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There has been much discussion, here and elsewhere about the manned exploration or colonization of Mars. Among the problematic aspects are shortages of hydrogen and nitrogen in most areas, dust, and the problems of landing large vehicles and taking off again.

I was reading the wikipedia article on 1 Ceres and it occurred to me that it is, in many ways, a much better destination. The surface (or immediate sub-surface) appears to contain water, aluminium and magnesium containing minerals and ammonia, as well as unidentified organic compounds containing carbon and sulfur. The escape velocity is only 500 $ms^{-1}$, so relatively little fuel would be needed in early missions, and it would be relatively easy to build an electromagnetic catapult for later missions. Robust cargo could probably be landed by a grazing collision with the surface at close to escape velocity.

So have any studies been done of Ceres as an early target for manned missions, or a medium term target for a permanent base? Are there obvious problems I'm overlooking (compared to Mars, say?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Is there evidence for zero-gee being worse than Mars gravity? $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Jun 26 '18 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ We have some experience with zero gravity but none with Mars gravity. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 26 '18 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ With a surface gravity of 0.29 g manned exploration or colonization will be difficult if walking is impossible. There is no fear to reach escape velocity, but it should be possible to avoid unintended jumping. A lot of additional training might be necessary to avoid or minimize health problems. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 26 '18 at 14:29
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There is a lack of solid, science-based study into realistic colonisation options because until Dawn arrived very little was known for certain. Much more is known now but even so, we know probable orders of magnitude more about the Moon/Mars and we still would need more before colonisation could be tackled seriously.

Anything serious that may have been written seems to be in short supply so it's either wild conjecture or, more likely, doesn't exist. I did find some links here but they seem a bit hand-wavey.

https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=18832.0

Although asteroids in general have been the subject of some theoretical discussion, generally colonisation has never been addressed and automation proposed as a primary solution.

Ceres is slightly different as you say. It has all the same problems of interstellar transit & habitation as anywhere like Mars and is harder to get to because of distance and the deltaV requirements to enter orbit.

I can see it being a target after Mars for sure, or more likely from Mars. It's easier than Mercury to get to (and stay near), Venus would be limited to an Orbiter and as we go further out distance & radiation become prohibitive with current technology.

The question will be "what reason do we have to send people that robots can't do in our stead?"

Finally, the "grazing landing" you describe at escape velocity is still crashing something into Ceres at ~2000kph. Less of a graze, more of a crater ;)

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  • $\begingroup$ I did say "robust" payloads, but I take the point. $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Jun 26 '18 at 16:02

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