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Journey to the Red Planet

Journey to the Red Planet

A tale for the next generation

Real-time picture of positions of Earth and Mars
Image courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center

Congratulations! You got the job! This is the day you leave your home in the cool, green hills of Earth and start your long journey to Mars. From long habit, you check your wall display to see where the red planet is right now in its journey around the sun. You've been watching that display, day by day, waiting for the time when Mars would finally approach a position in the sky that opens the launch window for ships outbound from Luna.

You're traveling light. You've sold your condo, your books, and your antique record collection. You've bid farewell to your family and friends because you know that years will pass before you might be able to see them again. It's not easy to leave everything behind, but you have to follow your heart.

Your trip begins with the long flight to Australia. A few days snorkeling in the warm waters inside the Great Barrier Reef are your last conact with the natural wonders of your home planet. From there, you fly to the bustling space port at Groote Eylandt where you check in for the first leg of your journey off the planet.

After two days of briefings, baggage checks, and sightseeing trips to Darwin, you board the giant passenger rocket. The flight is full, but you're comfortable enough for the trip to the orbiting hotel. Flight attendants make sure you're securely strapped into your seat, and you watch the countdown clock and the back of the seat in front of you. Your fellow passengers don't seem inclined to conversation; everyone is anticipating the moment when the giant rockets will light and hurl your rocket into the realm beyond the sky.
Commercial Passenger Rocket

Finally the launch window opens. Your pilots announce that all systems are green and the weather is good. An awesome roar surrounds you, and your ship lifts off with stately grace. Groote Eylandt Spaceport dwindles beneath you. Your ship bends its trajectory to the east, and climbs past the cloud tops into the black void beyond.

There isn't much of a feeling of speed, though the ship is hurtling across the terran landscape at more than seventeen thousand miles an hour. Less than a half hour after launch, you see the giant wheel of the orbiting hotel approaching your ship.

The hotel grows until it fills the viewscreen mounted on the back of the seat in front of you. Another hour passes as the pilot gingerly maneuvers your ship into one of the hotel's space berths. You're floating in zero g now. It takes a few minutes to get used to the falling sensation, but you've prepared yourself for this moment. Soon the disorientation stops and your surroundings snap into place in your mind.

You follow the other passengers along the handrails, out of the ship to the elevator that will take you to the rim of the hotel. The hotel spins to provide artificial gravity. The lower gravity, adjusted for space travelers from all around the system, makes you feel light on your feet; but it's enough to give you a definite feeling of which way is "up."

You're only here for one day, just enough time to check out the amusements offered by the orbiting resort and spend a few hours in private communion with the blue planet sedately moving past your window every two minutes.

The next morning, you board the lunar shuttle. This ship is another wheel, spinning just fast enough to give you a feeling of about one-sixth gravity. You hear a series of thumps as the shuttle slips away from the hotel, and again rockets rumble as it accelerates into its trajectory for the moon. Your weight builds up rapidly so that for a few minutes you feel almost like you were back on Earth, lying on your back.

You feel like you're leaning sideways as the complex accelerations of the spin and the thrust act on your seat. This settles down in a few minutes and gravity once again points down through the floor of the spacecraft. The shuttle to the moon has completed its translunar injection boost. You're coasting along on the road to the moon.
The moon.
Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center Exploration Server

After three days of sight-seeing and recreation aboard the lunar shuttle, the moon has grown until its rugged landscape fills your view. Again, the gravity vector seems to be misbehaving. Flight attendants help you back into your seat and the pilots take the spin off the ship. With a rumble from the main engines, the lunar shuttle begins its descent to the landing field at Angus Bay.

You've timed your trip so that you can spend a week on the moon before it's time to board the ship to Mars. That gives just enough time to experience recreational opportunities unique to the moon.

You try out your wings at the Overmyer Aerodrome. Here you rent a set of wings and fly through a mile-long cavern among giant trees and waterfalls. Campers below wave as you fly past. You've seen people flying through the main city, but you'll need a lot more practice with your wings before you're willing to trust your skills in the complex traffic patterns of the city.

Another day you take the tram to visit the lunar farside observatories. The huge telescopes give you a view of the cosmos previously known only to the patient cameras of robotic observatories in Earth orbit.

The week goes by all too quickly. There are a thousand more things you'd like to do on the moon, but it's time to board the ship to Mars. Instead of heading out to the spaceport, you go to the catapult. There, the Mars ship is laid out on its track, ready for its turn in the breech of the great electric gun.

You stow your gear in your small cabin. The floor is tilted a bit because you're near the end of one of the spacecraft segments, but in the low gravity of the moon this doesn't give you any problems. Once the flight attendant has assured that you have all your luggage securely fastened down, you walk down to your segment's passenger lounge.

In the lounge, the flight attendants help you get strapped down into your acceleration couch. The seats face forward along the catapult, so at the moment you feel like you're standing up. This will soon change.

Your Mars pilots announce that your ship is ready for launch, and the acceleration warning sounds. The ship begins to move. Your weight builds up quickly until you're lying in your couch, three times heavier than you were on Earth. Several minutes pass as the ship accelerates. A screen on the couch in front of you shows your progress as the Mars craft accelerates, moving ever faster along the surface of the moon. There's not much noise -- just the whisper of the ventilation ducts, a slight vibration from the electric motors, and the ever-present weight pushing you back against your acceleration couch.

The acceleration warning sounds again, but this time it's a different tone, warning you the ship is about to enter free fall. Then it happens. Your couch sighs and relaxes, and suddenly you're back in zero g. You're on your way to Mars!

For a few minutes, your ship seems to be skimming along the surface of the moon, and then you're out in deep space once more. Your screen shows the configuration of the ship. It changes from a long, segemented string of individual spacecraft into a circle, like a caterpillar rolling up until its head touches its tail.

Thump! Clickety, clank! Reconfiguration is complete. Your Mars ship has transformed itself into a small, doughnut-shaped space station; but unlike the stations that sedately orbit the mother planet, your ship is hurtling through space, headed pell mell for Mars.

The pilots fire tiny rockets around the rim of the spacecraft, and the ship spins up. Gravity builds up until once again you're standing on the floor -- actually the outer rim of the doughnut -- with your acceleration couch all but forgotten behind you. You feel light. The ship will maintain Mars normal gravity, about a third of the weight you had on Earth. You don't feel much heavier than you did on the moon, although you weigh twice as much as you did during your visit to Luna.

Through a window in the side of the spacecraft, you see Luna dropping away quickly. That crescent of light beyond the moon is Mother Earth Herself.

Now it's time to get settled into your cabin for the long journey to Mars. You'll have plenty of time to get to know your fellow passengers; this leg of your journey will take more than six months. Rather than traveling aboard a vehicle, it feels like you've made a permanent change of address. For half a year, your new home will be a small cabin on a spinning spaceship bound for Mars.

Ship's routine becomes your daily life. Fortunately, you have an extensive library available to you, and there are always the telescopes unobstructed by Earth's atmosphere and unaffected by weather. The ship falls into a three-shift operation, so that the refectory is open 24 hours a day for meals. You pass the time by visiting with your fellow passengers, studying up for your new career on the red planet, and of course, perusing the Artemis Data Book via the Interplanetary Web.
Image courtesy of The Mars Society

At long last, Mars takes on the shape of a planet. A dull orange ball hangs in the sky against the star-studded velvet black backdrop of space.

Your ship fires its braking rockets and becomes a temporary space station in Mars orbit. As you orbit the red planet, you get your first close-up tour of your new home. Now-familiar landscapes move past -- the huge barnacle of Olympus Mons attended by the Three Sisters, the deep rugged terrain of Mariner Valley -- in an ever-changing panorama. Time to pack your bags; you're almost home!

A spherical shuttle approaches and docks at the central hub of your ship. It will take three trips to exchange all the passengers, and you're on the last shuttle, so you have a couple of days to get your gear together and bid your farewells to the ship's crew. You spend as much time as you can with your nose pressed against the window in your stateroom, viewing with your own eyes the wonders of the red planet from orbit. Even the night passes are interesting; with binoculars you can make out the lights of advance exploration bases in Syrtis Major. That glint of light might be the observatory on Olympus Mons.

More ships arrive, tankers from the space base at Phobos, carrying fuel and supplies for the ship's return journey to Luna. Passengers for the in-bound trip arrive on each shuttle, looking forward to their trip back to Luna. You're an old hand now; you can advise them on ship's routine and help them get settled into their cabins.
Mars outpost.
Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center Exploration Server

On your third day at Mars, a family arrives looking especially for you. It's a young couple with a toddler. They seek you out because they are assigned to your cabin. It's time to leave the ship that has been your home these past six months.

With a good-luck wish for the family who will take over your cabin, you proceed to the ship's hub. You're back in zero g now, moving along a corridor to the Mars shuttle. A familiar flight attendant helps you get ready for the trip down; several of the big ship's crew have exchanged jobs with people from Mars.

The shuttle undocks from the big ship and drifts away. This is the first time you've been able to see the whole Mars ship with your own eyes. You can make out the name of the ship painted on each segment of the hull: "Ouroboros." The ship does indeed look like a snake swallowing its tail, but perhaps the name goes deeper, reflecting the way this great ship cycles between Luna and Mars, consuming resources it has deposited on its previous journey.

Rockets rumble, and the shuttle begins its descent. You hit the thin, poisonous atmosphere of Mars, and your weight builds up gradually. The rockets are still burning when the ship pops out its drogue chute with a jerk and bounce. Then the main parachutes deploy, forming a canopy many times the size of the little shuttle.

Vibration from the rockets builds up to a crescendo as the surface comes up to greet you, and with a small bump, you're down. You're on Mars!

The bus that comes to take you to the Martian outpost looks like a tank on wheels. As you make your way through a pressurized gangway to the bus, you see a convoy of other vehicles approaching the shuttle, reaching out for its ports to gather up your baggage along with hundreds of other freight containers destined for the base on Mars.

The Martian outpost doesn't look like much in comparison to your memories of the bustling industrial centers and space ports on the moon, but you know that this is only the beginning. Not long before you were born, there was nothing on the moon but an exploration base and a few robots roving around, poking at the rocks. Once again, mankind has pushed back the frontiers of human infuence; and this time, you are a part of it.

This is just one of many possible scenarios for opening the planet Mars as a new frontier for all mankind. In the Artemis Project, we are working on the initial step of establishing a permanent human community on the moon, which will grow to become the primary transportation node for flights throughout the solar system and beyond.

You can be a part of this adventure right now, through your membership in Artemis Society International.

If you are interested in concepts for traveling to Mars, you also might be interested in the Mars Society, which is working on a private initiative to send humans to Mars.

Related documents in the Artemis Data Book

Your Vacation on the Moon
Mars Will Require a Hardier Breed of Pioneer


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