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There is a proverbial space race going on around us, but instead of a race to the moon or into earth orbit it is a race to Mars, a new world. Unlike the space race of the Cold War with two nations going head to head, we have 1000s of companies, start-ups and government agencies competing to be the first feet on the red planet. Unsurprisingly, many have garnered media attention from Elon Musk’s ambitious goals to the bankrupt Mars One mission. Seemingly every day a new more miraculous technology has been developed that will make such a tremendous journey a little easier.

There are currently plans by over 24 agencies and companies for a manned mission to Mars by the end of 2030. Each with different concepts and ideas, yet very few have become tangible. Mar’s is more inhospitable than any place on earth (mostly due to the fact it is so far away), this therefore present’s a multitude of challenges to solve before humanity can set off on its voyage.

A manned mission to Mars could be imagined in a number of various ways, and each one of the feasible design options has numerous implications for the goals, price, complexity, safety, etc. Some choices should be made best in the beginning. For example, there exists a general contract a one-off ‘flag and footprint’ expedition will be inappropriate. As a starting place, you’ll be able to conceive a couple of three missions (with the chance of follow-on missions) within an idea with various moderate and long conditions goals like the establishment of an outpost on earth as a precursor to colonization. The missions ought to be planned to increase a variety of scientific returns and also to apply the lessons discovered to later on and more technical missions. Out of this viewpoint a crucial aspect may be the arranging of a timeframe and a roadmap, since to unduly stress long-term goals might impose large delays, especially if advanced systems must 1st be created. However, counting on existing technology to begin the marketing campaign at the initial possible period could disrupt this program by delaying the more complex missions before necessary technology become obtainable. The Apollo system offers a salutary lesson. Although the lunar missions had been highly successful, the American general public soon grew uninterested in viewing astronauts on the Moon, with the effect that this program was terminated prematurely. And the “We’ve been there currently” attitude became a serious obstacle to afterwards attempts to initiate a go back to the Moon. In the past decade some objective choices have already been resolved, however the set of those remaining open up continues to be long. They involve the mission architecture and also specialized and operational problems.

Previous robotic missions

There is a realization that’s obvious, our planet that we live on is finite, the resources we share and rely on are. Now if we have no intention of leaving this nest, this cradle that we’re on, we are in effect each other’s enemies fighting over the remaining resources that exist on the earth. Humanity is unique as we are shaper of the landscape, we are not locked to it like the rest of the animals, we are able to engineer the world around us to our liking, our inventions and innovations, i.e. the use of fire, clothing, agriculture, show how we manipulate the world to our liking. This is where our problem lies and that is that the earth is a highly balanced system anything, we do to it subtracts from that balance almost like the law of entropy.

So this is the problem we face if we remain locked to the planet we will eventually collapse, pushing forward green technologies, bringing in strict regulations, policing the way we use our resources will slow that collapse, but don’t be fooled into believing it is a solution they’re just “speed bumps”, we will eventually collapse.

So here we are, faced with this critical problem, a branch point in human history do we remain on earth or do we spread. A fundamental part of this question is that we need to protect ourselves and the life around us therefore many think Mars is the next logical step for Humanity, and not the moon, which has been a point of contention in many experts. The argument essentially lies upon the comparison that the Moon to Mars is what Greenland was to North America in the previous age of exploration. The moon simply doesn’t have the resources required to sustain a technological civilization. Whereas, Mars does take plant life, E.g Mars has fertile soil (Tutton, 2018), it has a carbon dioxide “rich” atmosphere (source) it has an abundance of water in its polar ice caps (Source) and it’s got a 24.5-hour day.

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Now cold and dry Mars was once believed to be a warm and wet planet about three billion years ago (Source), and what was believed to have happened was Mars slowly lost its atmosphere primarily due to solar wind (Tutton, 2018). The core of Mars cooled down and it lost its magnetic field, a magnetic field that protected the atmosphere from those solar wind shedding the air away and “the thing is with a relatively small push from humanity we could take Mars back to its previous age” (Source). What we would need to do is increase the temperature at the South Pole by a few degrees Celsius (Tutton, 2018), doing so would enable a self-sustained global warming and if there is one thing we know it’s how to do global warming. Once the atmosphere has increased in temperature by a few degrees at the South Pole CO2 that’s frozen into the soil would begin to sublimate. This process, with CO2 being greenhouse gas, would further increase the temperature of the atmosphere so we’d have a self-sustained global warming. Eventually water also frozen into the soil of Mars will begin to liquefy covering nearly half the planet (Tutton, 2018).

Once we kick start this process the transformation of Mars would take on the order of about a century (Tutton, 2018), which is not a long time. Mars would settle down with “an atmosphere of equivalent density to the lowland Himalayas” (Source). The atmosphere wouldn’t be breathable it will still be heavily carbon dioxide based, but humanity could introduce plant life to Mars, which is still an area of speculation, but more and more experiments are being conducted, many of which have shown promising results, i.e ……(Source)

One of the major questions regarding Mars is has there ever been a genesis of life there, so has Mars ever itself had an origin of life. We know there’s life on Mars already, (Koepsell, 2017) we stopped decontaminating our spacecraft a couple of decades ago and we know that there are microbes earth microbes on Mars inside of the spacecraft hardware, but has life ever originated on Mars. Mars at one point had the requisite conditions for life for “about five times as long as it would take typical for life to occur on earth” (source). Information in this area through observed evidence would bring forward our human understanding of the world around us and is one of the main areas of focus in astrobiology today.

Alternatively, it would bring forth a different viewpoint of ethics, if there is life on Mars even if it’s microbial do we have a right to go there? It’s quite a stranger argument but it’s one that’s been gaining traction over the last few years. It brings forward many possible drawbacks to going ahead with a manned mission to mars, yet there are some points for and against it. Mainly, every time we wash our hands we commit microbial genocide, we engineer and farm the complex life around us in a systematic and the cheapest way possible, many of us eat complex life that was breathing and thinking a few days ago on a daily basis and don’t really give it a second thought, so why all of a sudden should microbial life on Mars be given such inviolability that we should not go there. (Koepsell, 2017)

But this ultimately leads to the question back contamination, this is that say we came across life on Mars and it was in some way infectious and we happened to bring it back to earth, bringing about a plague, this is a worry that many seem to have, but there is large amounts of research to the contrary as Robert Zubrin once said “trees don’t get colds and humans don’t get Dutch elm disease if there is life on Mars it’s evolved completely independently of us and it’s very unlikely to even be able to communicate with us on a molecular level so I don’t think this is a real concern” (Source). Many astrobiologists believe that we do need take relatively extreme precautions to extra-terrestrial life if we do find it, on the off chance it is risky. But that need not grind the entire mission to a halt.

As Elon Musk once said “if you can put something on that scale of evolution (multiplanetary) then it’s important and it’s worth a little bit of our resources so why haven’t we gone to Mars” (Source). A few decades ago NASA came up with a design for a manned mission to Mars, costing on the order of 50 billion dollars in today’s money (Source). 50 billion dollars to set up the architecture around such a program, to create the launch vehicles, and to launch that first mission. With each additional mission costing about 3 billion dollars (Source). Putting 50 billion dollars into context, is about two to three weeks’ worth of the US defence spending. There’s been about a thousand weeks since that mission plan was put together, And this brings about the main challenge in a manned mission to Mars, which is the political inertia required, as a species we have become somewhat short-sighted, there needs to be a balance between focusing on our near-term and long-term problems but “with the world spending 7x more on cosmetic makeup than it does on its space agencies”(source) and “with the US spending 10x more on nuclear weapons than it does on space exploration” (source), it raises the question whether we have the right balance.

References

  1. Koepsell, D. (2017). Mars One: Human Subject Concerns? Astropolitics, 15(1), 97-111. doi:10.1080/14777622.2017.1288512
  2. Tutton, R. (2018). Multiplanetary Imaginaries and Utopia: The Case of Mars One. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 43(3), 518-539. doi:10.1177/0162243917737366

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