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Photo of Robert Zubrin ROBERT ZUBRIN

Dr. Zubrin has a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Rochester (1974), a M.S. in Nuclear Engineering (1984), a M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics (1986), and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering (1992), all from the University of Washington. A member of NASA's Mars Exploration Long Term Strategy Working Group, Dr. Zubrin has over 100 technical and non-technical publications in various areas of astronautical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, and is the editor for Mars Exploration of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. He is the holder of one US Patent, and has another one pending for the Magnetic Sail, a unique concept in space propulsion which he co-invented with Boeing's Dr. Dana Andrews.

For seven years, Dr. Zubrin was employed as a Senior, and then Staff Engineer at Lockheed Martin (formerly Martin Marietta) Astronautics in Denver, working on the design of advanced space transportation and propulsion concepts. He won two Inventors awards from Martin Marietta for his design of a nuclear rocket engine that could use CO2 as propellant, allowing a vehicle so powered to have unlimited mobility on Mars, and for his design of the "Mars Direct" mission architecture, for which he was also commended by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "Mars Direct" was a radical redesign of the strategy for a manned Mars mission which utilizes chemical propellant produced on Mars for Earth return; a 1994 study done by Johnson Space Center showed that it reduced program costs by a factor of 8 compared to the more conventional approach embodied in NASA's 1989 "90 Day Report."

From 1993 to the present Zubrin has been the lead engineer and Principal Investigator on a NASA (first JSC, then JPL) funded project to demonstrate a working brassboard system that performs the required chemical synthesis needed to accomplish the Mars Direct plan, manufacturing cryogenic methane and oxygen out of a small supply of imported hydrogen combined with Mars atmospheric simulant gas contained in a vessel at Mars ambient pressures. This program has been entirely successful. In 1994, Zubrin was also the technical lead on Martin Marietta design study of the "Black Colt" a horizontal takeoff, horizontal landing spaceplane employing RP/O2 propulsion with aerial transfer of liquid oxygen. In 1991, Zubrin also teamed with Mike Jacox of the Idaho National Engineering Lab to design the SEHPTR reactor, the first thermionic heat-pipe reactor system capable of dual-mode direct thrust propulsion. The attractiveness of this system caused the USAF to subsequently initiate its bimodal reactor development program.

In addition to his many technical publications, Dr. Zubrin is also the author of a book, "The Case for Mars: How We shall Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must," published by the Free Press (a division of Simon and Schuster) in October 1996. His work on novel concepts for Mars exploration has been covered favorably in many mainstream media outlets, including Newsweek, the New York Times magazine, Air and Space Smithsonian, Fortune, the Economist, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, PBS, the Discover Channel, CNN, National Public Radio, and the BBC. He has been personally invited to brief NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and other powerful individuals and groups on his ideas for space transportation and exploration. He is Executive Chairman of the National Space Society and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. Prior to his work in astronautics, Dr. Zubrin was employed in areas of thermonuclear fusion research, nuclear engineering, and radiation protection.

See Robert Zubrin's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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