In the online show Pioneer One, part of the premise is that decades ago the USSR sent a secret expedition to Mars. Setting aside the problems of keeping such a feat a secret for decades, this seems unlikely to me. Did we have the technology decades ago (back when the space race was going on) to safely transport people to Mars? Ignore the difficulty of bringing people back, as the mission in the show seems to be a one-way trip.

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    This seems more like a "Science Fact" question, than Science Fiction. That said, an interesting question! =) – Rob Apr 26 '11 at 18:01
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    I'll be fine if it's migrated to a more appropriate SE site, but I don't know of an alt-history one, so I think it's on topic for SF&F. – user1027 Apr 26 '11 at 18:06
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    This is essentially asking if a work's premise is reasonable, currently on-topic. – neilfein Apr 26 '11 at 18:39
  • @neilfein, Just to clarify, I wasn't criticising the OP or the question, merely putting forward an opinion. This questions current sole up-vote is from me and I'm looking forward to reading the answers it gets! =) – Rob Apr 26 '11 at 19:11
  • If an expedition was kept secret, couldn't the development of all the required technology also be kept secret? I don't see how this could have a meaningful answer. – Tony Meyer Apr 26 '11 at 23:21

Yes. Definitely. The technology existed.

That is a book written by Robert Zubrin and David Baker called the Case for Mars, detailing a plan to go to Mars called the Mars Direct plan. It uses current space propulsion technology. A slightly modified version of it was the plan that NASA was, in theory, working on implementing with George Bush's space vision. I haven't checked, but it's probably been killed by now.

All or most of the technology used in the plan was available in the '70s. Until a decade or so ago, we'd basically stagnated in human space flight. And we still haven't made very much progress since then. Must of what we're still using is 1970s era technology, sadly.

  • The Bush plan, BTW, hasn't officially been killed, but it's not currently getting much funding... – PearsonArtPhoto Apr 27 '11 at 13:20
  • Yup. I don't think the point can be made strongly enough that it used technology which was CURRENT in the 70's. No Star Trek required - just a lot of will and money. One of the points CFM makes is that when the decision makers went to NASA for a plan, they returned a "Battlestar Galactica" spare-no-expense plan which essentially killed the possibility of a mission. I personally think we should pursue the whole "build a refueling station on Mars" approach the book proposes - that would be a useful thing regardless. – Chris B. Behrens Nov 28 '11 at 19:04

We have the technology, and have for some time, to send people into orbit, along a calculated trajectory. We have been able to calculate the trajectories of the planets in our solar system with the required level of precision.

We have the technology to purify/recycle air and water for long enough, given a large enough vehicle (to hold the supplies).

We can land in an earth-like atmosphere, though not with absolute precision.

The problem would occur during the actual landing on the surface of the planet - I don't believe the Russians had the technology even 20 years ago to do a controlled ground landing in atmosphere (especially atmosphere we don't know much about).

Controlled ground landings are difficult, requiring careful entry vectors, careful study of the atmospheric conditions, and a well-prepared landing surface. Mars would have none of those.

They could reach it and orbit it, yes, but it would take a while to get there. By the time they touched down (if they survived re-entry) their legs would be weaker than jelly, their bones would be brittle as 75-year old men's, and they'd have to set up an environment that could support human life before their limited air supplies ran out.

Then they'd have to deal with the MoonMars Dust

  • heck, the Russians don't even do controlled ground landings today, do they? Don't they still use the Soyuz era parachute-drop tech? – JustJeff Apr 26 '11 at 20:34
  • @JustJeff: I don't know, and I couldn't be arsed to look that up. I'm sure they CAN create such a vehicle, in any case - the tech isn't that difficult to recreate, now that the US has proved the concept and provided such excellent examples. – Jeff Apr 26 '11 at 20:37
  • well, one thing you have to admire the Russian program for, they don't spend money on frills when they have something that works. wish NASA could learn to contain scope like that. – JustJeff Apr 26 '11 at 20:48
  • The current Mars Mission plan is the Mars Direct plan. The technology used all existed in the '70s. – Daniel Bingham Apr 27 '11 at 4:18
  • @JustJeff - Google "Buran". Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if most of its technology was "apprpriated" from USA, but still, it pefformed a PILOTLESS controlled flight+landing way before X-37 – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 27 '11 at 15:51