Foreword on Technology
It should be noted that every technology depicted in this book either exists now, is in the development stage, has only been partially developed and set aside for political or funding reasons, or is an extension of current technology. (Except one.) Chemical lasers now exist, but in much larger packages than depicted in the book. Tremendously strong electromagnets are used in fusion research. In the case of aviation paraffin and some of the other military technologies, that was a matter of the logical extension of existing technologies to meet the needs of tomorrow’s military. You get the idea. As such, the space aspects of this book are not science fiction, but fiction as such a mission to Mars could have been done in the late 1980s if there had been sufficient interest in doing so. However, once the Soviets had been beaten to the Moon, the budgets for NASA and the overall interest in space both waned. For example: the basic design and vessel technologies of the Space Shuttle are from the 1970s, although the onboard systems have been upgraded since then.
Fission engines and rockets were tested at Area 25 of Nellis Air Force Base near Yucca Mountain in the 1960s and some rockets had endurances of an hour or more. With 1960s technology, no less! Imagine what modern technology could do with even simple fission engines like that! Engines that use superheated gases to propel a spacecraft, such as fission-based gas core engines, do not have the 3 to 12 gravity acceleration that chemical rocket engines do. However, chemical rockets burn only for a few minutes, while gas core engines could theoretically be run for weeks or even months at that low rate of acceleration. A half gravity of acceleration for 2 days, then decelerating at that same rate for 2 days will get you to Mars in about 4 days, total transit time from Earth. Compare that with a three-year round trip with chemical rockets. And how would we visit more distant planets like Mercury or Jupiter with chemical rockets?
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked on gas core engines for more than a decade
before politics forced the abandonment of anything but chemical rockets or solar-powered ion drives, neither of which is capable of taking men to Mars because of the time required to get there and back. A round trip to Mars using chemical rockets would require roughly 3 years. Man cannot survive in weightlessness for the long term. After short exposure to weightlessness (or microgravity, as the modern “technobabble” term is) the muscles begin to atrophy, bones start to decalcify and the rest of the body begins to decay, bit by bit. The longest time any human has survived in space was when a Mir astronaut was abandoned by the Soviets during the chaotic times after the fall of the Soviet Union—no money was budgeted to bring him back to Earth. He was brought back after almost 438 days and had to be carried off the Soyuz rocket because he was near death and his muscles and bones had atrophied to near uselessness. The only reasonable solution is to reduce the transit time to avoid the problems of weightlessness entirely.
So, before you think “no way” to this type of a mission to Mars, keep in mind that our space program has been hobbled by politics and lack of funding for decades.