So I know I’m supposed to be blogging about my totally for real trip to Mars, but I actually haven’t landed on Mars yet. Actually, I’ve read a lot of expert opinions suggesting that any long term mission to Mars should really start with a mission to Phobos, Mars’s largest and innermost moon.
It’s an idea that Buzz Aldrin advocates for in his book about Mars, and it’s something that’s spelled out in a little more detail in this NASA technical report. Basically, the delta-v required to travel from the surface of Earth to Phobos is less than the total delta-v to travel from Earth all the way down to the surface of Mars.
That means less fuel, which means lower costs, and once we’re there Phobos can be used as a sort of vanguard outpost to help prepare for the full scale exploration and colonization of Mars.
Unfortunately for me, landing on Phobos and taking my first steps on this very, very tiny world—well, it didn’t go the way I expected it too.
Don’t worry. I made it back to the ground. Eventually.
You see Phobos is more like an asteroid than what we’d typically think of as a moon. If fact Phobos may actually be an asteroid that Mars kidnapped from the asteroid belt. Anyway, the point is Phobos is small. Very small. And so it does not have a whole lot of surface gravity. If I did my math correctly, we’re talking about less than 0.1% the surface gravity of Earth.
So in order to land on Phobos and stay on Phobos, I recommend bringing grappling hooks or some sort of tethering system, or maybe something like the harpoon gun the Rosetta Mission tried (unsuccessfully) to use to latch onto comet 67P.
As for walking around on Phobos’s surface, I’d say tread lightly. If you put too much force into your footsteps, you’ll have several long, long minutes to think about your mistake as you drift slowly back down to the ground.