Our Place in Space: Phobos

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, P is for…


Buzz Aldrin.  He walked on the Moon.  He also has ideas about how to get humans to Mars.  We talked about one of those ideas earlier this month, and now we’re going to talk about another.  What if, rather than going straight down to the surface of Mars, we first set up a little base for ourselves on Phobos, one of Mars’s two moons.

Whenever you want to land on a planet (or a moon), you’ll have to fight against gravity to do so.  That is assuming, of course, that you want to land safely.  Crashing into a planetary body is fairly easy.  Landing safely—that’s the hard part!  You need to control your descent.  If you’re controlling your descent using rocket engines, you’re going to use up a whole lot of fuel in the process.

But as you can see in this highly technical diagram, Phobos is very small.

Okay, maybe not that small.  But still, Phobos is much smaller than Mars, and Phobos’s surface gravity is significantly less than the surface gravity on Mars.  That means a rocket controlled descent onto the surface of Phobos will use up less fuel than a rocket controlled descent all the way down to the surface of Mars.

In his book Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, Aldrin argues that we should set up a way station on Phobos before attempting to land humans on Mars.  From this Phobos way station, astronauts could get an up close and personal view of Mars.  They could get the lay of the land without actually landing.  Using remote controlled robots, they could explore the Martian surface and prepare the way for future missions.  And on the off chance that we discover alien life on Mars (current life, I mean, not fossils), then our astronauts on Phobos could study that life from afar without risking any sort of biological contamination.

Personally, I’m not 100% sold on this idea.  I kind of feel like if we’re going to go to Mars, let’s just go to Mars.  But Buzz Aldrin is Buzz Aldrin, and I’m just some guy with a blog.  The thing about the fuel costs for landing on Phobos vs. landing on Mars makes sense to me.  And if it does turn out that there’s life on Mars, contaminating the Martian ecosystem with our Earth germs (or having Mars germs contaminate us) does become a serious concern.

But otherwise, do we really need a way station on Phobos?  Is that a necessary prerequisite to landing humans on Mars?  I don’t know.  Maybe it would be helpful.  When the time comes, maybe we really will go to Phobos first and land on Mars later.  It’s possible.

Want to Learn More?

Once again, I’m going to recommend Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration by Buzz Aldrin.  Lots and lots of ideas in that book about how we might one day travel to Mars and what we might do once we get there.

18 thoughts on “Our Place in Space: Phobos

  1. I like the “remote controlled robots” Telepresent controls – close enough for the signal lag to be ignored, so with a flexible enough robot, this could be almost as effective as the geologist (as whatever expert) actually standing there themselves, but with the human safe and sound in (perhaps) a base burrowed into the little moon’s surface.

    But… can we harvest fuel or oxygen or other resources on Phobos? If we have to bring those items up from the Martian surface anyway, then the benefit is lessened. Maybe still keeps alien spores from sprouting in the astronauts’ chests… but could that really be a thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m thinking some of the same things. Tele-presence is a great argument in favor of building a Phobos base. But Mars offers more natural resources than Phobos, making it easier for us to survive there. The risk of contamination seems pretty low, based on what we currently know.

      I feel like there are good arguments for going to Phobos first, and good arguments for skipping it and going straight to Mars. Seems like a tough call to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Probably depends on your goal. If establishing a colony, you go straight to Mars. If avoiding contamination (and I agree – seems unlikely) you go to Phobos. Then there’s gravity… Mars is probably better in that regard for humans… better enough to matter? I’m not sure we know.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. If Mars gems infect us God forbid it would be a new pandemic…or may be planetademic…,😜excuse my poor joke….so my doubt is phobos safe to land then? Has it been explored? Using remote controlled robots seems like a safe bet.

    Dropping by from a to z “The Pensive”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all very hypothetical at this point. Most likely, there’s no life on Mars, and therefore nothing to worry about. If it turns out there is something living on Mars, though…


      1. Strangely yet typically human, what we all may need to brutally endure in order to survive the very-long-term from ourselves is an even greater nemesis than our own politics and perceptions of differences — especially those involving skin-color and creed — against which we could all unite, defend, attack and defeat, then greatly celebrate. Perhaps a multi-tentacled extraterrestrial, like that from the 1996 blockbuster movie Independence Day?

        During this much-needed human allegiance, we’d be forced to work closely side-by-side together and witness just how humanly similar we are to each other.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Then, again, I’ve been informed that one or more human parties might actually attempt to forge an allegiance with the ETs to better their own chances for survival, thus indicating that our wanting human condition may be even worse than I had originally thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The big issue with landing on Mars, as I understand it, isn’t getting down. It’s getting back out of its gravity well. Phobos is nice because its gravity is miniscule. There’s something to be said for having an infrastructure in orbit around Mars to support the first humans who actually do go down that well.

    On the other hand, it would be pretty maddening to go all that way and not be able to take the final step. It reminds me of what NASA did to Apollo 10. That mission was tasked with testing everything right up to the lunar landing. So they put just enough fuel in the Lunar Module for the test, not enough to get that back out, to ensure they didn’t “accidentally” land during the test.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t heard that story before. That’s pretty funny.

      The thing about getting out of Mars’s gravity well is that once your on Mars, it’s possible to create rocket fuel using in situ resources. I don’t think that’s the case on Phobos. It’s a tough call to say which option would be better.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. With most of these posts, I feel pretty confident saying this will happen, sooner or later. But building a Phobos way station is a tough one. There’s a good case to be made for doing it, and there’s a good case to be made that we can skip it. So I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting. Could it have been a methodology to deal with some of the “we can’t do that because…” brigade? Once you get them past their fear of the big idea, you’ve bought yourself some time to deal with those problems and don’t have to use those methodologies anyway. I’m hypothesising – and I know the least of all those present in this particular room, but I’ve seen it happen in other arenas, so…

    Debs visiting this year from
    Making Yourself Relationship Ready

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That does make sense. NASA has a history of getting funding for “short” missions then going back to Congress later and asking to extend the mission into something else. So that could be a factor in this.

      Liked by 1 person

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