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Man on Mars by 1980?

Exclusive interview with Mr. Eric Burgess, one of
the world's foremost experts on space exploration

Mr. Burgess, charter member of the British Interplanetary Society, has written nine books on space science. In 1939 he predicted man would be on the moon before 1970! Mr. Burgess was questioned by PLAIN TRUTH staff members Gene H. Hogberg and Dexter H. Faulkner.


QUESTION: In terms of new knowledge about Mars, how important are the Mariner 6 and 7 expeditions?

ANSWER: I think they are very important, because they are giving us a transition from the telescopic views to the close-in pictures. As far as the television coverage of the planet is concerned, this is very, very important.

But in addition we are carrying a lot of sophisticated equipment on the Mariners, which are going to give us much new information on the atmosphere of Mars, which we haven't been able to gather from the earth at all . . .

So I think, in terms of new knowledge, the Mariner 6 and 7 expeditions are very important indeed. They will probably give us more knowledge about Mars in these few days than we've amassed since Mars was first observed in the 1600's.


QUESTION: Do you feel that Mariner 6 and 7 can conclusively prove one way or the other whether there is life on Mars or if conditions for life do or do not exist? Or will we have to have a manned landing there to answer those questions?

ANSWER: I think Mariner 6 and 7 will NOT prove whether or not there is life on Mars, but they should tell us whether there are conditions conducive for life to exist on Mars. I think definitely — I have contended all along — that although unmanned probes are the logical first steps in the space program, the only way we can really find wit is to get man down there. Because with all the experimental probe vehicles, they have to be programmed to do certain tasks; they're not flexible. Man is almost infinitely flexible.


QUESTION: What year would you expect a manned expedition to Mars, if it would be approved?

ANSWER: . . . I reckon that if we started going right away we could probably do it within ten years.


QUESTION: I believe it was in 1952 that you predicted there would be unmanned probes of Mars?

ANSWER: That was 1952, when I wrote my Martian probe article, which I think was the first technical paper on the possibility of sending photographic and instrumentive probes to Mars.


QUESTION: Do you feel that there will be probes of other planets within our solar system?

ANSWER: Yes, there will be probes to other planets. In fact one of the big things coming up in the seventies is going to be the "grand tour" of the planets by a probe.


QUESTION: Would you explain that a little?

ANSWER: Well, this is using the gravitational field of the planet to move a probe in a new orbit and swing it out and give it a boost so it can move further out into the solar system and do almost a grand tour of all the planets and then be shot out of the solar system.


QUESTION: Do you think that our solar system is more or less the limit for man's space probing?

ANSWER: No, I think we could send an inter-stellar probe, but the problem here is convincing people it should be done because this is a multi-generation project, rather than a multi-administration project.


QUESTION: Has the U. S. space effort proceeded about the way you thought it would, satisfactorily to you?

ANSWER: Yes, it has indeed. I wrote a book [Satellites and Space Flight) in 1956 which came out about a week before Sputnik 1 was launched, which was kind of a blueprint for the space program. We're about halfway through it, so we're doing pretty well and we're on schedule.


QUESTION: Roughly what has been completed — and what is yet to be accomplished?

ANSWER: We've got audio-visual satellites, we've got "com" Bats [communications satellites), and scientific satellites. We've got lunar and planetary probes, and a soft landing on the moon and a probe. We've got manned circumnavigation of the moon and manned landing on the moon.


QUESTION: Did you foresee all these events?

ANSWER: Not quite in that sequence, because I visualized possibly a large manned orbital station before landing on the moon. Actually we didn't go quite that way — we did put up orbiting stations, but only a small station, not a permanent station.

The half not completed really is the manned orbital laboratory, the complement of crews being permanently in space. The other thing that has to come is a manned lunar base . . . like our Antarctic bases and specifically for scientific works, such as telescopes — both optical and radio telescopes on the moon.

Then I think what has to come is the manned interplanetary fly-bys which parallel the manned circumnavigation of the moon and the manned interplanetary landings.

I also visualize interstellar probes to begin with and possibly interstellar flights later on when we have discovered new types of propulsion systems. I talked about planetary engineering in which we modify the environments of planets . . . [and] reconstitute the atmosphere and give us water on the planets and generally adapt them to colonization by man.

I also talked about all this business which would lead ultimately to interstellar flight and the movement of life from our solar system. That depends upon nuclear and other advanced propulsion systems which we are barely touching on at the moment. So we have an awful lot of work to do ahead.


QUESTION: So what you eventually see for these barren lifeless planets is actual colonization with the creation of atmospheric conditions where human beings can live?

ANSWER: Yes, and this could probably start out with putting habitations under domes, but ultimately, you might be able to reconstitute the atmosphere. Now we know that the atmosphere will leak out over periods of astronomical time, but not if we keep replenishing it, until we've used all the material of the planet.

We'd have to use the material of that planet itself to regenerate the atmosphere . . .


QUESTION: Going back for a moment into the past. In 1939 you predicted man would be on the moon by 1970. How could you at that time so confidently and accurately foresee this?

ANSWER: Back in 1939 I predicted man would be on the moon by 1970 because most of the technology required was really under study in those days. There were few actual breakthroughs needed. We had a pretty good line on what was needed to get to the moon. And we knew of the large rocket engines. We believed they could be built. We knew the navigation wasn't a serious problem.

We knew that we needed internal power supplies we could see that all these things were possible, that it was mainly a development application rather than unusual breakthroughs. There was nothing significant that wasn't known that would have prevented us from going to the moon. . . . I regarded it as mainly a matter of money and dedication to a program to get to the moon.

Also there was a distinct parallel with flight, heavier-than-air flight. Where people had regarded this as being completely impossible, "proved" it mathematically impossible and yet there were a number of pioneers who said, "Yes, you can fly with heavier-than-air machines." It is significant to know that the Royal Aeronautics Society was founded 50 years before the Wright brothers flew.

We formed the British Interplanetary Society in England in an age of accelerating technology applications. This was founded in 1934, so it seemed reasonable at that time for me to predict that man could go to the moon. . . . depending upon whether any government was willing to commit the funds to do it.


QUESTION: In a futuristic sense, do you feel that as a worldwide effort — not just the United States — man may be able to accomplish some of these feats that you have been talking about?

ANSWER: Yes. . . . I don't think it is the sort of thing that really should be accomplished as a national effort. If we made it a worldwide effort, we could probably keep everybody on earth fully occupied and fully at work for the next several centuries instead of having them fighting each other.


QUESTION: It would be a unifying factor then?

ANSWER: I believe so.