creativity and collective ingenuity. « Pure reason never produced anything reasonable » (Hölderlin).

The most remarkable of all in the human condition is this extreme dependence on all sorts of technological prostheses, but the apparent immaturity of our species, neoteny, enables great adaptability in return. It is therefore possible for an optimist to have confidence in his capacity to adapt to the restrictions of an extraterrestrial life.

On the other hand, a sage can teach us that the value of a life resides in selflessness, individuation rather than individualism, that our acts should attempt to join the universal or the absolute, to overcome the fear of losing. We have to allow the world in which we belong to, to thrive and open up, a condition of human prosperity. Who better than the sage to exceed paradoxes and contradictions?

The steady quest for sense, which has always driven me, inevitably transports me to this precise place which reunites each of my passions for man, life, knowledge, the cosmos, science, technology and exploration.

Travelling on highly rational and fundamental routes, life has taught me to truly follow my intuition: it's probably our best « GPS » : once the deep destination has been defined, it helps us to walk with confidence, whatever the detours, synchronizations or updates so that we can seize the potential of the unexpected.

We shall turn risk into opportunity. And above all, let's think "out of the box and even out of the planet".

We already have happiness, in the mindfullness of the present moment, so all we need to do is to live life to the fullest and to join in what makes sense to us and what surpasses us.

For fifty years government space agencies have had projects for manned Mars missions in the pipeline. The projected time horizon is thirty years for a classic return trip design. NASA scenarios in particular, from the sixties up to the nineties, seem to be extremely ambitious and complex at prohibitive costs of roughly four hundred billion dollars and are regularly posponed by the deciders for obvious budgetary reasons. Since the nineteen nineties, NASA has been finetuning a design of reference which exploits in situ ressources and therefore has a more reasonable cost of one hundred billion dollars, however incompatible with political restrictions that government space agencies depend on.

In the recent past, international space agencies, are thinking about the affordable mission design leading to a cost of thirty to fifty billion dollars. But the predictable time horizon is still at thirty years because of the complexity of the return trip which needs further technological innovations.

A very logical and constructive solution could consist of not programming the return trip and focusing on permanent settlement, eventhough ethical questions and unprecedented psychological challenges must be addressed. The complexity of the mission has been considerably reduced. The cost has been divided by about five and most importantly the time horizon has come down to ten to twenty years as all the technology involved in a permanent space station on Mars exists or has been tested and « only » needs technological fine-tuning, being specified, qualified, upgraded to the proper readiness level. The twenty twenties and thirties will integrate state of the art technology to follow the plan step by step. The « Mars to Stay » and « Strive to Stay » advocates think that way about permanent settlement.

In fact it could be well the emergence of the private space industry, hybrid or not, with know-how, means and determination, that just like during the cold war would considerably stimulated the necessary endeavour. Government space agencies, despite their experience and expertise, are dependent on partnerships and political decisions, less flexible. Space X has gained credibility in as little as 10 years, has cut costs and from day one has announced the desire to bring man to Mars in the next twenty years, to make life multiplanetary, transporting not less than one hundred people at a time through an ambitious interplanetary transport system. Beforehand it will be necessary to establish a permanent base for man on Mars which could go hand in hand with settlement projects like Mars One.

Right now, Mars One is a foundation which is doing everything possible to establish this permanent settlement. Founded by engineer-entrepreuners, the project is an international vocation, the plan is evolving and for the moment predicts the departure for two men and two women for the first manned mission to Mars, as early as twenty thirty first.

They will be joined by a new team of four every twenty six months. The foundation is focused on selecting, training six teams of four people for at least ten years beforehand. The main challenge of such a pionneer mission being psychological, the onus is concentrated on a comittee expert in social psychology selecting groups of people who are capable of meeting all of these demands, in an extreme, confined and isolated environment. Mars One is not a space engineering company- each procedure of the mission will be attributed to private companies expert in the domaine- but more a human resources agency specialized in permanent settlement on Mars mission.

To make it possible, the business model -a budget of six to ten billion dollars not be compared to classic design, even affordable ones, because of its architecture- depends on investors (a shorter time horizon), with an unprecedented media valorization potential, at a hyperconnected time, during both the selection process, the training and the mission itself. It involves values and inspiring positive global events through the media and documentary series.

Before the team leaves for Mars, life-support systems, food stocks refuelling cargo, two hundred square metres inflatable living space, thin solar panels, telecommunications equipment, rovers and so on, must be operational. Those present on Mars will have access to all modern and anticipated means of communication with Earth, however with a time delay of three to twenty minutes forth and back. The first few missions will not depend on LED hydroponics.

If the vision of Mars One is still out of step with traditionnal schemes, that intend to select the crew once the vessels have been built, tested and validated, once the budget is available, this innovating approach is probably the key to a daring pioneering mission: crucial human preparation must start now if we are to have confidence in the future and in some vision.

Today we know how to land one ton on Mars within certain precision margins and ways of braking at supersonic speed in weak atmospheric density are tested to land two point five tons. For such a manned mission we will need to land five to seven point five tons payloads, using retrorocket. SpaceX is confident to come up with tips to land one hundred tons payload, the « whole thing », in the next decade, through its Interplanetary Transport System. We know how to survive for long periods of time in more hostile environments than Mars (the moon, space stations).

Physiological demands are being defined more and more precisely and, thanks to Space Agencies work, counter measures exist to limit the extent (effects of micro-gravity on the organism, doses of cosmic radiation assessed at around one thousand msv for a 920 jours mission which is the maximum limit allowed for an astronaut's entire carreer).

Overall, no technological or physiological obstacle is really insurmountable. If the budget is available, the main challenge is psychological as, apart from the implications of survival in isolated and exremely confined conditions, Earth seen from Mars will be no more than a pale blue dot for the first time in the history of mankind...How do you choose teams capable of carrying out such a mission?

First of all, it involves selecting the right groups, not individuals, as capable as they may be. The group must function perfectly in situations of multiple challenges under extreme pressure. The members must be very different in terms of culture, education, training and competence, giving a wider view point when unexpected problems arise, while agreeing in harmony and advantageous complimentarity. We can spot several similarities to a sports team.

A certain amount of protection criteria for the candidates concerns personality traits, strategies of coping, dealing with stress and functioning in a group, has been identified during ICE missions studies (isolation, confinement in extreme environment) and retained as the first selection phase "select out", in order to exclud those who manifest certain inaptitudes. This first phase is admittedly selective cause what is rare does not mean being attaining high performance in one domaine, but rather, reaching the minimum required in every relevant field. But the delicate part of the selection process concerns the "select in", which determines the adequate group, individuals who possess the right palette of characteristics, allowing them to be considered as potentially apt to meet the expected and unexpected challenges before testing in group situations and simulations. For example, the palette of such a Marstronaut must include very solid optimism, confidence in others and in his capacity faced with adversity, balanced time perspective, unquenchable curiosity, self-awareness, with a rich and resourseful inside world, strength of mind when tested, resilience, flexibility, adaptability and team spirit. Hardiness concerns the taste for challenge, surpassing oneself and the perception of internal control for example the perception that we can act on events.

Once the 5 years selection will have been completed next year, three to six groups of four people will go into a thorough, intensive training programme in every domaine of the mission: construction, management, repairs and maintenance of the base and functional systems, scientific applications supervised from Earth (planetology, exobiology etc.), advanced medical techniques, hydropony, counter measures and so on. Added to this technical programme we will have group oriented training and management of our own resources in an extreme environment. The groups will be regularly sent on prolonged simulations in analogical bases in more and more realistic martian conditions.

The selection of the teams, their training and simulations will be mediatised, right up to the missions themselves. Thus aspiring to outreach, educate in the field of science and technology, to share, to inspire planetary and environmental awareness, to highlight the values that associate challenge, effort, helping one another, exploration, discovery and human adventure. Valorization will be used to consolidate medium term investment, in the same manner as positive global events, like the Olympic games and World Cup events.

When we take into account that 530 million people watched man's first steps on the moon, on the rare televisions in 1969, it is more than likely that the historic event of man's first steps on Mars will be a major buzz !-)

What are the forseeable impacts of the implantation of a permanent base on Mars?

There is no doubt that the small steps for these men and women will be a giant leap for the whole of mankind. From a deluge of technological spin-offs, particularly in the field of tele-technology, mobile life support systems, sustainable development to planetary ressources management. From a scientific point of view we have already suggested major discoveries, which may even be historic, particularly in the field of astrobiology. Creating the opening of such a mission is a wonderful breeding ground for serendipity and the scientific results could answer anything to epistemological and philosophical problems. What about life in the universe? Could man be a root to the equation that enables the universe to learn about itself?

Planetary awareness is perfectly set out in the new perspective in which humanity will find itself with the help of astronauts and marstronauts. An overview effect has been described that corresponds to sharp awareness, when a man takes in the vision of our entire planet Earth, both the beauty of this blue planet on the black background of the space void and the extreme fragility of the thin layer that shelters life on its surface. The imperative of protection and extraterrestrial imperatives have begun. With such a perspective in mind, it is possible to get a glimpse of a rise in our level of conscience of belonging to a whole that it is urgent to protect.

There is also an indirect underligned effect by the inspiring potential of such a mission. An Apollo effect has already been described: the contemporary craze for Apollo missions among young students for scientific studies, engineering, with an indirect consequence of a significative stimulation of the technology increase as well as the domestic product, measurable and interwoven.

Therefore the "Space for Anyone" decade has been launched. at this very moment

we are witnessing the birth of space tourism and private, commercial Astronautics. Space agencies consider that their professional Astronauts, having opened the route to low earth orbit, will from now on explore new worlds and outer space, following the moon, asteroides Mars' moons and Mars itself. A large choice of space tourism from ZeroG flights to inflatable space hotels in orbit, not forgetting sub-orbital and orbital flights will soon be accessible in great numbers. The spaceports will also be catalysts of globalised economy with sub -orbital transcontinental flights bringing Hong Kong to two hours from Paris.

But from now on, we could expect a new corps of professional astronauts, private ones this time: large, private space organisations could select their own groups, as we have seen, according to the very precise constraints of their specific missions, from accompanying commercial, spaceflight participants and the scientific exploitation of flights, to Mars missions. The first astronauts were selected for to their resistance, their operational capacity to take risks, among test pilots, as physiological unknown factors were major. For the needs of long-term manned missions, they had to look at profiles that were more scientific, mixed, balanced, flexible, collaborative, as it's easy to imagine the consequences of a powerful personality, when tempermental... Up until now professional astronauts had to have particularly solid academic and operational pre-requisites. From now on or in the very near future, the psychological characteristics sought and the preparation time necessary for deep Space missions, the most important and the rarest won't be the candidate's previous cursus but more his profile in particular: while many may be allowed to dream of becoming an astronaut, that point will surely render the youths of today more starry-eyed than ever. Anyway, welcome to the world of Sapiens Spaciens.

We are incredibly lucky to be alive at an exceptional moment in time in the four billion years history of life on earth. We will break through new frontiers we never dared imagine in the coming decades, the ultimate frontier. It's up to us to anticipate this evolution to take the right measures -ethic, humanitary, environmental- concerning the risks ultimately linked to these issues. A coherent vision of what we should expect and one we should lean to together, leaving everything to intuition, creativity, enlightened human ingenuity, will open a fabulous array of possibilities. Some are already en route taking very decided steps towards this interplanetary civilisation. You may choose whether to hop onto the space train or not...Let comfort, ease, inconsistency fade into the distance, but despite all these challenges, the way towards what we know and will find out about ourselves, to an augmented world, an environment as necessary for a positive humanism, rather than to be limited, will be the truest voyage, bathing all the contours of interior life. Wherever we go, there we are (Kabat Zinn) . Because it’s there (Mallory). Everything that some men are capable of creating, others are capable of acting upon (Verne, apocryphal). Look beyond what we have and take closer look at what we are (Saint-Exupery).

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