I was wondering if, using the rockets we have today (I'm guessing the most likely candidate is the Falcon Heavy), we could send at least 1 human to Mars. For arguments sake, let's ignore the fact it would need to be human rated, and assume there are no anomalies during flight. Will the boosters need to be expended as they may need to use all their fuel to allow the crew module to get to the surface? Let's also assume the person(s) aren't returning. Thanks

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are asking "Is a bare-bones, one-way human (but not human-rated) mission to Mars possible with today's rockets and technology?" $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 14 at 15:34

So according to wikipedia, a Falcon Heavy can carry 16.7 tons to Mars transfer orbit. This is fully expendable (thanks to @JCRM for pointing out this ink), it's much less with full reuse. So we have 16.7 tons into which we need to fit a lot of things:

  1. Consumables to keep the astronaut alive for six months or so: Expedition Mars by Martin Turner gives a figure (p101) of 5-10kg of consumables per day, so that is 1-2 tons for a one-way Mars shot. Could be a little less if your astronaut was a very small woman.

  2. The capsule itself. A reasonable minimum for this might be the mass of the lunar module ascent stage (excluding fuel) which was a very cramped, desperately mass constrained vehicle for two. This is just over 2 tons.

  3. A heat shield and either parachutes or rockets for a Mars landing. As a rough proxy for this, consider an Apollo command module at about 5.5 tons. For one person and just using it for descent we might get away with a bit less. But we probably need bigger parachutes and rockets to soften the touchdown, so lets stick with 6 tons.

So the total of obvious necessities is about 10 tons. This looks pretty possible, we still have 35% margin for the stuff I didn't think of. On the other hand this would be a miserable voyage. Six months on minimal rations cooped up in a tiny space in zero G, followed by re-entry and a tricky landing, from which you basically get to crawl away and die of oxygen deprivation, dehydration or starvation whichever gets to you first, on the Martian surface.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice analysis. I don't see why it would need to be a single launch. We're really good at assembling things in LEO, and it would also be advantageous to send stuff ahead of time to the Mars landing site. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon May 14 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ ..."if your astronaut was a very small woman"... There's a Frederik Pohl / Cyril Kornbluth novel where they choose a little person/dwarf as the crewperson for that very reason. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 14 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Mars needs women! $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow May 14 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon We certainly could use multiple launches, however assembly is LEO raises the question of what you use to boost onto Mars transfer. FH upper stages need to be used within a few hours, I believe and using lots of them at once to boost the assembled spaceship would be a tricky control and balance problem You could assemble in Mars transfer orbit, but then you have to do all your launches more or less at the same time, and you don't have an easy way out if anything goes wrong. Pre-landing your Mars base is pretty much a given if you are serious, but they asked for bare bones! $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton May 14 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ item 2, Jim Bridenstine on Science Friday: "On whether a woman will go to the Moon for the first time. Jim Bridenstine: The answer is absolutely. In fact, it’s likely to be a woman, the first next person on the Moon. It’s also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman." See also here and here $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 15 at 1:51

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