Thursday, July 25, 2019

My Open Letter to NASA Managers Who Can't Say "Moon" without "Mars" in the Same Sentence: Please stop it.

Dear NASA Managers who can't say "moon" without "Mars in the same sentence:

I love you, I really do but please stop it.

Although you may think that everybody agrees with you that Artemis is just a touch and go on the path to Mars, let me assure you that it isn't with me and many, many others in the space community. We've worked hard for years to get us to the point where maybe we're finally going back to the moon.

We've even got a Vice President who is behind NASA, who wants you to go to the moon and build something permanent there, and who has stuck out his neck for you. For years, lots of us have been working in every way we can - me with my books and my other writings - to get someone in the Executive Branch who is really serious about going back to the moon, not in a sprint with flags and all that but for a purpose that's good enough to keep us there.

But now I fear you're about to totally screw it up mainly because of where your heads are on this moon and Mars thing.

So, with great respect to all of you who toil every day on the pathways to space, let me be clear: Every time you folks at NASA tack "and then we're headed to Mars" onto your comments about going back to the moon, you diminish the moon as a destination whether you realize it or not. As such, you are totally confusing everybody, especially young people. Common sense says you're not going to Mars because you have no orders to go there and the technology not only doesn't exist, there are no plans to make it exist.

So, dear NASA folks, if we're going to get young people excited about space, trust me on this: The moon is exciting enough and I'm going to tell you why.

A lot of you NASA managers think it's just a practice ground but I'm sorry, that's so Old Space. There is the moon and then there is the moon.

The moon I fear you are looking at is the moon of Apollo which was considered a cold, dead, dry, and essentially uninteresting place and therefore that's why the missions were cancelled so you'd better just bounce off it and keep going. The real moon, however, is actually much different than we thought it was fifty years ago.

We have learned so much about the moon since Apollo. The great news is it's wet. It may very well hold signs of life that either had an origin on the moon or, more likely, was sent from Earth during various primordial collisions or came in from outer space aboard comets. This should make the moon fascinating to scientists and philosophers alike.

Consider this: We haven't looked at with a microscope a single drop of water from OFF our world. That's pretty interesting when you consider that we've never looked at a single drop of water from ON our world that wasn't filled with life or evidence of life. Just one drop of moon water - life or no life - is going to tell us an enormous amount on who we are and where we came from and what's likely out there waiting for us.

Besides water and its uses and perhaps evidence of life or past life, the moon is loaded with stuff we can use and I'm sure you know the list. So let's go get it.

Now, let's consider Mars but not the Mars that is the prodigious planet you keep saying you're heading toward. 

The Mars I think you imagine is actually a fantasy, a wonderful fantasy, but still very much one that exists mostly because of the wistful dreams started by Percival Lowell a century ago when he wrote fanciful books about Mars as if they were factual which was picked up by H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs and a thousand other writers since who've filled our heads with unrealistic concepts of what Mars is really like.

NASA, however, must not promote fantasies. It's all right for Elon and others to believe in the fantasy and work toward it - it's their money and their time and otherwise they're doing great work - but you have to take an actual, hardheaded look at the fourth rock out from the sun because you're spending the people's money.

So here we go: Mars is no "fixer upper" as Elon calls it. In fact, Mars is a fearsome place, a dwarf planet, only one third the size of the Earth and but twice the size of our moon.

Mars has no atmosphere to speak of and what it has cannot be breathed. It has virtually no air pressure so it might as well be a vacuum for planning purposes in terms of keeping people alive.

Mars is horrifically cold, averaging 81 degrees below zero, meaning that only a slight failure in an astronaut's suit heating system will cause frostbite perhaps requiring amputation. Look at the climbers of Mount Everest and how they often have to have toes, fingers, and noses cut off to avoid gangrene after being frostbitten in, compared to Mars, relatively benign conditions.

Unless suit technology is revolutionized with some sort of "beyond our present technology" backpack providing heat and air, astronauts on Mars can't just clomp around in thin suits without being susceptible to frostbite due to inevitable heater failures and, without tons of heavy compressors and filters and catalysts to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen to keep their backpack tanks full, they will also quickly experience a thing called asphyxiation which is generally considered a bad thing.

As an aside, in my novel Crater I have people working outside on the moon wearing biolastic suits which are made up of living organisms which provide pressure and warmth and air. These, I have to admit, might be defined as "beyond our present technology."

But back to the real Mars.

Many have pointed out that frostbite and asphyxiation didn't happen on the moon during Apollo. That's true but the astronauts were only there temporarily and quickly headed back to Earth. Your Mars fantasy is to go there and stay for months and possibly years on end without help from anybody. You've got a totally different situation to deal with.

But let's keep going because if Mars was only just cold and possessed of a thin atmosphere, it would be fine for human exploration but there's a bit more and they're the worst.

Mars has no magnetic field like Earth and therefore radiation and cosmic rays cascade down on its surface. The only instrument we've put there to measure it registered so much radiation in a solar flare that it knocked out the instrument but not before it let us know any Earthian mammal would have died.

Mars soil is deadly to Earthian plant-life. Without leaching out the perchlorates and adding massive amounts of water and fertilizer, nothing can be grown in it. This means continuous food supplies have to be sent out over an average of 140,000,000 miles more or less constantly. Are you prepared for that? Did you plan on farming? Astronauts performing stoop labor isn't a likely image even if you carried all that fertilizer and were able to wash the soil with Mars water. Consider what that's going to take. It's a massive undertaking and just to keep a few people fed.

All this means astronauts on Mars will have to live underground or beneath a pile of rubble in some kind of habitats and will require constant supplements from Earth. We decidedly do not know how to build such self-sustained habitats! Only once has it been tried and that was the Biosphere II attempt in Arizona which failed.

And should we solve all that and our astronauts are able to live inside their man-made caves, they will only be able to make brief stints outside in suits while getting irradiated in the process, risking frostbite, and hoping their air holds out and they don't starve or die of thirst. Some fun.

But before even all that, there's the voyage just to get there which is so vast and will take so long, it makes going to the moon seem like a Sunday afternoon drive. Unfortunately, NASA doesn't have anything even on the drawing boards that could remotely carry astronauts to Mars and land them there. Your Orion capsule is woefully inadequate for anything more than a few weeks. Essentially, you've got to build something roomy like the International Space Station and set sail all its massiveness to Mars if you've any hope of keeping a crew healthy and even then, it's going to be touch and go because, you know, people get sick.

Ten months one way (when the planets line up meaning sometimes it'll take considerably longer) through irradiated space in weightless conditions means your astronauts will arrive with decreased muscle mass, brittle bones, damaged eyeballs and perhaps brains and then you expect them to then perform like the Apollo astronauts? Unlikely. It would be like putting 80 year olds atop Mount Everest and telling them to get out and go to work. Unhappily, you're going to need a complete pharmacy and surgery to get anybody that far out, especially using chemical rockets.

So you say you'll just build bigger better rocket engines? Great. Do it. But even thermal nuclear engines would only cut that trip in half and even if it cut it to a third, you don't have such engines and it's going to be awhile to get them and you don't need them for the moon. So where are they in the pipeline? Some of your folks are doing great work on them but realistically, such engines are many years away from flying with humans aboard. You'll need to first test them with robotic spacecraft many times. What are we looking at? Decades? Probably.

And just consider - please - what it would take to design and build all this hardware both as ships and landers and habitats and then build the simulators and train the ground personnel and then keep this huge marching army trained, salaried, and content. Nowhere have I seen the slightest work on your part to identify this horde of people working on the ground you're going to need just so a few astronauts can go to Mars. Maybe Elon can go with a skeleton crew on the ground and risk himself and his employees and volunteers but, dear NASA, you are a federal agency who answers to the people. You've got to go in force with more than a reasonable chance of success with a powerful reason to go in the first place or not go at all. That's just the way it is.

For NASA to send humans to Mars, then, isn't going to be anything like Apollo. It's going to be more like a continuous D-Day and will require an effort that essentially mobilizes the nation but will forever be an economic drain. How long do you think it will be supported?

At some point, when you really sit down and see what it will take to send humans to Mars, you quickly begin to appreciate that NASA could send a thousand, nay ten thousand robots there to roam, dig, root through, drill within, and fly over that planet and see exactly what's there. Also, eventually artificial intelligence, possibly even in the shape of humans if that is desired, make so much more sense as we can crawl inside their heads and see exactly what they see and what they feel without having to deal with the frailties of human beings.

And, as a trainer of many astronauts, I have to tell you that unless our technology changes immensely, you are asking far too much from normal human beings to send them on such missions to Mars with the equipment we can realistically acquire over these next several decades.

So there you have it. Unlike Mars which will be an economic drain where only the bravest, strongest, and mostly single and divorced astronauts can go who are willing to shorten their lives considerably in order to visit a dead little planet, the moon, because it is so near and interesting and filled with resources, can be a place where actual, real, and normal people can go, where minerals are acquired for the Earth that will supplement our economy, and where people can work and make some money and create a space economy. And lots of fantastic science can be done, too.

So here's what I believe and think you should, too: NASA's job right at this moment is to put an anchor down on the moon that will allow everyone, private or governmental, to follow by using it as a safe haven before heading out to the Lunar Outback to prospect. To do that, you're looking at decades of work - good wonderful work - that will see plumbers, miners, electricians, construction workers, and so forth actually living on the moon. Isn't that enough? I think so.

In summary, dear NASA managers, the moon is NOT a practice area. It is our eighth continent and I believe you have the responsibility to get us back there and set up shop so the rest of us can follow. Now, let's get going and, for goodness sake, unless you're talking about robotic missions, please stop talking about Mars!

All the best,


PS - Once our moon-Earth economy is up and running, and we find the right planet around the right star... well, I'll be there for you. That will be a worthy objective. Let's do it. Let's go.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Why go to the moon? Simple. To Gather Resources We Need

Over the last couple of weeks, I've explained how Mars first reached mythical status in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a desirable planet for people to visit and even live by a series of books and lectures by a somewhat crazy billionaire turned astronomer named Percival Lowell.

Percival Lowell, billionaire, astronomer, and kinda crazy

After that, I examined what it would actually take to send humans to Mars and my belief that NASA will never attempt it nor will anyone else who's reasonable because this tiny little planet isn't worth the blood, time, or treasure to send humans there when robotic and artificial intelligence is available to thoroughly explore it and get back all the answers it might hold.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) Buffy

But this isn't true for Luna, our moon. It's different. People not only can go there, they should go because we need their intelligence, their labor, and their sweat to gather important resources for the world.

My opinion is undoubtedly colored by the unique place I'm from, a town called Coalwood in a state called West Virginia in a place called Appalachia where it's difficult to get there, difficult to live there, but has resources that must be shipped elsewhere in order to keep our civilization humming along.

That's me, third from the right kneeling. Just us 9th grade boys
after visiting the mine where our dads worked. They made money in a dangerous profession but

raised their families, educated their kids, and sent us off to the unsuspecting
world where we did pretty darn well. Our dads were just like what miners on the moon will be like, good, robust, hearty, and daggone smart.

In other words, I'm from a place something like the moon.

West Virginians came to the mountain state in the early 20th Century attracted by the coal mining industry. It wasn't that they necessarily liked mining coal. They came so as to make money and have a place where they could raise their families. The work they did was nasty and dangerous but they still did it and did it as long as they could. After awhile, it became their way of life and they fell in love with the mountains, hills, and valleys of the rugged land.

One of my memoirs about life in Coalwood.
It was a New York Times

Their way of life is the way I think life on the moon could and should evolve.

A few years back, I wrote about the descendants of West Virginians in Crescent, the second novel in my "Crater" trilogy.  In the 22nd Century, Crater, a young Helium-3 miner, and Crescent, a genetically modified female, meet a group on the moon who are fleeing from Earth because their land has been stolen. It turns out they are from an area in the former United States known as Appalachia which has been forcibly depopulated for socio-economic reasons. This is not too farfetched as much of the West Virginia county and the town of Coalwood where I grew up has been depopulated, the people forced to go elsewhere to find jobs. I am one of those ex-pats so I can relate to the group that Crater and Crescent agree to lead to a far place on the moon, a mining town called Endless Dust which is laid out somewhat like Coalwood.

Recently, I told Senator Ted Cruz and his Aviation and Space Subcommittee that what I want out of the space program is "Coalwood on the moon" and that I don't care two cents about who the next professional astronaut is who goes there. What I care about is opening a place where real people - plumbers, electricians, miners, construction workers, and other so-called blue collar workers - can go work, make money, and raise their families just like in the Coalwood where I grew up. Go here to see exactly what I said:

The moon I describe in Crater, Crescent, and The Lunar Rescue Company is a place where there are many Coalwoods, frontier mining towns populated by a rugged people made even tougher and stronger by the land in which they live.

My "Crater" series of novels (aka Helium-3 series).

So how does that happen? How does the moon go from being an exotic fantastic locale where only brave astronauts dare to go to a place of work for folks like those who raised their families in Coalwood? And why would the taxpayers of the United States and our partners and allies ever want to shell out even a dime to make that happen?

It is because the moon qualifies as a reasonable place for the world to expand and gather resources.

Hi there. I'm Luna, your neighbor. I've got lots of good stuff for you
if you'll come and get it.

And what are those resources on the moon that the people of lunar Coalwoods will gather for us and send back? I'll give you the usual list: Platinum, Helium, Helium-3, Thorium, etc. etc. and so forth but remember beneath every crater is the shattered remains of an asteroid. There's likely gold in them thar lunar hills and a lot else, too.

Here's another best-seller I wrote. Vice President Pence
said it was one of his favorite books. It's a little outdated but
still has some great stuff in it about why we need to go back.
And it's got adventure. And thrills. And great characters.
 And sex in space, too (not that it has anything to do with anything else).

As to the "how," it's also pretty simple. We as a nation have done the flags and footprints on the moon thing with Apollo Now, 50 years later, we need an anchoring base on the moon from which other entities, whether governmental or private, can come to, outfit themselves and then set across the lunar plains, valleys, rilles, and hills to explore and then build their roads and towns and start working and making money and raising their families and sending resources back to a needy Earth.

That's it. That's all our federal government has to do. Just build an anchor up there, one staging area and then hold onto it long enough for all others to follow and build up a lunar civilization based on gathering resources.

My clever little moon anchor as described in my 1993 (!) study for NASA

I kind of mapped that anchor out in my 1993 study which I cleverly disguised as a comparison with the South Pole Station that can be seen here:

Will Americans come around to my vision?

We shall see.

 - - Homer Hickam

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mars is not for humans, not now and perhaps not ever and here's why...

And so it continues by some folks at NASA Headquarters that we are going to the moon with the Artemis program so that the agency can then put people on Mars. Folks, I'm sorry but they're just not and here is why:

Sooooo sorry!

In a previous blog,, I explained how Mars rose into the consciousness of so many people over the past century or so as a desirable place to send humans to land and live. But Mars has always been more of a myth than reality.

To understand the reality of what Mars really is, think of it as a corpse or a mummy. It is interesting as a former living thing and deserving of study but also somewhat repulsive.

This is Earth...
And this is Mars.
So, just for a moment - and I'm really sorry to have to let reality intrude because Mars is a great fantasy - let's look at what Mars really is:

It is a tiny planet, only one third the size of Earth and only twice the size of the moon. In many ways, it's just a large dwarf planet.

Its atmosphere is deadly poison, a very thin mix of mostly carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the top of Mount Everest in what is called the "death zone" is 5 pounds per square inch. On Mars, the maximum atmospheric pressure is .088 pounds per square inch. Even if Mars had an atmosphere of pure oxygen, it would mean a quick death for anyone who tried to breathe it.

Mars is a dead planet. It has no magnetic field like Earth. Our magnetic field captures radiation like a shield and keeps us relatively safe from the harmful effects of all those whizzing particles.

Golleee! I thought Mars was bigger than that!

Mars is very cold. On average, it's about 81 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. This is much colder than anywhere on Earth. Ever seen the black, ugly frostbitten toes of the climbers on Mount Everest? Let a boot warmer not work for just a few minutes on Mars and you'd have horribly frozen toes. Same goes for other parts of the body including hands. On Mars, frostbite would be a constant worry not to mention failure of the moving parts of your suit.

You wore those boots on Mars? I told you their heaters weren't working.
Now you're going to lose all your toes!
The surface of Mars is awash with radiation that is deadly to humans. The only instrument sent to Mars to measure radiation was nearly destroyed by solar flares that would have killed within hours any Earthian mammal. Think living in Chernobyl. Not in the city. In the nuclear plant.

Mars is very far away from the Earth in both distance and time. On average, it's about 140 million miles away. Earth and Mars do a complicated dance around the sun. Most of our robots sent there take about 10 months one way and we could expect most human missions to be the same. However, it's only every couple of years that Mars and the Earth line up so that the journey isn't longer.

Plants can't grow in Martian soil without intensive leaching of the perchlorates out of it and the addition of vast amounts of fertilizers. In other words, Mars dirt is poisonous to Earthian plants. You can't live off the land without a huge dedicated farming effort requiring trillions of gallons of water and tons of fertilizer in amounts that are simply humongous along with physical labor and the operations of machines plowing and digging and sowing and reaping unknown to humankind in the entire history of the world ever.

Mars dust is poison if breathed. That's right, kids. Mars dust is everywhere, floating, drifting, getting into nooks and crannies. And if breathed? Those perchlorates I mentioned above that kills plants? Well, breathe it in and it will kill you, too, and there is no way to get away from it without massive care, huge filters, and even then, it will still probably get you. You know, like the sand from the beach you do everything to keep out of the villa? Dust to dust will mean more on Mars than even on Earth!

The surface of Mars. It's kind of desolate. Pretty, agreed, but still deadly

OK, got it? Now, with these realities of what Mars is really like, let's pretend you're the manager of the team responsible to send humans to Mars. Here (vastly simplified) are your tasks.

• First, you would have to figure out to deal with the limitations of the human body outside our protective atmosphere and magnetic field. Just some of the things that would have to be overcome are these realities:

     1. Prolonged weightlessness is not good for humans. As a minimum, living for months in microgravity causes loss of muscles, loss of bone calcium, possibly slows brain function, and causes eye damage. In other words, it makes you weak, your bones brittle, your thinking somewhat muddled, and fuzzy vision. Can you think of any human groups presently like this? Of course. Weightlessness makes you old before your time. Unless that's solved, sailing astronauts through space to Mars and landing them would be like placing 80-year old folks atop Mount Everest and expecting them to get out and go to work to stay alive.

     2. Prolonged exposure to the radiation in space outside our magnetic field is not good for humans. Background radiation that is everywhere in open space is bad enough but undeterred cosmic rays will zap through the human body like little bullets destroying flesh, blood, and anything else that gets in its way. In ten months of exposure, unprotected humans might look normal but inside they'd be like Swiss cheese with lots of health problems on the march that would kill them.

    3. Prolonged time away from assistance from other humans is not good for humans. There is a lot that can go wrong with the human body. The appendix is a good example. It can be fine one day, completely haywire the next and will kill you if you don't get it immediately surgically removed. Wintering over on the South Pole is about the closest we've ever come to separating a group of humans from everyone else in modern times. When a woman (who was a physician) was diagnosed with breast cancer there, she had to operate on herself and an emergency evacuation took place which would be impossible for anyone on a flight to Mars (or on the surface of Mars, of course). Although she survived the ordeal, the poor woman would die a few years later because the cancer had been left untreated for too long.

Sick person on way to Mars
• Next, recognizing these human limitation problems, you would have to build the hardware, software, train your crews, and organize the Earthian support teams for the voyage. Let's see as a minimum (and again vastly simplified) what that would take:

     1. You'd quickly realize that nothing NASA or anyone else has on the drawing boards would be adequate as a living space for humans on a 10-month journey through space. The Orion capsule that NASA keeps touting as its "beyond the moon spacecraft" would be laughable to your engineers. Orion is a death trap for any voyage longer than a couple of weeks. It couldn't begin to carry the water, air, and supplies necessary to survive the ordeal of flying for months through irradiated space.

You're going to travel 140 million miles and ten months through space in that?
"Farewell and adieu to ye fair Spanish ladies..."

    2.   Something big then would have to be designed to overcome the limitations of the human body, and then tested, and then flown numerous times with test crews outside the magnetic field of Earth in order to assure that the flight is survivable. Nothing like this has ever been done. It will take an enormous effort to build this spacecraft that might provide artificial gravity (spin it?), radiation shielding (Lead? Water? Unobtainium?). You'll also need inside this ship a full medical lab, a complete pharmacy, a surgical ward, and an optics specialist that can treat eyes and make spectacles as needed.

Hi there! You're sick, too? And we're only a million miles into this flight?
Thank goodness, NASA paid my way through medical school and I only have to do this once!

    3. If your engineers come back to you (as they probably will) and say that ten months is just too long to fly through space, you'll have to build advanced propulsion systems such as nuclear thermal rocket engines. These do not presently exist so they will have to be built and tested and actually flown through space, preferably all the way to Mars. These might cut down the journey to a few months but, sadly, even for that smaller amount of time, you'll find you still have to provide all that medical assistance and shielding. It'll just cut down on your odds of having a disabled (or dead) crew upon arrival at Mars.

    4. Somewhere along the line, one of your engineers is going to ask "How much food is the crew going to need? And water?" The answer is enormous amounts and both quite heavy. So now, you've got to design a galley and stuff your ship full of food and water. It is mindful of what the German U-boats had to do to cross the Atlantic during World War II. Every available space, even the toilet, was stuffed full of food and they still starved and some came down with scurvy. Let's say you only have a three-person crew. For a journey requiring ten months, they would need (according to the U.S. Army's field guide for soldiers in the field) about five tons of food and 25 tons of potable and 25 tons of non-potable water.  Of course, you can recycle some of the water but not all so you'll need to make sure you've got that mechanism all figured out without any possibility of failure. Otherwise, you're risking your crew dying of thirst or, at best, really stinky since they won't be able to wash. Best thing, you'll realize, is carry lots of water. You've got to get back, too, so you kind of end up doubling everything. Better triple it just to be sure. Uh oh. Better get a bigger ship! And rocket!

Eat your limes, m'boys ere ye gets the scurvy!!!
But we be astronauts, ain't we Cap'n?
Yeah, but ye ain't immortal.
    5. How about poop? Well, you'd better put in a number of toilets and they'd better work. Poop can be slung outside and probably will be but if there's a problem and pipes get clogged, better come up with something better than they've got on the ISS which has a nasty toilet according to everyone who's had to use it. Think what it would mean to have to use a rural gas station toilet for ten months! And then another ten months!

    6. Uh oh! How is the crew going to get power? Solar panels? They're going to have to be huge! We're going away from the sun! Nuclear power plant? Where? How? It's got to be shielded and somebody's going have to know how to operate it. I've got it! Let's use fuel cells. Oh, wait, one of those almost killed the crew of Apollo 13. What to do, what to do? Nobody knows. Talk about engineering arguments! You'll finally just have to choose something but you realize there are going to be serious drawback to any power solution. You realize on a lot of choices you're making in the design of this big ship, you're crossing your fingers. You can't wait for vacation. You take a cruise and one of the passengers, a young person, dies of something along the way. You're stressed! That could have been one of your Mars crew! You start thinking of early retirement.

People die on cruise ships. All ages. It's sad but true.
But if you could put a ship this size in space
and send it to Mars, you might be on to something...
    7. So let's say you've got your ship designed and a-building. It's a big, complex thing but you think it'll get a crew to Mars without killing them but now you realize that the crew is going to have to be trained on living in this contraption and ground crews are going to have to be trained to keep track of what's happening in it and also every facet of its systems. Checking back on your spaceflight history, you realize that the Apollo missions had tens of thousands of people on Earth who knew precisely their particular part of the Apollo capsule and lander and a thousand or so people who were fully occupied every moment of their lives with the flights that lasted a little over a week. But for Mars, you're going to have to have all these people dedicated to keeping track of every component of your spacecraft for months and years. It will be a vast, marching army that will stretch out to the horizon and somehow you're going to have to keep them trained, salaried, and happy. Nothing like it, short of war where the nation went into rationing to support its troops in the field, has ever been done. Just as D-Day was practiced and the Apollo missions were practiced, a ship to Mars is going to have to be recreated in a realistic simulator on Earth with crews spending months inside it and wave after wave of ground controllers moved in and out to their stations while simulations teams throw problem after problem at them. There will be day, evening, and night shifts and the sims will be interminable. Not every person hired will be able to take the incessant training and pressure. Constant retraining will be necessary. Finally, someone will come up with ships at sea which are monitored and maintained entirely by the crew inside. It will be tempting to get rid of ground support and just put enough crew aboard and let them go essentially on their own. But who will dare to let this happen?

Mars Mission Control (multiply this scene by about six times in size
 not to mention behind the scenes controllers) operating
24 hours a day for years at a time incessantly without relief. 

To keep things going, you're going to have to pay these guys a lot and
they're still going to burn out.

    8. OK, you've got your ship a-building, your crews and ground support a-training, and then one of your pesky engineers is going to ask, "Um, what about landing and how long are they going to stay?" This will start yet another round of engineering design with lots of unknown factors. For instance, will the crew be healthy enough to land on Mars? And, if so, how to do it? Retro rockets? Parachutes? How will they get back to the mother ship? And what are they going to do to dodge all that radiation down there? What are they going to eat? What about water? Got to put tons of everything down there first... somehow. OMG!

    9. So you've got a lander which has the ability to take off again - you hope. But you can't just have your crew wander around. You've got to have a habitat that shields them from the radiation and where they can eat, drink, poop, pee, and get surgery as required. So you realize you've got to ship not only food and water in advance but some place for them to live! This will mean putting that ship for the crew which was a-building on hold, and all those simulations and ground controllers on hold, and now having to construct a survivable habitat and somehow getting that to the exact place where the crew will land and then train the crews to live inside them and the ground folks to monitor them and then...

Humongous Mars Craft of Some Sort Kind Of Maybe

•  And THEN you're going to realize that for what it's taking to put this sad and probably sick little crew on Mars, you could've built a thousand, nay TEN THOUSAND robots capable of scouring the surface of the little planet AND by the time you've built all these contraptions and trained all these people and driven yourself and a lot of other people pretty much crazy, you could've waited until Artificial Intelligence got to the level that AI droids could even look like people and you could even kind of crawl inside these semi-people's heads and see what they see and feel what they feel.  AND they don't get sick, they don't care much about radiation, and they don't eat or drink or poop or do any of the things that people do AND everything is suddenly simplified!!!

So we would go from this scenario with humans on Mars:

Mars Mission Director: Hey, what happened to Ken?
Crew Controller: He fell off a cliff and broke his arm. Compound fracture.
MMD: OMG! How is he?
CC: In emergency surgery. His arm is also infected. Doc says he'll need massive amounts of antibiotics and they're running low. He needs a blood transfusion, too. Sir, I think Ken might not make it.
MMD: Just because of a broken arm?
CC: Afraid so.
MMD: How's his significant other?
CC: Buffy is stressed out of her mind. The doc told her to rest. She took a pill and went to bed.
MMD: Can we get them out of there?
CC: Not really.
MMD: What's to be done?
CC: We probably should send along a crematorium on the next cargo flight.
MMD: I don't get paid enough for this.
CC: None of us do, sir.

Ken broke his arm on Mars!!!

To this scenario:

Mars Mission Director: Hey, how's AI Buffy and AI Ken?
Crew Controller: AI Ken fell off a cliff yesterday and broke one of his arms. AI Buffy is replacing it with a spare.
MMD: Great. How's AI Buffy's power pack?
CC: She'll be dead in about two months but she's gone a year past her design.
MMD: Great. She going to be able to operate that well digger until then?
CC: Don't see why not. A new improved AI Buffy is on the way there to replace her, too.
MMD: Great. Carry on.

The new AI Buffy on Mars is doing swell and
the old one fixed Ken's arm!

And that, folks, is the sad and sorry truth on why people are not going to Mars any time soon and very possibly never. It's not that it's too hard. It just doesn't make any sense with the technology we've got, the limitations of the human body, our ability to keep ground control armies marching forever without some economic or national-survival sense to it,  and the present and near-future capability of robots and artificial intelligence. Besides that, Mars just isn't the planet it's made out to be. It's a hellhole, pretty much, an interesting hellhole to be sure but not the place we need to dump so much effort into. Let's save that for the Earth-like planets around other stars. We'll get there, one way or the other, because they will be, unlike Mars, worth the time, blood, and treasure.

Oh, and I'll add one thing more. All those folks who think they really, really want to go to Mars and live should just go out to Garfield County, Montana, where I hunt dinosaurs every summer, and squat down in the badlands and spend a few months without communications with anyone and just kind of live off the land or what they've carried with them. I guarantee you by the time a few weeks are done - and most likely a few days - they'll be begging to get out of there and, compared to Mars, those marvelous badlands I love so much are positively benign.

Me in the Montana badlands - benign compared to Mars.
 Wonderful country but not forever, thanks.