Since the beginning, mankind has always wanted to explore the unknown. From Christopher Columbus to Louis and Clark, the curiosity of mystery has captivated the population to dream of the impossible; for some, their dreams were quite literally to reach for the stars. The final frontier became a reality with the launching of Sputnik 1, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, by the USSR on October 4, 1957. This began the infamous “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States of America, thus creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the U.S.. NASA then successfully landed a man on the moon on July 20, 1969 during the Apollo missions pushed strongly by Eisenhower’s predecessor President John F. Kennedy.
After competing for many years the significance of what was being accomplished was realized. The exploration of space needed to be a combined effort from all to reach the impossible. The first step in this cooperative effort was the International Space Station, which is still in use today and fully functional, which put in motion a pathway for further space exploration in the future. The next small step for man, Mars.
The pathway to Mars is far from simple with so many variables and complications to take into consideration. Not only will the trip be brutally long, but once astronauts have arrived, how will they survive? The resources on Mars for sustaining life are not exactly abundant. So in order to be able to claim this mission a success, there will be many years of research and development of new technology to ensure the safety of the first travelers to the fourth rock from the Sun. According to Meghan Rosen and her article, “A Rocky Road to Mars”, the first step to getting closer to the Red Planet is to first land or redirect an asteroid by stating that “astronauts might be able to mine the rock for resources, instead of relying only on supplies hauled up from Earth for voyages into deep space” (Rosen). Many believe this is just a stunt by NASA to keep their budget in good standing but for the most part even if this is more of a baby step towards Mars rather than a giant leap, you always learn to crawl before you learn to run.
The ARM, Asteroid Retrieval Mission, is no easy task in itself. NASA has dwindled the list of ideas down to two nominees of how to accomplish a successful ARM. One plan would be to send a “solar electric propulsion spacecraft – the largest ever built – will blast off from Earth in 2019 and sail through space toward its massive target” (Rosen). When the spacecraft is positioned in the best possible spot, it will literally catch the asteroid with a massive blow-up bag like material. After the craft is positioned and everything else is exactly in order the bag will cinch shut.
The way this works is explained by JPL aerospace engineer Brian Muirhead saying that “Think of it like a bounce house. . . All inflated, the bag. . . will stretch about as tall as a three story building and hold up to 1,000 tons of asteroid. After swallowing the rock, the plastic would cinch shut like a garbage sack” (Rosen). The spacecraft will not just latch on and take off towards some other direction. This process will take years of steady tugging on the asteroid to move it into the right path to slingshot around the Moon into the Moon’s orbit for further research. How can you research on something in orbit enclosed by a massive plastic bag? NASA thought of that one. Two man crews would either slice open small portions of the plastic or have Velcro sections to remove to be able to chip off chunks to bring to Earth for study.
The second candidate plan for the ARM is to send a robot to hook on to a boulder off a space rock. The robot would tug boat the piece of rock to the moon for an astronaut crew to explore at a later time. Both of the candidates have merit. The difference in the two is the time frame. The garbage sack tug boat will take years to accomplish, while the other depending on the size of rock piece the robot collects could take a fraction of the time. The catch though would be NASA will have to have a science study type base on the Moon, which may be a blossoming idea either way. Since the Apollo days, no one has set foot on the moon. Once the “Space Race” ended, the population’s hype of space travel sort of hit a brick wall and fell harder than Humpty Dumpty.
The original plan was to land man on Mars by the year 1981. The program has been rekindled several times with not much success. The first to attempt the relighting of the NASA Mars candle was President George H.W. Bush on the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, but never sent a budget to Congress to fund the idea. Same with younger President George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush, and his attempt at a new space program idea which became behind schedule and over budget. So the idea was canned. Not all is lost though. President Obama is still fighting the good fight for space flight to return pledging to “send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the mid-2030s” (Rosen). Even though the ARM is criticized of being off-target, it is widely agreed that if the ARM is shut down, NASA will do nothing with human spaceflight for the next ten years.
Space travel is no longer merely limited to government agencies though. Space travel has hit the private sector with companies such as MarsOne and SpaceX and other countries have joined the alliance such as China and India. In an article by Rick Docksai, “Back to the Lunar Future”, the China National Space Administration, “Having successfully executed Chang’e 3, a December 2013 mission that landed a robotic rover on the Moon, the Chinese space program is now planning Chang’e 5, which will fly Chinese astronauts to the Moon and bring them back with a sample of lunar soil” (Docksai). This will jumpstart the ideas of a establishing a lunar base, and lunar based energy industries. No matter which plane or who executes the plan, the for sure thing to do before we pack up for Mars is to take an even shorter trip back to the Moon. One small step again?
The Moon provides us with a much closer destination to successfully test and train astronauts for the harsh environments of Mars. The plan is to land once again on the Moon and build a lunar base on the surface to not just study the moon more in depth, but to isolate astronauts for training in a similar environment of Mars to become more equipped to handle the precautions of the procedures required. Clive Neal, a University of Notre Dame planetary geologist states that ‘The Moon, by its proximity, seems a logical place to go to conduct surface operations to conduct new technologies in a hostile environment, and in partial gravity” (Docksai). The lunar base on the Moon would also be a depot to resupply the ISS, International Space Station, with more water and food.
The depot will also be responsible for refueling the ships sent to Mars and if need be resupply the shuttle as well. Even though the Moon is not very far in reality to Mars, the amount of fuel to take off from Earth is massive and every little bit of fuel helps out with the distance to Mars. Some of the supplies would not even have to fully be transported to and from Earth. The Moon has some resources to help out. Mark Lardas, writer of from “From Lunar Outpost To Permanent Moon Base,” explains that “Developing a capability to extract these resources from the Moon rock is an early priority if the outpost is to become a permanent facility” (Lardas).
The operation of having a lunar base is not all that far-fetched. The construction and schematics of the lunar base would be similar to that of the base in Antarctica which houses over two hundred people for the Winter annually. Diesel mechanic Harry Dyson was responsible for the power system at McMurdo Station on America’s Antarctic base during two separate year-long terms. Dyson talks about the isolated stay in Antarctica stating that:
“We were not cut off from the world,” Dyson says. A satellite uplink provided phone and Internet service. I even called in a radio request once, since I was able to listen over the computer. There was a bowling alley, ceramic studio, and a dark room. The population was large and diverse enough to put on plays, classes, concerts, and art shows.” (Lardas)
The same concept and technology would be used for the Moon and even Mars. It would be a McMurdo on the Moon.
One of the problems with a lunar base is the funds to keep it going. At first the funds would be coming from scientific communities and government science grants. Scientists would be able to use silica on the moon for glass and solar cells. Silica, heated in micro-gravity, produces glass as strong and tough as metals. Glass industries would quickly expand and provide an economy on the Moon. This would be a step in the right direction to keeping a lunar base on the Moon funded and running. The base would be a neutral affiliation with any one country, due to an agreement signed not allowing any country to make claim to a terrestrial body, and to welcome a diverse population. This also paves the way to extracurricular activities on the moon such as vacation spots and travel center. Want to get away? How much further can you get besides the Moon?
Communications to and from Mars, or even the lunar surface, would rely on the Deep Space Network, or DSN. The DSN is a collection of fifty year-old radio antennas installed in remote locations across the world. This DSN is similar to the technology of FM radio stations, except instead of embedding songs in radio waves that stereos convert into classic rock power ballads, space missions embed data that the antennas convert into spacecraft information or images. It may be considered “Old Faithful” but data transfer rates are extremely slow. For example if a video is sent from a lunar base and the file is 1.5-gigabyte in size, it would take the DSN up to six hours to download.
Cell phones and their data signals would download a file that size in a fraction of the time. But not all hope is lost, there is a new technology of optical communication. This communication embeds data in laser beams rather than radio waves. Sarah Scoles and her paper, “A Skype Session From Mars”, states that “As a test of this tech, NASA’s latest moon explorer, LADEE, was equipped with a “lunar laser” system that can communicate nearly 20,000 times faster than curiosity’s DSN-based transmitter” (Scoles). Although this laser-based technology is faster, it has nothing to communicate with at the moment. So, NASA intends for such high-speed systems to be standard on spacecraft starting in 2025. This is provided that the federal budget can support the idea and upgrades. Some upgrades would be a little harder to pull-off because of the distance of the satellites. Voyager, a 37 year-old traveling into deep space, is a bit too far to retrofit with optical communications.
So the communications is being upgraded, attempting to capture an asteroid for resources, and a lunar base would be a step towards settling a terrestrial body and training on survival are all being puzzled together for one goal, landing and settling man on Mars. It may seem like a complicated process and way out of reach for government funding, but it is being attempted at least. The funding needed, even in the private sector, is extremely high. Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit organization, has a current budget of six billion dollars, which makes one question if the trip to Mars depends on the technology or financial stability. If finances are not a problem, Mars One, co-founded by Bas Lansdorp, announced in 2012 that it intended to send a crew of settlers on a one-way trip to Mars for a reality show.
The show would go from the selecting process to the day of launch, and profits help fund the company and Mars One’s future endeavors. Even after astronaut selection, there are still more steps that need to be taken before launch in the year 2025. Mars One hopes to send an unmanned mission to Mars in 2020 followed two years later by the living modules the settlers will live in and work out of. The problem is after doing a feasibility study, answer to the question how long it would take for the mission to experience its first fatality was a mere sixty-eight days. According to Ian Steadman and his paper, “Why Colonist may die in 68 days”, the reason for the shortage of days is due to a number of reasons. Steadman states that:
There are many reasons to be skeptical of the current plan, the researches argue. The space allocated for crops isn’t big enough to give each colonist the 3,000 or so calories per day needed to stay alive and healthy on Mars; those plants would produce so much oxygen that it could cause life-support systems. . . to malfunction, leading to a catastrophic drop in cabin pressure; more than twice as many rocket journeys will be needed to keep the base supplied than planned; and, by the tenth year, spare parts will take up almost two-thirds of all cargo on the resupply missions from Planet Earth.
That is a big flaw in the plan, but if NASA’s ARM is successful than maybe the supplies and resources will not be a big factor.
The next question needing answered is where to land when Mars is reached. On 24 September 2014, India became the first country to put an interplanetary space probe around Mars in her first attempt. In a article, “Scientific exploration of Mars by first Indian interplanetary space probe: Mars Orbitor Mission”, written by A. S. Kiran Kumar and Prakash Chauhan, it states that MOM, Mars Orbital Mission, is circling Mars and is designed to explore surfaces of Mars and it’s atmosphere. According to Kumar and Chauhan, the article states that “Mars Colour Camera (MCC) is an electro-optical sensor imaging the surface of Mars in three colours. . . depending on its position in orbital plane illumination conditions” (Kumar).
But MOM is not the only satellite exploring Mars, NASA also sent an orbiter to the Red Planet called the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, also known as MAVEN. In an article in Sky and Telescope Magazine, “Deciphering Mars”, Camille M. Carlisle writes that not only is MAVEN dedicated to sampling Mars’s upper atmosphere from orbit, but also states that “its team intends to travel back in time and uncover what happened in the Red Planet’s ancient past (Carlisle). To better understand how to land and settler on Mars, it may be a good idea to look into the planet’s past and see just how the Red Planet became uninhabitable, if it ever was. This study may also answer any questions if it is at all possible to recreate the atmosphere into a suitable “living condition” for survival of life.
In any case, reaching the fourth rock from the Sun is complicated saying it nicely. That does not mean the mission is improbable. The feasibility of success is extremely high and every science-fiction lover’s dream come true. The trip itself especially. The plan for the estimated hundred and eighty day one way trip is to possibly putting astronauts into a medicated deep sleep for the trip. In the article, “Manned mission to Mars: Will astronauts hibernate their way to the Red Planet?”, by Anne Steele it states that “Torpor, a state of reduced physiological activity, would reduce astronauts’ metabolic functions, and costs” (Steele). This method has been used by hospitals to treat patients for more than three decades. Also this, “Theoretically, sleeping astronauts would require less food, water, and oxygen, thus significantly cutting the price tag on a six month journey” (Steele). Amount of funds reduced, getting closer and closer to a successful mission.
From one small step for Man on the Apollo mission to the Moon, to the giant “Martian” leap forward to the Red Planet, mankind is on the verge of accomplishing a major milestone in space exploration. Maybe one day the Red Planet will no longer be a fantasy, but a travel destination or even for someone to become a former Earthling, to current Martian. With resources on Earth not as plentiful as years past and populations rising in numbers, what is a better answer than a whole other planet to inhabit? The possibilities are endless.
Given all the steps are completed and the landing of humans on Mars is a success, think of everything that can be accomplished there on after. Settle a moon of Jupiter? It is hard just thinking of walking on another planet without getting sweaty palms of excitement and thinking back to childhood of dreaming of the stars and what lies in the heavens of space. From the Moon to the outreaches of space, fantasy is becoming reality. Time will only tell what lies ahead for sure. But one thing is certain. It is now time again for mankind to journey where no one has gone before, “to infinity and beyond”.
- Carlisle, Camille M. “Deciphering Mars. “ Sky & Telescope 128.3 (2014): 20-26. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Docksai, Rick. “Back To The Lunar Future.” Futurist 48.5 (2014): 118 Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Kumar, A. S. Kiran and Prakash Chauhan. “Scientific Exploration Of Mars By First Indian Interplanetary Space Probe: Mars Orbitor Mission.” Current Science (00113891) 107.7 (2014): 1096-1097. Academic Search Complete. Web 20 Oct. 2014.
- Lardas, Mark N. “From Lunar Outpost To Permanent Moon Base.” Ad Astra. 20.2 (2008): 36-37. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Rosen, Meghan. “A Rocky Road To Mars. (Cover Story).” Science News 186.4 (2014): 22-27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Scoles, Sarah. “A Skype Session From Mars.” Discovery 35.9 (2014): 18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Steadman, Ian. “Why Mars Colonists May Die In 68 Days.” New Statesman 143.5232 (2014): 16-17. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Steele, Anne. “Manned mission to Mars: Will astronauts hibernate their way to the Red Planet?.” Christian Science Monitor 06 Oct. 2014: N. PAG. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.