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A manned mission to Mars — the challenges

Monday, 27 October 2008 — by

Space, the final frontier. The future of mankind is a a pioneer of the ink black firmament. But before we make our next giant leap, I’ll be discussing what we need to do first to make our exploration of the stars an enduring legacy and not a lamentable foray into the unknown…

“Space, the final frontier.”

Those words spoke to a whole generation of people. Now, they’re but a seemingly fading echo, like the echo of the Big Bang, of past idealism and hope. At a time when global politics and finance define the very furthest edges of a very ominous and hostile horizon line, what kind of future can we hope for?

A better one. That’s what hope is, after all.

A few days ago, Mehmet Yildiz, who’s an Executive IT Architect for IBM and a fellow member of Ecademy, a Social Network for businesses, asked a number of questions around the proposed manned mission to Mars in the 2030/40 time frame. Straight away, these questions caught my eye.

the planet Mars

The following is a fleshing out of my response to Mehmet’s questions concerning a manned mission to Mars, and beyond:

“Would you ever consider going to a new planet knowing that you will never come back to Earth?”

First of all, I have to mention the comparison with European pioneers headed to the Americas in the late 15th century. When those people first embarked on their voyages, they were at least assured of the means to keep themselves alive at the end of their journey.

For any astronaut venturing out into space, with the intention of making Mars their new adopted home, things will be drastically different; Mars is a baron and hostile environment. If anything has been forgotten, or they discover something they hadn’t anticipated, those are the challenges they will have to resolve and overcome once they arrive. If a resolution is at all both feasible and possible.

So to answer the question more faithfully; no. But I’m hardly astronaut material, now am I?

“Would you ever want to travel 1.5 years without stopping?”

I don’t think the period is an issue. After all, why would you want to stop? And where? The main issues at hand here are:

  1. how would the astronauts sustain themselves during (and after) their journey?
  2. stay safe in open space away from the shielding of the Earth?
  3. and not fall foul of personal conflicts?
  4. as well as satiating their various biological desires.

All of these things are currently being investigated right now. And these are issues that will be crucial not just during the voyage to Mars, but also once they land there, too.

1.1. Food: in space

Since it’s anticipated the journey to Mars will take over a year and a half, simply storing food isn’t feasible. Instead, these would-be pioneers of Mars would need to grow their own food during the journey:

“Unlike travelers on Earth who have the convenience of roadside diners and fast-food restaurants, the dining options for space travelers are limited.

As NASA’s astronauts prepare to fulfill the Vision for Space Exploration with increasingly lengthy missions, scientists are trying to find a way for them to grow their own food.”

1.2. Food: on Mars

Once the astronauts arrive and settle, their thoughts must then turn towards terraforming their small corner of Mars into fertile and plentiful land, under the cover of glass and steel:

“Sprawled across three acres of sun-drenched high desert sits the eclectic ambiance of Biosphere 2. This huge glass and metal frame edifice is a product of New Age thinking, doubling as the worlds largest test tube for research into Earths future.”

2. Force field technology

While within the shroud of Earth’s magnetosphere, for the most part, orbiting space craft and their crews are afforded some protection from the lethal forces of the Sun. However, to venture further into space is to invite greater danger.

“Shields Up, Mr. Sulu!”

One more utterance that we’re all familiar with, yes? In space, a threat more likely to require of someone to raise shields is not an alien one, but from the Sun itself, in the form of lethal, high-energy cosmic radiation:

“Now scientists at the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire are proposing a Star Trek solution: to protect the spacecraft with a magnetic field like the Earth’s. A team led by Ruth Bamford,… will use technology originally developed for experimental nuclear fusion reactors to wrap a model spacecraft in a magnetic cocoon, so that harmful plasma bounces off.”

And force fields aren’t the only Star Trek technology we’re close to realizing, either!

3-4. Societies in space

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that relationships and rivalries can form the basis of major problems, especially in space:

“Breakups can lead to violence and all kinds of things,… People are very primitive in their emotions around partnering and sex.”

So says Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a psychologist specialising in sexuality and intimacy based in Oakland, California, US.

“Sexual harassment may also endanger a mission. In an 8-month space station simulation on Earth in 2000, a Russian man twice tried to kiss a Canadian woman researcher just after two other Russians had gotten into a bloody brawl. As a result, locks were installed between the Russian and international crews’ compartments.”

Clearly, these are considerable challenges, which aren’t as simple as, say, replacing a faulty part, or a worn component.

What compels us to look to space as our new home? And are we ready to travel to Mars? Find out in the next installment…

Recommended images & videos of Mars

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Allison → Tuesday, 28 October 2008 @ 7:41 BDT

Seems like an awful lots of money wasted when we have so much suffering and disease here on this planet!

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 28 October 2008 @ 11:25 BDT

Hi Allison, thanks for the comment!

That’s a popular misconception, which illustrates a clear lack of public knowledge when it comes to space travel and exploration.

A huge number of medical and technological advancements owe their existence to our venturing into space, without which, our lives would be very, very different.

I’d hazard a guess and say that significantly more money has been lost on the stock market (with the recent losses being only a fraction of the total) over the last century than has been spent on space exploration.

Similarly, more has been spent on pointless, self-serving conflicts over the last century, such as the recent idiotic exploits in Iraq.

Whatever you may think about space exploration, it is our future, which I’ll be covering in more detail in part two, today…

Zath → Tuesday, 28 October 2008 @ 15:07 BDT

A great article here, I really like reading about space travel/colonisation and often hear sentiments such as Allison’s, I can understand where you’re coming from, however like Wayne says, much more money is wasted on far more pointless tasks.

I think humanity as a civilization has to “leave the cradle of Earth” and look to colonising other worlds. Not only in the search to advance technology, find resources, but also as a means to “back-up” the history and accomplishments as a civilization and ensure they go on in some form – if an asteroid wiped out Earth, the human race would be completely lost.

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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