Mars InSight mission and what’s next

InSight is a robotic mission to Mars that’s launched on May 5th, 2018. InSight lander is equipped with drilling equipment that will enable it to penetrate 15 feet into Mars, much deeper than was done before.

The mission will cost about 1 billion dollars. Is it money well spent?

Here’s the key quote:

“If you have an astronaut on the planet, you can do this in maybe 20 minutes or half an hour,” Banerdt said of the heat flow experiment. “But if you want to do it robotically, you have to get a little bit more clever.” Banerdt is InSight’s principal investigator from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

So the mission’s designer concedes that crewed mission would be much more productive. This means one thing: let’s focus our energy (and NASA’s budget) on preparing for a human mission to Mars! InSight gets a pass because it was planned about a decade ago and was almost ready to fly in 2018. But from now on, NASA should send robotic missions to Mars only with the goal to prepare a crewed mission. Any incremental science done by robots in the coming decade will be nothing compared to what a humans will be able to do. Continuing robotic exploration of Mars is wasteful.

This is not 1990s any more. Practical blueprint for a mission has been laid out by Dr. Zubrin more than 2 decades ago. We now understand what is required to make this mission a reality. The biggest technological challenge was believed to be a super heavy lift launcher. Now, not one but two firms are working on those (SpaceX’s BFR and US Government-funded SLS). SpaceX’s “aspirational goal” is to launch BFR to Mars in 2022 and crew in 2024. SLS is expected to fly in 2020. There will be the usual project delays, but it seems likely that within a decade, one or both will fly. This will solve problem #1. Next item: power. I’ll address it in the next post.