If you’ve watched The Martian, a science fiction film, you’d agree that whatever prodigious brain Matt Damon’s character had, the travel and life on Mars is a difficult one. Well, probably in all movies about space. In the end, the heroic astronaut, with shoes marked with dust from planets or moons, returns home successfully to the beaming cheers of his people.
Sure there is glory, and it comes at the price of struggle. For centuries mankind has marveled at the celestial bodies and treaded lengths to discover more about what’s out there and beyond. It has gone from Ancient Greeks drafting models of spheres to the construction of well-designed telescopes to space ventures that sent humans (and dogs, monkeys, and frogs!) to find out more about what only seemed like glowing speckles from here on Earth.
Among the many questions people have about space is the possibility of undertaking the first manned space flight to Mars, the “Red Planet.” Will a human foot a step on Mars? If it is possible, how? If it’s not possible, why?
To answer this question, it’s best to understand Mars first and why it is planned to be humankind’s first interplanetary mission.
The fourth planet from the sun is a terrestrial planet with Earth-like deserts, seasons, and valleys and moon-like impact craters. Mars has decent sunlight, and its atmosphere allows the growth of plants if compressed. However, the natural environment is deadly for humans as there is very low pressure, high radiation, 96% carbon dioxide, and no oxygen. Venus is a closer neighbor. But because of its sulfuric rain and scorching, extreme temperatures, Venus is a less likely better choice than Mars.
As of today, NASA has expressed intent to achieve the first manned mission on Mars, while SpaceX has ambitioned to target a human step on the Martian surface by 2024. However, are they ready?
As Zahaan Bharmal, a recipient of Nasa’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal, put it in three significant challenges: Rockets, Restlessness and Radiation.
ROCKETS. To fly from one country to another is already a pain in the pocket of an average individual. How much more would it cost to get rockets the size greater than our tallest infrastructures to travel lengths farther than a trip around the Earth’s circumference 5,600 times?
100-500 billion dollars may be spent to send a return mission. To reduce expenditure, SpaceX has decided to make reusable rockets and were successful as they have already launched and landed Falcon 9. Spacecrafts should be prepared for longer journeys and should have more room for living space, backup systems, and equipment.
RESTLESSNESS. It’s relatively trivial to consider boredom, but the journey to Mars is very long. It’s easy to think about the trip merely but to be met by a black vastness of space, loneliness, and to be far from the familiar hues of Earth for so long can lead to depression, anxiety, attention deficits, and many more.
Some astronauts undergo the Hi-Seas (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation) Project, where they’d be in isolation on the side of a volcano to simulate Martian conditions for up to eight months. This has tested psychological effects and shown that they need routines to keep them busy.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, believes that the journey to Mars should be fun, so he plans to include compartments in his 100-people fitting rocket for movies, lecture halls, cabins, and zero-gravity games!
RADIATION. Like mentioned earlier, Mars has high radiation – cosmic & solar. By the Martian Radiation Experiment, it was found to cause a variety of problems, from cancer to impairment of the central nervous system to great damage to both the living and non-living. Imagine an employee in a nuclear power plant and a year of work. A trip to Mars exposes astronauts to more than 15 times this employee’s annual radiation. From spacesuits and extra shielding, solutions must be made.
Due to these issues and additional problems like communication, weightlessness, growing food, crossing the solar system optimally, slowing down efficiently, landing safely and to do it all in reverse to get back to Earth, it is uncertain when a trip to Mars would take place successfully.
But don’t lose hope! These challenges are colossal, but so are the opportunities. As Elon Musk has said, “It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.” Mankind has so much ahead for everyone, and to land on Mars uncovers answers to numerous questions and possibly scribes yet another long list of questions. There may be a future wherein our hands are the vast Martian knowledge, where our feet weigh on Martian dust and where our mindsets are motivated towards innovation and development. This is a future one certainly wouldn’t want to miss!