We’ve conquered the Moon. The next on our list is Mars.
For hundreds of years, Mars has fascinated scientists. There are so many questions that need answering. Did Mars once have a bigger atmosphere? What caused all the scars on the planet? Did Mars ever have water? Was there life on Mars? These are just some of the questions that need answering. And is there a better way to answer them, than going to the planet itself?
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is placed just outside of the “Goldilocks Zone” (the imaginary zone where the perfect conditions for life are exhibited). Mars is placed at an average of 225 million kilometers away from the Earth. With a distance like that, it means it could take anywhere from 150 – 300 days to get there – with current technology. The fact that it takes that long presents challenges of its own.
NASA conducted the One Year Mission last year, involving Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, to see the effects on the human body when spending a long time in space. Also, China hosted an experiment where four individuals had to spend 180 days in a tiny space capsule. The capsule was designed to mimic being on another planet. The four actually had to get used to “Mars Time” (39 minutes longer than an Earth day). The experiment ended successfully in December 2016.
However, spending a long time with other people isn’t the only challenge. Actually getting to the planet is something to think about.
First of all, a long journey means that there is more time for something to go wrong. If a bit of equipment fails 100 million km away from the Earth, it will be up to the astronauts on board to sort it out. Also, landing on the planet is tricky. The rough and scared surface means that it is hard to pick out a safe landing spot. Another point is that astronauts will be exposed to a lot of radiation. On the journey to Mars, astronauts will be exposed to roughly two-thirds of a Sievert. Humans on Earth only get about 1/1000th of a Sievert each year – basically a lot! This means that there is an increased risk of the astronaut developing cancer.
Even with all these challenges, space companies are working on rockets and capsules that will send us humans to Mars. NASA hopes to be there by 2030.
NASA is working on the development of the Orion Spacecraft. After being launched using the new Space Launch System (SLS), it is our next deep space vessel. It is aimed to take us to Mars and also asteroids. The first test of Orion was conducted on December 5th 2014, and successfully tested the computers, systems, and sensors. The spacecraft also managed to pass through high levels of radiations. Altogether, Orion will take humans to an asteroid in 2020’s and to Mars in 2030’s.
Watch the first test flight of Orion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEuOpxOrA_0
There are other plans to get to Mars. Such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX. This is a private company that hopes to one day colonize Mars. Although this does raise more problems. How will humans survive on Mars?
Mars is a hostile environment. It combines extreme cold conditions with an atmosphere, unlike Earth. Not forgetting the penetrating radiation. So obviously, we would have to use specially adapted spacesuits when on the planet. We will need to create special pressurized and heated habitats. Also, there will need to be a source of water. Living on Mars is just as hard as getting there.
All in all, Mars is a fascinating place. Sure there are a lot of problems with getting there and living there. But the human race went to the moon with 1960’s technology. That was nearly 50 years ago. Technology is much more advanced, along with us humans.
We will go to Mars in the near future.