Surviving Planet Earth
Part A: Mission to Mars
This is the first of a two-part article on how technology is being developed in a quest to underwrite the survival of mankind.
Here’s the scenario. Humans appear to be trapped on a small blue planet floating in the infinite vastness of space. Each human has an effective use-by date of say 70-80 years. As individuals, our days are numbered. Earth rotates around a small, relatively insignificant star we call the Sun. The Sun itself also has a use-by date. One day the lights will go out.
There is no other intelligent life within cooee of Earth.
Perhaps there is life in another dimension. Perhaps we are just part of a video game.
Spiritual issues aside, we are fighting a losing battle for material survival. To make matters worse we are a combative species by nature, with a proven record of no regard for the Earth on which we live, let alone each other and the other creatures with which we share our small planet.
We are still waging political, ideological and religious wars with little or nothing to show for over 2,000 years of human “progress” – except that our extinction and demise is now within our own hands.
So, to some very powerful and rich individuals and nations, Mars is seen as the next most logical place for humans to exist. However Mars seems more of a human conquest than a quest for survival.
Survivalists would argue that the dinosaurs are now extinct because they didn’t have a back-up plan to ensure their survival. To others Mars is an ego-driven waste of time and money which does nothing to solve the human condition.
Mars as a global challenge
Aeronautic giant Lockheed Martin, a company that probably knows more about the subject matter than anyone else, says that a manned mission to Mars has the best chance of success with global co-operation and funding.
The company recently outlined its latest work in developing a Mars base camp, which will remain in orbit around the red planet and allow its crew of six to travel to and from the surface and even to the two moons of Mars to explore and conduct experiments.
With the combined “skill and will” of global collaboration from both public and private sectors plans for a mission would be faster, potentially making it possible in about 10 years.
Lockheed Martin says at no other time in history has there been both the know-how and the public excitement to get humans to Mars.
Sharing in the excitement is a company based in California, USA called Space X, headed by tech billionaire Elon Musk.
Only last month, Musk announced plans to colonise Mars by 2024 using a using a new type of rocket that can also travel to any location on earth in less than 60 minutes.
Musk says he’s hoping to make his current space rockets redundant with a new vehicle code named BFR (Big F***ing Rocket).
His big rocket will stand 100 metres tall with 31 engines to lift a payload of more than 4000 tons into space.
The rocket’s interplanetary vehicle will be just 48 metres long and will feature 40 cabins, each capable of carrying three people.
He believes he could send the first two cargo ships to Mars by 2022 with the first two crewed craft touching down just two years later.
He said the BFR would also be able to service the International Space Station as well as establish human colonies on the moon and Mars.
The plan is to use the BFR to transport 100 people at a time to the surface of Mars. The huge Shuttle-like vehicle launches on a reusable booster on Earth and is then able to make propulsive landings on Mars. With multiple launches, Musk envisions creating a Mars city.
The two-section BFR will be about 30 feet wide, 348 feet long, and weigh 4,400 tons at launch — nearly ten times the mass of the International Space Station.
“It’s really quite a big vehicle,” Musk said.
Musk hopes to send two unmanned cargo ships to the Red Planet in 2022 and human passengers just two years later.
Mars comes to Dubai
Here on planet Earth there have been numerous trial tests on how humans would cope with the isolation and challenges of living on Mars.
A NASA-backed research program recently ended which featured a six-member crew living in isolation on a remote Hawaii volcano.
The crew of four men and two women were quarantined on a vast plain below the summit of the world’s largest active volcano in January. All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay — the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to the Earth.
The Hawaii team wore specially-designed sensors to gauge their moods and proximity to other people in the small, 1,200 square-foot (111 square meters) dome where they stayed.
The devices monitored, among other things, their voice levels and they could sense if people were avoiding one another. It could also detect if they were next to each other and arguing.
The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels. And when they got sick of each other, they could use virtual reality devices to escape to tropical beaches or other familiar landscapes.
Meanwhile the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has unveiled plans to build a billion dollar ‘Martian City’ in the Emirati desert.
Known as the Mars Scientific City, the 1.9-million-square-foot complex will be completely cut off from the outside world allowing scientists and engineers the chance to simulate what like will really be like on Mars.
The largest of its kind, the project will reportedly house researchers for a year allowing them to carry out experiments on growing food, maintaining supplies and psychological living conditions.
The plan is for the entire city to be completely self-sustaining so that it can accurately apply the pressures that astronauts would experience without any outside help.
Mars Scientific City is the first major step in a long journey for the UAE as it heads towards its eventual goal of building a colony on Mars by 2117.
Mars – fast facts
- Because Mars’ orbit is different to Earth’s there is one launch window every 26 months
- Because of its orbit pattern, the distance between Mars and Earth can vary from 55.7 to 401 kilometres
- Using current technology it would take over two years for a team of astronauts to travel to Mars and back
- Mars is half the size of Earth and 1/10th the mass of Earth
- There are 687 Earth days to one year on Mars (the time it takes to revolve around the Sun)
- A Martian day is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds (known as a “Sol”)
- The average temperature is -55 degrees Celsius. At best temperatures near the Martian equator can reach 20 degrees, but then it drops to -100 degrees at night!
- Wind speed on Mars can reach a maximum of 144 km/h
- The highest peak on Mars is Olympus Mons at 26km. In fact it is the highest known mountain in our solar system (over three times the height of Mt Everest)
- Mars has two moons Phobos and Deimos. They are irregular shaped and look like large potatoes.
(Source: Canada Space Agency)
If we are going to Mars in an effort to prolong the human race, there remains one fundamental problem. We will still be reliant on a single star from which we derive our energy – the Sun.
When the light goes out, no matter where we are in our solar system, we are doomed. But that’s still 7 or 8 billion years from now.
So why wait around? People are already signed up on a one-way journey to Mars.
If you are interested visit www.mars-one.com