Thursday, June 21, 2007

Long Term Volunteers

The Associated Press reported today that the Paris-based European Space Agency (ESA) has launched a recruitment drive for volunteers willing to commit nearly 1.5 years inside a "mock space ship in Moscow."

The ESA notes that volunteers for this mission should expect --

".......crowding, lack of privacy, high workload, mechanical breakdowns, boredom with available food, and limited communication with mission control, family, and friends....."

This description of life in the mock space ship sounds more like prison life or (unfortunately) the life of many of our soldiers currently serving in Iraq. My sincere thanks to those men and women who serve in the USA military today -- your sacrifices are never re-paid in full by our country.

As for this mission I have to really wonder who would or could volunteer 1.5 years of their lives to such a project. The article I read did not suggest any form of compensation would be offered so I am thinking potential volunteers would come from these demographic groups -- recent college graduates, the chronically unemployed, and perhaps Hollywood celebrities looking for new "rehab" options :-)

ESA's reason for this mission is to better understand what "euronauts" can expect during the potential flight to Mars in the year 2030 when Earth and Mars will only be 35 million miles apart from each other. The current speculation is that such a flight would take 520 days from Earth to Mars thus making it a 3 year round trip mission. Now the 3 year timeframe is an amazing coincidence for a budding historian like myself because this is essentially the same timeframe it took Lewis and Clark to tour the Louisiana Territory from 1803 to 1806. The "Mars" of their day was the area near Seattle, Washington which really got me thinking about the technological progress we have made in the aviation world. So courtesy of the Lindbergh Foundation here is an overall Aviation History Timeline (edited by me to highlight KEY aviation events minus personal events such as Charles Lindbergh's birthday) interested readers should consider as they think about the ESA's planned mission to Mars:

1783 - Montgolfier Brothers construct the first lighter-than-air vehicle (a balloon)

1900 - Count Ferdinand Zeppelin's airship flies

1903 - Orville and Wilbur Wright fly first successful self-propelled airplane

1909 - Louis Bleriot crosses English Channel in a monoplane

1913 - Salim Ilkucan crosses Sea of Marmara by achieving the longest over-sea flight in a doubleplane

1918 - United States Post Office establishes airmail service

1924 - First flight around the world

1926 - Lindbergh makes his first Chicago-to-St. Louis airmail flight

1927 - Charles Lindbergh makes first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight

1932 - Amelia Earhart becomes the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean

1937 - Zeppelin Hindenburg burns

1946 - Radar bounces off the moon for the first time

1947 - The sound barrier is broken by Chuck Yeager

1950s - Technologies such as long-range missiles, computer systems, electronic controls, combustion chemistry, and new composite structures made possible by the aerospace industry

1958 - The first American satellite to be placed in orbit around the Earth, "Explorer 1", is launched

1959 - NASA selects its first seven astronauts

1961 - Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space

1969 - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first persons to walk on the moon

1971 - NASA's Mariner 9 orbits Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit another planet

1972 - NASA announces the shuttle program

1976 - Concorde flies

1981 - First Space Shuttle flight

Assuming the ESA's (reminder -- the ESA is based in Paris, France) mission to Mars is launched in 2030 that would mark 224 years after the Montgolfier Brothers launched the first hot air balloon flight known in human history in Annonay, France. As a taxpayer and adventurer myself I hope that the USA's NASA and the ESA collaborate with each other to not only save money but to also land a spacecraft on Mars sooner than 2030 -- a full 61 years after Neil Armstrong walked on Earth's Moon.


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