Mars awaits | Sunday Observer

Mars awaits

NASA is already selecting designs for Mars habitats in anticipation of a mission to Mars
NASA is already selecting designs for Mars habitats in anticipation of a mission to Mars

With all the problems now being faced by the Earth, there have been many suggestions that we should find another planet for humanity. Some experts warn that the Earth could become uninhabitable due to global warming in the next 200 years or so, unless drastic action is taken promptly. There is another school of thought that we should anyway find other worlds to live in to perpetuate our species.

Now Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon after the late Neil Armstrong during the landmark Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago, has called for a mass migration to Mars within the next few generations in order to save humanity. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, he called on Congress and President Donald Trump to get behind a serious effort to create a permanent human presence on Mars.

“Human nature — and potentially the ultimate survival of our species — demands humanity’s continued outward reach into the universe. Call it curiosity or calculation, strategic planning or destiny. Put simply: We explore, or we expire. That is why we must get on with it,” Aldrin wrote.

Migration

He continued: “Mars is waiting to be discovered, not by clever robots and rovers — though I support NASA’s unmanned missions — but by living, breathing, walking, talking, caring and daring men and women. The United States’ eyes — and our unified commitment — should focus on opening the door, in our time, to the great migration of humankind to Mars. It is time we get down to blueprints, architecture and implementation, and to take that next step — a sustainable international return to the moon, directly charting a pathway to Mars. As a matter of orbital mechanics, missions from Earth to Mars for migration are complex. That said, human nature — and potentially the ultimate survival of our species — demands humanity’s continued outward reach into the universe.”

Plans for sending humans to Mars are on the drawing board at NASA and entrepreneur Elon Musk of Tesla fame also has the same goal. NASA has outlined plans to send humans to Mars by 2033, which is only around 15 years away. Musk thinks a Mars base could be a possibility by 2028. We already have a wealth of data on Mars thanks to a multitude of unmanned probes that have explored the Red Planet in great detail and several more probes will send additional information over the coming years. One will even drill two metres into the Martian soil to hunt for any microscopic life.

Designs for Mars

NASA is already selecting designs for Mars habitats in anticipation of a mission to Mars. NASA has spent four years looking at designs for habitats that could be 3D-printed on the moon or Mars and has selected its favourite three designs, NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Competition launched in 2015, looking for structures that could be built autonomously using materials that are already on the planet.

The winners were announced last week. Car and tire companies too have joined the bandwagon, creating and modelling advanced Mars rovers that would help the first scientists on the planet to explore it. Living on Mars will not be easy at least for the first wave of settlers but over a long period of time the planet will become more habitable.

Even as NASA and other space agencies are racing to go to the Red Planet, focus has also shifted to two other trends: Finding exoplanets that may support life and finding intelligent alien life in or from other worlds. Scientists have now discovered thousands of exoplanets. Astronomers from the University of California, Berkeley worked out that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the so-called ‘habitable zone’ around their star, where temperatures are mild enough for liquid water to exist on the surface.

Earth

But first, scientists are looking at the Earth itself for answers. For example, on Earth, plate tectonics are crucial for maintaining a surface climate where life can thrive. Without the cycling of material between its surface and interior, the convection that drives the Earth’s magnetic field would not be possible, and without a magnetic field, the planet would be bombarded by cosmic radiation. Indeed, one of the big questions we need to ask is whether the geologic and dynamic features that make our home planet habitable can be produced on planets with different compositions.

Moreover, analysis of asteroid samples have shown that water is very common throughout the universe and the Earth itself may have got its water from such a celestial source. Even Mars still has liquid water underground.

Exoplanets

That leads us to the possibility of finding alien life. Many scientists say we are just years away from finding a positive answer to that question. In just a few years, we will have space-based telescopes that can take pictures of exoplanets directly.

These planet-snapping telescopes will be paired with giant parasols called star shades that will fly in tandem 50,000 kilometres away in just the right spot to block the blinding light of the star, allowing the faint speck of a planet to be captured.

The colour and the variability of that point of light could tell us the length of the planet’s day, whether it has several seasons, whether it has clouds, whether it has liquid water oceans and possibly even the colours of its plants, if any.

Space probes that can hunt for life in nearby (in cosmic terms) planetary systems such as Alpha Centauri will come next. These will probably answer one of the greatest mysteries still confronting mankind.

Aliens

There is even a notion that we all are aliens – in other words, we have been ‘seeded’ by an advanced galactic civilization millions of years ago. There has also been an increase in sightings of ‘unexplained aerial phenomena’ more commonly known as Unidentified Flying Objects.

According to a report in the Washington Post, well-trained military pilots claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they have seen white, elongated vehicles. These vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust. They also appeared to exceed all known aircraft in speed.

Could these actually be alien spacecraft from other worlds? They could be, but if they are, they have not made any effort to get in touch with us so far.

While this is disappointing, bear in mind not all alien civilizations may be unfriendly.

The bottom line, at least for the moment, is that the Earth is the only planet in the universe we have. The best option is to protect it as much as possible and avert the drastic effects of Climate Change. If that is accomplished, there will really be no need to migrate en masse to Mars in a hurry.

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