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The Case for Mars

case-for-marsInterest in Space has changed radically since Apollo ended in 1973 and the Shuttle Fleet has been retired. Advances in Science through NASA have continued since then, but mostly from Low Earth Orbit, leaving only interplanetary probes and landers to perform the state-of-the-art observations at the great distances to the planets.

Space communications are enjoyed by all Radio Operators’ with the rewards of exacting views of Mars, all the way to Pluto and well beyond.

Human space travel beyond the Van Allen Belt stopped in 1973. Excursions to Lunar Soil…no more. Since its conception, NASA has drafted scores and volumes of plans for every conceivable mission possible from this planet. But only one plan stands out as most feasible in view of the pioneering spirit of offworld adventure… Going to MARS!

Dr. Robert Zubrin, of Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood Colorado has a vision that extends to colonizing the planet Mars. His radical approach surpasses NASA’s studies in “micro-gravity” since 1973 and in his words “..the purpose of spaceships is to actually travel across space and go to new worlds, not to hang out in space and observe the effects of doing so….” (circa 2003, US Senate Committee of Space Exploration) His Book, “Case for Mars” lays out the most suitable approach of a Mars Direct (or, Semi-Direct) Plan of going there.

The Mars Society has established a number of MARS simulation stations on Earth called “Analog Stations.” Two of these, MDRS & FMARS are affordable platforms offering a “near-to experience” for future Martian dwellers,
in the traditions Dr. Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct Program.

Since the first “Crew 1” of 2001, the Crews have displayed techniques for:

  • Growing sustainable crops to survive
  • Health & Medical care
  • Habitability & Water Reclamation
  • Geodesics and Photogrammetry
  • UAVs & Rovers

…all this, with devices brought with them for the duration of their stay.

What they lack is a realistic communications system to simulate the kinds of remote communications they would actually use on the planet. This article is a call to Hams to solicit help for the Mars Society in establishing some meaningful amateur radio between and around the camps. This help can either be radio work-groups or donations towards current state-of-the-art equipment & devices.

Amateur Radio Has a lot to offer the Mars Society activities. If they adopt ham radio, then the licensing requirements would be mandatory for Crew Members and Mission Control.

HF Frequencies could be used for making reports to Mission Control in Colorado, New Mexico or, in relaying reports between the other Analogues Stations.

Getting their licenses reminds these operators the importance of their radio studies. It is a medium to use at all times, no matter which world they are on.

The objective is to have BOTH Analogs & Mission Control “permanently equipped” with Communications, PCs, Sensors & hardware.

  1. Mission Control Radio Communication
    ( HF Med / High Power )
    For “checking in” and reporting status of accomodations.
  2. Point-to-Point Communication
    ( VHF – Low Power )
    Mars has no ionosphere, therefore line-of-sight radio is handled by GMRS or 2 Meter Simplex Modes. Further Distance coverage is handled by a Remote, solar-powered, Repeater Station(s).
  3. Telemetry
    ( VHF / UHF – Low Power using APRS ) for Weather, Seismic Sensor, Tracking, EVA Suit & Health, power charge monitoring.
  4. Position Reporting
    ( VHF / UHF – Low Power using APRS)
    RDF, APRS and EPLRS Methods can be used because by the time man and women arrive on MARS, there will be a network of GPS-MARS satellites to support exploration. In addition Radio Direction Finding can be useful for Search & Rescue.
  5. Ground Penetrating Radar GPR
    ( UHF – 1 to 4 watts for depth data – VHF for data transfer )
    Device mounted on Rover for high definition Tomography.
  6. Satellite Communications
    OSCAR SATS [any or all available] ( VHF – 20 to 35 Watts )
    Remote Satellite Dish Controller and Program for Orbital Predictions. Exercising the practice of tracking and piloting a Supply Ship to and from the surface.
  7. Power Management Monitoring
    ( VHF / UHF – Low Power )
    Solar / Thermal / RTG Power Plants and Storage Arrays.
  8. Enhanced UAV
    ( VHF / UHF – Low Power)
    Ground Penetrating Radar.
    Geodesics – LIDAR and Photogrammetry.
    Seismic Sensor positioning.
  9. Packet Digipeating
    ( VHF simulating MARS networks)
    Wireless internet – Multi-node – Global coverage.
    Telemetry,Telemetry, Telemetry….it’s about telemetry. The variety of existing APRS formats can be used to provide the neural life-blood of information that lives are depending on.

The objective is to use communications in a real-world environment to gain experience in day to day operations or emergencies 250 million miles away.

MARS simulated inhabitants would gain experience In the face of failures & power outages, and make immediate and command decisions as needed to conserve power in low power modes – alternate frequencies – troubleshoot – make on-the-fly Repairs.Similarly, MARS Ground Control would learn to activate alternate Tracking and communications Stations as needed to address every conceivable combination of situations no exceptions – as lives are on the line.

Communicating at such a remote and distant location, or in the protective cover of a Habitat or EVA Suit, is as important as the air they breathe.

The Mars Society’s Analog Stations of Hanksville, Utah, and Devon Island, Northern Canadian Reaches have been established over 15 years at locations almost identical to the Martian terrain, but with air. Well over 1,000 Crew Members have dedicated their studies of alternate foods, longevity, geology, mapping, power generation, tomography, astronomy, terraforming, fuel production…. …anything ….everything humanly devised, to be put to the task here and, out there.

Seen from their Crew Reports, there’s been limited use of telemetry, tracking and telecoms to date. University Teams who have introduced various hardware, have returned home with them and not left working systems behind to add to the stations. As such, the stations are relatively incomplete owing to the full spectrum of devices that are needed to make offworld procedures successful.

In the future, with Ham Radio participation and assistance in setting up communications, telemetry and networks, it is possible to see these Habitats fully equipped with more state-of-the art devices permanently on hand at all the Analogs and Mission Control Centers with real-time techniques and real-world equipment.

These Analogs and Simulatinos are not just practicing life on Mars for the sake of isolation. They are trying to replicate the full spectrum of conditions that would be involved in communicating with the distant world humans, and reporting their findings over these actual radio links. Using WiFi and the internet and our latest technology is not an accurate simulation. With Amateur Radio communications and links we would be practicing to be becoming proficient in the techniques involved in actually settling there.

This is a good opportunity for ham radio Elmers participate and consider what could be used on Mars and then help in setting it up (as well as get new experimenters, and scientists into the hobby).

Imagine how radio-quiet those first humans will find MARS to be. It will be like listening to the ether like Marconi first heard it on Earth a century ago, but without all the static and noise of lightning and thunderstorms. Maybe there are new noise sources on Mars or propagation possibilities as yet unexplored on Mars. Any ham radio made years ago still applies to the same Spectrum as devices do nowadays.

The radio communications needs are not just those on the surface of Mars but also every component that could very well be used: enroute to – orbiting above – onto, or under the Surface of Mars.

With the help of Hams, these Mars simulated stations on Earth can be much more than simple exercises in human isolation. The real-world experience with simple communications established from the ground up by the participants can be invaluable to learning about the experience of inhabiting a new world…

Think about this opportunity to involve Ham radio in not only the future of planetary exploration but also in involving these active and enthusiastic experimenters into a life long pursuit of the joy of radio communications.

Consider what you or your club can do to participate, or provide equipment donations that can be the instruments of success to this endeavor. The Mars Society is a nonprofit, and welcomes donations pertinent to their mission goals.


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor