MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The United States has the technology to put men on Mars today, but there’s one small glitch: The rocket can’t carry enough fuel to get them back to Earth.
Tom Ewing, an astronomy professor with the University of Maryland University College-Asia, gave a free hour-long lecture on the exploration of the planet on Friday, explaining the "Mars Direct" theory embraced by the Mars Society, an international nonprofit organization.
The group argues that NASA doesn’t need to develop next generation rockets or use the International Space Station as a stepping stone on the six-month journey to Mars. Instead, the organization developed plans that would call for combining hydrogen carried from Earth with the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere to make the fuel needed for the return journey.
For 20 years, the society has been pushing to educate the public and calling for more government funding, according to a statement on its Web site at www.marssociety.org.
Ewing used slides, a video presentation and a lot of humor during the lecture to a few dozen base residents.
He compared living conditions on Earth and Mars, pointing out the challenges the first explorers on the planet would face with extreme temperatures, the atmosphere and gravity.
On the Martian equator, at noon, temperatures rise to about 50 degrees, he said.
But, "we don’t want to talk about night," he joked, explaining that temperatures can drop to 200 degrees below zero.
His last item on the list of comparisons was McDonald’s. "Soon," was written on the slide under the Mars list.
The big question is whether the process for making the fuel would work on Mars. The Mars Society’s plan calls for sending an unmanned rocket first, which would automatically make new fuel for two years until the next launch window. That way, when the first manned mission arrived, the Mars explorers would find all the fuel they needed to return.
Ewing also said he’s starting a Mars Club chapter at Misawa that will meet the first Friday of each month at noon in the education building. E-mail him at TEWING54@yahoo.com for more information.