Everyone’s seeing Red for the next millennium. Will our children be living on the red planet? (First published on Technocopia in 1999. Remember it’s partly future history now.)
Events are heating up in the space race and our nearest planetary neighbor is the target. Mars has been of interest to scientists and writers for decades. Now, more than ever, exploration is taking place, as well as educational programs and developmental projects in the hopes of colonizing Mars in the near future.
NASA, the Planetary Society, the Mars Society, as well as individual groups and organizations, are encouraging interest in colonizing Mars. The children learning about it today could be manning those first missions planned for 2020-2030. That’s only twenty years! (Or ten, now.)
The big questions being asked are:
- Does Mars still have water (frozen beneath its crust)?
- Is there any life form from microbe to bigger evident on the planet?
- Can we afford to economically, ethically and physically send manned missions to Mars?
- Can Mars sustain an artificially generated environment?
- Can it be colonized in the future?
On December 3, NASA’s Polar Lander will land on Mars. This is the just the beginning of Mars exploration. The Planetary Society’s microphone, as well as the Deep Space 2 microprobes, on the exploratory vessel will record any sounds. These recordings will be available several days after the landing on Mars and broadcast through the society’s Planetfest ’99 program so that people can listen to the first sounds ever heard from the Red Planet.
At least two soil/info-gathering missions will be launched from 2001 on; the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter and Lander. It will land on Mars in 2002 with the first soil samples returning in 2003. More samples will come in four-year intervals afterward. The analyses on these will tell if there is past or present life and what minerals make up Martian soil. Scientists now believe that all the planet’s water is still there, but buried as permafrost and beneath that a liquid water table kilometers deep.
Will We Destroy Before We Create?
There are probably not many planetary environmentalists yet but the possibility of Martian soil samples containing microbes that could contaminate and wreak worldwide havoc on Earth is already being considered. As well, there is some concern that Earth vehicles landing on other planets might carry microbes that could contaminate and destroy alien life before we have a chance to study it. It’s less than five years until Martian soil arrives on Earth.
It’s argued that Earth microbes couldn’t contaminate Mars because:
- Atmospheric pressure is so low that any liquid would boil away to vapor
- Atmosphere is so thin that solar ultraviolet light has sterilized Mars’s surface
- Most of the planet’s surface is below freezing
Most probes and launchers starting with the Viking landers were baked for 40 hours at 112 degrees C, but considering the strong anti-oxidants in the Martian surface, it was decided that only on “life-detection” landers will sterilization be necessary. This leaves less possibility of contaminating a sample with possible “chemical fossil” or microbes from Earth left on a lander. However, any manned mission would complicate the possibility of contaminants. Germs would escape from an airlock opening; likewise any waste produced by a mission would have the same problem. The first manned missions would most likely have astronauts in orbit around the planet while sterilized machines gathered data and transported it back to the space stations or ships. Testing in underwater volcanic regions and beneath Antarctica’s ice is already underway to simulate possible situations on Mars.
Optimists like Robert Zubrin, former Lockheed Martin engineer and now president of the Mars Society, say that the first manned mission could be in ten years. NASA takes a more conservative approach and believes manned missions will begin around 2014-2020, with the first manned team launching in 2018. They hope to have the Mars team stay on the planet for a year and a half. That’s at least a five-year mission for any astronaut.
Looking to the Future
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, launched the Mars Millennium Project in August. Partially sponsored by the Planetary Society, it involves “artists, scientists, and astronauts,” as well as school age children. Over 40,000 schools and youth organizations have already signed up to participate in designing a possible community and its needs for 100 colonizers to live on Mars in 2030. That’s a great way to get tomorrow’s citizens participating in missions to Mars and other planets.
Buzz Aldrin, the second person to set foot on the moon thirty years ago, is highly supportive of the Mars projects and hopes to be on one of the manned missions in 2012. He has a patent for a space station that will orbit Earth and Mars. He believes future funding will come from many areas including the “liberal arts community” and sees Mars as viable not only for exploration but as a tourist resource.
BBC and China Online report that China is also getting into the race for the Red Planet. Reports say that China is looking at manned missions to the moon and Mars by 2005, but with China’s secrecy about their space program it is difficult to find supporting documentation.
MIT graduates and students entered a Mars contest this summer with a business plan for Mars exploration. NASA definitely is planning for the future and priming people from school children to graduates into thinking of ways to generate funding and consider habitation solutions. According to CNN writer Robin Lloyd the Think Mars group, organized by Boston graduate students, first entered a NASA contest with a “goal to complete a business plan for human exploration of Mars in accordance with NASA’s objectives.”
Today’s children will be tomorrow’s Mars pioneers. Mars exploration opens up so many new fields of technology from making oxygen to how a life form alien to an environment can thrive many light years from home. Move over, Star Wars. Mars is real and getting closer every day.
The problems facing Mars colonization:
- Requiring anywhere from $40 billion to $450 billion in funding
- Psychological effects on astronauts so far from Earth physically and emotionally
- Physical effects on astronauts in a sustained low-gravity environment
- How to generate enough fuel, food and oxygen for the trip, which could take up to 26 months
- Contamination of the planet by Earth microbes that could kill any existing organisms and the ethical consequences of destroying a new life form
- Microbes, bacteria or radiation detrimental to plants or humans that are native to Mars
- Not able to make a sustainable oxygen rich environment
The solutions and benefits to colonizing Mars:
- Discovering other life and a better understanding of the universe
- Building a space station to manufacture and process samples and equipment
- Exploration landers are being sent up beginning in 2001 to carry out tests on the environment and to bring back soil samples
- A MIPPP (Mars In-Situ Propellant Production Precursor) is already being tested that can generate oxygen out of a simulated Mars-thin atmosphere.
- Space Station MIR has already given valuable information on prolonged space dwelling and its affects on the human body
- Support of government, scientific, educational and commercial/corporate bodies in funding space exploration
- Continued technology and ethical concerns for any preexisting life on both Mars and Earth
- SPACE DAILY http://www.spacedaily.com/
- MARS MILLENNIUM PROJECT http://www.mars2030.net/
- SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS—host Alan Alda
- THINK MARS http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9909/03/think.mars/index.html
- NASA MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/