Manned or Unmanned

Justification for a Manned Mission

The difficulty, and intricacy of data collection on Mars are such that the mission's goal would be best met with a manned mission. Only humans are flexible, adaptable, and autonomous enough to respond to the numerous uncertainties, and surprises that would be encountered on a mission so far away from Earth in space, and time. While it is true that the addition of men to an already complex mission to explore Mars introduces many new risks, problems, and disadvantages, it is also clear that the missions complexity calls for the presence of humans to maximize the likelihood that the mission objective will be met.

The ultimate objective of this mission is to find "evidence" of life. However, the mission must also be completed via a "viable mission plan." For the purpose of this mission, a "viable mission plan” can be defined as a plan that maximizes the efficiency of the mission, and the likelihood of achieving success.

Considering the difficulty of acquiring funding for an expensive mission such as this, it can be concluded that an unmanned mission would be a better choice. It is undoubtedly less expensive, and is more familiar both to the public, and to scientists, and engineers. Certainly, an unmanned mission seems much more practical than the "romantic" concept of sending people to Mars.

 However, the exact concept of efficiency must be outlined in order to accurately assess which is the best method. Does efficiency necessarily always mean the less expensive, and more familiar method? For the purpose of this mission, we decided that efficiency is best defined as how well resources (manpower, and money) are utilized while taking into account the magnitude, and importance of the consequences of the possible courses of action, and possible methods.

From this definition, now consider an unmanned mission. It is more likely that several moderately priced unmanned missions could be sent to Mars, but with potentially less than desirable results returned to Earth. It seems clear that the difficulty of designing complicated automated systems to analyze a wide variety of samples, and respond to the many uncertainties that would be encountered on the surface of Mars is so great that the probability of achieving successful results from purely automated missions would be low. This is true purely based on the fact that current technology is not good enough to allow the precision, and versatility necessary to meet the mission's goal.

In contrast, the results obtained from a manned mission can be optimized because humans will be immediately available to assess samples, data, and adjust any necessary equipment, etc. In short, humans will be present to adapt to any situation, and examine a much larger quantity of data, and samples with a minimum of cumbersome automation. This reasoning can be supported further by the fact that in the past many automated missions to Mars have proven to be fallible, and the results returned to Earth were far from optimal. A manned mission, while more expensive, and risky, provides extra security, and versatility that is absolutely necessary for this mission.

Additional Risks, and Problems to be Considered Due to the Manned Nature of the Mission

While it is clear that a manned mission optimizes results, and the probability of discovering something of extreme importance, it is also clear that a manned mission is far more complicated than an automated, unmanned mission. The added risks associated with a manned mission are extensive, and are outlined in the following paragraphs.

The obvious problem with sending men into space is keeping them alive. To assure that the astronauts survive the trips to, and from Mars as well as their stay on the planet, several things must be designed. Firstly, an environment that is capable of supporting life in space must be designed for the spacecraft. Secondly, a suitable habitat must be designed to support life for an extended period of time on the surface of Mars. Thirdly, a space suit specially designed for the use in the Martian environment is necessary so that the men can exit the habitat without fear of a suit malfunction due to Martian conditions.

Other problems that must be addressed in relation to sustaining life en route to Mars, and while on the Martian surface are supplying food, water, and fuel to the astronauts. Furthermore, the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity or low gravity conditions must also be considered.

While these additional problems may seem to outweigh the advantages of a manned mission, it shall become clear throughout this paper that a manned mission is indeed viable, and the best method of pursuing the mission's goals.

mitCopyright © 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Comments and questions to mission2004-students@mit.edu Last updated: 10 December, 2000