Space, the final frontier.
These are the words that have resonated with so many people ever since 1966, when the first Star Trek television show came out. The 1960s were a time of the great space race with Russia. Eventually NASA was able to land men on the moon in 1969. These were heady times for those people interested in science and astronomy. Since then, numerous iterations of television shows and movies have amplified our interest in space. Who can forget the opening lines, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …”, setting the stage for the Star Wars saga that continues today?
All of these movies and shows bring a bit of awe and wonder of our continuing curiosity of what is out beyond our Earth. NASA has sent numerous probes out into our solar system looking for the evidence of life, and the unknown. People continue to read and learn what NASA and others have been able to discover. The more we learn, the more we want to know. Space is exciting.
Humans are an exploratory group. Explorers and settlers pushed their way into unknown territory through the 1700s and 1800s in the United States and Canada. This was an exciting and dangerous time. Humans have always held these characteristics. A lot of people like to live their lives vicariously by reading the adventures of others, while there are those who insist on being the first to go exploring. Little kids like to find new and exciting places to explore. It is our nature to do so.
So, NASA wants to travel to Mars with humans. What are some of the problems?
First of all, one needs to transport humans safely from the Earth to Mars.
You need a strong yet light ship to get them quickly and safely. The size of the vessel will have to allow for accommodations for human anatomy because the length of the voyage is about nine months.
In our early attempts in space we found that humans became weak after an extended period of time. They needed assistance when they climbed out of their spacecraft once they landed. Their skeletal and muscle systems were weakened due to the low gravity out in space and lack of use.
The same thing occurs on the Earth, if we don’t exercise our muscles our strength deteriorates. If we send humans to Mars they will be weak and unable to climb out of the spacecraft once they land. So, any vessel that goes to Mars must take this into consideration giving humans some gravity and exercise on their voyage. Gravity is the important part. Gravity places stress on the muscles and the heart for humans. Our bodies weaken without this gravitational stress.
When they land on Mars, the gravity is three-eighths that of the Earth. So, if you weigh 160 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 60 pounds on Mars. This would make it easier to carry heavy loads of equipment on Mars. However, you would have to maintain your strength on the voyage to do so.
Mars is about one-half the size of our earth. Since the formation of Mars the inner core of Mars has cooled, freezing the iron core so that no active magnetic field exists on Mars. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from harmful cosmic rays and particles from the sun. Mars is not able to protect astronauts because it has no magnetic field. The spacecraft and all habitats on Mars would have to be protected from these cosmic rays and solar radiation.
The atmosphere on Mars is about 1/100 the atmospheric pressure of that on Earth due to its lower gravity. So, we need space suits to protect us. The atmosphere is mainly comprised of carbon dioxide, the gas that we exhale. We need oxygen to breathe and we exhale this carbon dioxide. So, we need to bring oxygen with us or find a source of oxygen. We think there may be some water frozen in the ground. If we find ice we could then break the water into hydrogen and oxygen.
We think that life formed on the Earth around 4 billion years ago, just after the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Evidence indicates that Mars might have had similar conditions conducive to the formation of life in its earlier phases. My wife and I watched the movie “Life,” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds. In this movie, they brought aboard the space station a sample of Mars rock. Things went amiss on that station due to the life they found. Any trip to Mars will have to have procedures to isolate any life that is found.
Living on Mars
To keep humans alive we need food, water, protection from the environment, places to sleep to allow our bodies to recover, and a place to exercise. All of these requirements need to be in place on Mars before humans get there. NASA would probably send the supplies on separate missions before the humans arrive.
We need rockets to help launch people into space. Enormous amounts of fuel are required to get them into space. If we send astronauts to Mars, is there a spacecraft with fuel to bring them home? Not at this time. NASA’s first trip to Mars might be just an orbital trip around Mars. Another likely scenario is to send a one-way mission to Mars. That means to leave them stranded on Mars for the remainder of their lives. The Mars One mission is one such example.
Traveling to Mars is fraught with all kinds of potential dangers that we know about. And, some that we don’t know. Any mission to another planet must be planned with an eye to many kinds of emergencies and the supplies necessary to contend with them. The people who volunteer for such a mission will need to be some of the bravest people on Earth.
Clear skies to you all!
Mars quick facts
Learn more about the planet on the NASA website: https://mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/facts/#?c=inspace&s=distance
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