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The Russians have proposed a joint mission to Mars. I am all for this; I believe that four or five hundred years from now this era will be chiefly remembered because this is when humanity’s exploration of the stars began. A joint mission sounds exciting, and is probably the way to go, as a mission of this magnitude is quite probably beyond the capacity of any single nation or agency to mount. A few questions, though:

:: What would be the actual point of such a mission? If we’re merely looking to explore the Martian surface, that would be much better achieved — and much more cheaply, too — by further enhancements of the robotic missions that have already taken place. Despite the well-publicized failures of a few Mars missions, we have had great success exploring Mars remotely — the Sojourner vehicle was a triumph, as were the Viking landers. If the point is an Apollo type mission — go there, snap a few pictures, collect some rocks, come back, and then say “Well, we can go there. What’s next?” — then I must wonder if that’s the best reason to go. The only reason such a mission would make sense, as far as I can see, is to serve as a precursor to actual colonization of the Red Planet. Is that the case? I don’t know. But if we’re looking to start colonization of other worlds, perhaps the Moon would be a better place to start.

:: Can the Russians really meet the financial obligation of this mission? They’ve had problems coming up with the money and materials they pledged for the International Space Station, and a Mars mission would be far more expensive.

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