Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Manned Mars Mission AKA “I WANT TO BELIEVE”

Modern mythology about secret missions to Mars abound and I admit capture my imagination far more than they should in an otherwise skeptical person. The Manhattan Project, America’s wartime project to develop nuclear weapons, employed more than 130,000 people, cost $26 billion in 2012 dollars, operated across numerous sites and a huge amount of real estate, and consumed 15% of all the electricity being generated in the country (to put it into context, about 20% more than all of New York City). It was arguably the largest Western black project and was very successfully kept secret, but there have been many other extremely large black projects kept secret as well in the recent history of the military-industrial complex. Is it so crazy to wonder if a secret Mars program is possible?

** Speaking seriously for a minute, yes, it is crazy. Unlike Moon bases, which were developed extensively by both the Army and the Air Force in the 1950s, Mars was never eyeballed by the military nor are there even dubious military applications for the planet. I can construct a logical fantasy that convinces me that there was a secret Moon program and like I said, we know there was — for example Project Lunex which the Air Force intended begin construction by 1967, and even earlier, the US Army’s Horizon Lunar Outpost which they wanted to begin in 1965 and have operational by 1966, beginning with a staff of twelve men. Kennedy scrapped both of these secret programs when he replaced it with the Apollo Program scientific PR exercise. As a point of trivia, the Apollo program cost $200 billion in 2012 dollars ($19 billion per moon landing). The US Army budgeted their Horizon Outpost of 1966 as costing $43 billion in 2012 dollars. Since I’m sure you are wondering how accurate this estimate might be, I will mention that NASA only went over their Apollo budget by less than 20%, so their estimates weren’t terribly unreasonable. The Air Force’s Lunex was a slightly bigger base with a staff of 21 airmen, and they figured their base would cost $54 billion in 2012 dollars. I’m assuming these figures do not include operational costs, but even if those sound like big numbers, if you assume that in 1965 the US had a population of 195 million, and about 65 million of those were taxpayers, then you only need a $100 a year from each of them if you spread the investment over ten years, and that doesn’t include corporate taxpayers. It’s not hard to hide those kinds of dollars amounts in a budget as large as the US’s — for example, in 2010 the Pentagon publicly committed $50 billion to classified projects, and that doesn’t even count money that gets moved under the table. And hell, with the size of the military spending in general, it’s very easy to hide things — after all, the Iraq war cost the United States at an utter minimum $800 billion and climbing (and that number is arguably $3 trillion or higher).

Anyway, I’m getting myself distracted with politics and “I wish we’d made different choices” dreams. The point I wanted to make is that even if I could convince myself there was a secret military moon program, and can build up good circumstantial evidence for it, I can’t convince myself there was a secret Mars Program when I’m being level headed… Not that it doesn’t take some pretty far-out thinking to believe the moon has strategic military value, but there’s no absolutely reason to keep a Mars program secret unless you start moving even farther into conspiracy land, for example, the idea that the Cydonia region really was constructed by intelligent life, and a secret advance program was sent there to investigate and/or destroy the evidence. But whatever the reason, let’s keep talking about secret missions to Mars.

End of speaking seriously**

When we review modern Mars mythology, the first mission that needs to be mentioned is the joint German-Japanese mission using a large Haunebu III dreadnaught. Quoting from Half A Century Of The German Moon Base 1942 – 1992 by Vladimir Terziski (of the so-called “American Academy of Dissident Sciences”):

According to the authors of the underground German documentary movie from the Thule society, the only produced craft of the Haunebu-3 type — the 74 meter diameter naval warfare dreadnought — was chosen for the most courageous mission of this whole century — the trip to Mars. The craft was of saucer shape, had the bigger Andromeda tachyon drives, and was armed with four triple gun turrets of large naval caliber (three inverted upside down and attached to the underside of the craft,and the fourth on top of the crew compartments).

A volunteer suicide crew of Germans and Japanese was chosen, because everybody knew that this journey was a one-way trip with no return. The large intensity of the electro-magnetogravitic fields and the inferior quality of the metal alloys used then for the structural elements of the drive, was causing the metal to fatigue and get very brittle after only few months of work. The flight to Mars departed from Germany one month before the war ended — in April 1945.

It was probably a large crew, numbering in the hundreds, because of the low level of automation and electronic controls inside the saucer. Most of the systems of the craft had to be operated like these on a U-boat of that time — manually. Because the structurally weakened tachyon drives were not working with full power and not all the time, the trip to Mars took almost eight months to accomplish. An initial short trust towards Mars was probably used the strong gravitational field close to Earth, after th at the craft was “coasting” for eight months in an elliptical orbit to Mars with its main drives turned off. Later trips to Mars by the joint Soviet — American craft in 1952 and by the Vatican craft of the Marconi project from Argentina in 1956 reached Mars in only two to three days, because their drives were working during the whole flight: accelerating in the first half and decelerating in the second. Smaller Kohler converters were probably used to power the systems and life support equipment on board. I do not have any information at the present time about any artificial gravity capability on board the craft, but that could have been easily done with the large anti-gravity drives of the ship.

After a heavy, almost crashing landing, the saucer slammed to a stop, damaging irreparably its drives, but saving the crew. That happened in the middle of January 1946. The crash landing on Mars was not only due to the crippled tachyon drives of the craft — it was also due to the smaller gravitational field of Mars generating less power for the tachyon drives; and also due to the thinner atmosphere on Mars, that could not be used as effectively for air breaking as the Earth’s atmosphere could. The craft was shaped as a giant saucer — a form that is very efficient as an air brake, when it is entered into the atmosphere with its Huge cross section perpendicular to the trajectory of descent.

Holy techno-babble and Black Sun fantasies Batman! As fun as those stories are, I would be shocked-beyond-shocked if there’s a bit of truth to flying saucer trips to Mars by the Nazis let alone the Vatican, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s the earliest and best-established secret Mars mission in the chronology. But outside of there not being a shred of evidence for any of the story, perhaps more importantly, the underlying technology simply doesn’t exist, and is very far removed from everything we believe could exist. As advanced as German aerospace was, unfortunately they are no more likely to have succeeded at true space travel than Jules Verne. They both had good ideas — after all, the space guns been shown to be a workable and highly efficient technology capable of launching mass into space for a fraction of current costs — but couldn’t realize them any more than Leonardo da Vinci could actually build a helicopter even if he could think it up. The Russians also gave serious thought to Mars missions starting with MPK in 1956, but since they never figured out how to make the N1 (their heavy lift rocket equivalent to America’s Saturn V) do anything other than explode, they couldn’t lift enough mass into space to launch a Mars mission no matter how badly they wanted to and how much time they spent at the drawing board.

The Americans on the other hand actually did have the technology to get to Mars, so in their case it’s much easier to fantasize because you don’t have to imagine them doing something arguably impossible like in the case of the Soviets or the Nazis. In the late 1967 there was a government document published called The Report from Iron Mountain (which may or may not be a hoax — the fact that President LBJ tried to have the document suppressed and major figures such as John Kenneth Galbraith — who you may remember was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 by Clinton — have supported its legitimacy suggests it is real, as does its prophetic nature) which concludes that war or a substitute for war is required for governments to maintain power, and that true peace is not in the interests of the economy. The report recommends creating “foes” for the public to fight, terrorism and illegal immigrants for one portion of the populace, and out-of-control pollution (ie. global warming) for the remainder, and to conglomerate wealth into the controlling classes in order to bring back a socially acceptable modern version of slavery. Sounds familiar? Just a hoax, don’t worry. Don’t listen to me anyway, I have a big lump of calcium building up in my brain and can’t be trusted.

A related report went further and predicted that these plans would eventually fail, and that the powerful and wealthy elite needed to put in place a set of three alternatives in the case of a social apocalypse. “Alternative One” called for the elimination of huge parts of the population, with the catastrophe to be blamed on either terrorism or pandemic. “Alternative Two” called for the building of immense underground bunkers, to protect the ruling class in seclusion while the surface population thinning was happening. Finally, “Alternative Three”, in case of a major catastrophe on Earth, called for moving a “Noah’s Ark” cross-section of the population to underground bases Mars as a survival colony. The documentary based on the book that revealed this — first claimed to be real, then claimed to be a hoax, then claimed to be real but using re-created footage — was aired in 1977, and it included what was said to be footage of a 1962 landing on Mars to scout for this underground survival base.

Gotta love the bit at the end (starting at about 1:47). Sure beats Apollo 18. If that video breaks in the future you can download it here. There’s so much great kookiness to find on this subject on YouTube, whether it is the the so-called Wikileaks footage of a grey alien (local copy), leaked footage of astronauts exploring an ancient base or city on the far side of the moon (local copy), or leaked footage of a human or humanoid female mummy found on the moon (local copy). How does anyone get anything done?

Anyway, lest I distract myself again.

Even though the author was quite clear it was fiction, the conspiracy community ate it up, Mae Brussel saying on her saw that “she’d had the shakes for weeks” and called it “the most important book I’ve read in many, many years”, others calling it “grey disinformation”, and readers writing him letters with comments like “you told the truth, but now you’re terrified to admit that truth because you’ve been warned off by the CIA”. I won’t waste too much time pointing out how silly this conspiracy is — after all, you have to imagine a radically destroyed and inhospitable Earth to believe that Mars is an easier place to live on!!! I also think that 1962 is rather ambitious for a Mars mission by the Americans, even with Russian help (as “Alternative Three” was said to be an international effort). If you’re wondering, in most telling the Mars part of conspiracy ends with this first visit to the red planet. I guess they came to their senses and decided it would make more sense just to enslave the 99% a la The Report from Iron Mountain.

Perhaps you’ve already done the math in your head and know that by my math, the earliest it’s actually conceivable for a Mars mission to have occurred is 1972 — forty years ago this year. I believe “Alternative 3″ is fiction, and I don’t think that it’s possible that we could have landed on Mars prior to the seventies, but at this point it at least becomes possible. As to why, well, I can’t think of any reason to do it and keep it secret other than the government having a genuine worry that the public missions (for example Viking in 1977, which sent back photos of Cydonia, the famous “face on Mars“) were going to find something destabilizing, and about the only thing that I can put on this list is alien ruins on Mars. There are a lot of people who believe they are there. If you are one of them, well, your circumstantial evidence for a 1970s Mission to Mars expands. On that note, let me post what is alleged to be leaked footage of the 1972 mission to Mars:

Moving out of conspiracy and fantasy into the real world now…

Planning for a Mars Mission began in 1948 with Von Braun’s plans which he presented to the Americans in a series of iterations in 1952 (with a crew of 70, probably the largest and most ambitious mission ever proposed!), 1956, and 1969. There was easily as much excitement and as much serious planning for 1970s Mars missions as there was for 1960s moon bases. In addition to Von Braun’s missions, generally involving convoys of ships based on rocketry he’d initially designed for the Nazis at Peenemunde, which were presented in popular mainstream magazines of the time, another early proposal was presented to the public by Disney in 1957 (but initially created for the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency), Ernst Stuhlinger’s massive but beautiful ion-engined ten-ship mission to Mars.

None of those missions ever had a budget estimated, and even though Von Braun’s proposals did get more conservative over time, they were all extremely expensive and required a lot of launches to lug an incredible amount of hardware off the planet. Incidentally this is one of the reasons I’m so excited about asteroid mining actually starting up — the possibility of manufacturing all this equipment outside of Earth’s gravity prison. Addressing this launch issue, Boeing proposed building a new massive launch vehicle capable of lifting everything required for a Mars Mission, slated for arrival at Mars in January 1972, in a single launch, bringing with it not just simple exploration equipment, but gear for the start a permanent base and settlement including a nuclear reactor to be installed on the surface of Mars. Also in 1960 and also slated for a 1971 launch, NASA did their own in-house study which used existing launch vehicles (the Saturn V, which most Mars missions from that point on used) but new nuclear propulsion systems and was the first to seriously consider radiation exposure issues. A few years later, in 1963, NASA designed a second version of this mission using traditional chemical propulsion systems.

Most of these missions are “true” missions to Mars where there was a stay on the planet’s surface, but both the Americans and the Russians also studied the possibility of flybys (the first Russian flyby, using only a small ship and only a single N1 launch, included a flyby of both Mars and Venus, as did some of the US proposals). In 1962 NASA asked for proposals for three contractors, the smallest being a long rotating craft (to create artificial gravity) from Lockheed. It was small enough to be put up in two Saturn V launches, but NASA actually was encouraging the contractors to design on the heavy side because they were looking for an excuse to fund the Nova booster, the planned follow-up to the Saturn V. General Dynamics under visionary Krafft Ehricke went much bigger, as big as many of the missions designed to set up bases on Mars, and needed four times as many Saturn Vs — eight — or just two Nova launches. It actually went into orbit though, and there was some possibility of a lander even though it wasn’t officially requested. Aeronutronic was in the middle, lifting its equipment with a single Nova launch, intended to be on its way to Mars in July 1970. Three years later NASA had Douglas design a flyby mission — they saved some development money by using their Manned Orbiting Research Lab space station as the basis for their hab module. Also in 1965 NASA did an in-house profile for a fly-by using existing Apollo hardware to save costs — bits of the moon ships, launched by the Saturn V (over six launches). It would not have been easy for the crew of three to stay sane with two years in such a tiny little vehicle! Even though the moon landing was yet to happen and America was completely enthused with space, the insiders could read the political writing on the wall and after so many glorious missions had been scrubbed, at this point the Nazi Peenemunde crew — Heinz Koelle and Wernher Von Braun — and their American compatriot Max Faget pointed out that if they didn’t pull a rabbit out of their hat soon, “we’ll never see a Mars expedition in our lifetime.” The very last flyby mission was proposed in 1966 by NASA in-house, the JAG Mars Flyby, a small tight mission requiring only four launches and existing hardware, but it was also not to be.

By the way, if you’re thinking that if you aren’t going to land, you might as well just send a robot, it’s important to note that half of all the robotic missions sent to Mars have failed, maybe it’s not entirely hasty to have a human along after all.

Returning to manned missions, also in 1963, TRW developed a Mars mission that added both aerobraking and a Venus gravity assist swing-by to the equation, saving a great deal of fuel weight, although the oddest thing to me about this mission was that it budgeted only ten days on the surface of Mars which seems a little disappointing to me — little more than a flag-planting opportunity, although perhaps that was a sign of the times. I’ll mention that during this period NASA had a lot of companies working away on smaller pieces — for example, it was expected that Ford Aeronutronic would provide the lander. A year later, Philip Bono, who had previously headed up Boeing’s earlier Mars and lifter proposal, was now at Douglas where he had another giant launch vehicle, the Rombus with a payload of almost a million pounds, but still required eight launches to lug up enough equipment to set up a base on Mars and stay there for the nearly year-long surface stay mission.

The best launch windows sat at the start of the 70s — which is when this last “leaked” video is from — but in 1964 NASA also considered a series of “UMPIRE” (Unfavorable Manned Planetary – Interplanetary Roundtrip Expedition) profiles for 1975 and 1977 where the planetary alignment was not as expedient — after all, if Mars actually became a target for humanity, it was conceivable that regular missions would be needed. Convair developed a long 800-1000 mission believing only these were feasible, but Douglas thought a nuclear rocket could get there in 200 days even in less-than-favorable conditions — not only that, but their highly cost-conscious six person mission was able to bring everything up in a single Rombus booster. In 1966, after NASA had spent some time seriously considering the less expensive flyby-style missions, they developed the FLEM profile, which was a flyby that “dropped off” a lander that aerobraked. Amazingly they managed to get this mission down to 118 metric tons, small enough to fit the entire thing into a single Saturn V launch. If any Mars mission could have been done as a black project, this is it.

Two last missions were considered in 1967, which along with the FLEM profile were the closest to actually being selected for execution. The first was the MEM mission by North American which took a four person crew to Mars using three Saturn V launches and three smaller Saturn I launches, all using modular and relatively well-established and well-understood technology, allowing them to give an accurate cost estimate of $27 billion in 2012 dollars. Also that year Boing proposed the larger IMIS mission, which took a crew of six to Mars. Boeing estimated a budget of almost $200 billion, although this covered the development and two sets of hardware and support for two missions to Mars, not just the first one.

Finally, I must include a longer version of that video of the mission to Mars, showing much more of the crew’s footage. Was it the FLEM mission?

Be sure you watch to the very end.

In 1967 Congress officially pulled the plug on Mars and committed itself to leaving Apollo as a PR win over the Russians and walking away from large, ambitious, manned exploration of the solar system. Did a mission happen as a black project? I wish I could believe it did. Going from the 1945 Nazi mission to the NASA missions of the 70s, you have a sliding scale of preposterous to extremely unlikely. But even without black fantasies, we came so close… So all I can do is be sad about how severely we humans have misappropriated our money. Almost none of these Mars missions that I’ve mentioned were ever formally budgeted like the Moon bases were — the 4-person MEM mission, I remind you, was budgeted at a scant $4 billion in 1967 dollars, or $27 billion in 2012 dollars, so that gives you at least some ballpark — but no matter what you can bet the numbers are no higher than a month or two of war. It really breaks my heart every time I think about it.

I do hope that if we go, we go to stay. One way trips. Pioneers!

By the way, when it comes to that final video, I’m quite certain that last little bit was forced there by the CIA. Now I have a great documentary called 2001 I’m going to go watch about (to tell the embarrassing truth I’m watching Top Gun, one of the best pieces of military-industrial complex propaganda since Goebbels). It’s about that time we went to Jupiter. Let a guy dream.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] addition to things like a secret mission to Mars that I talked about yesterday, a tale I enjoy is that of the Chronovisor, a time-viewer said to be capable of tuning in to [...]

  2. Shannon Larratt is Zentastic › Mars Post Update on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 10:51 am

    [...] and it’s been absolutely wonderful to watch and very on topic with my latest post about the planning of Mars missions up to 1967. That said, one of the problems with having so thoroughly educated myself on the history of various [...]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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