Next Stop, Mars

By: Solomon Probosz

Looking at Mauna Loa, a volcano located in Hawaii, one will notice an odd white dome located in a giant crater on the side of the volcano. This dome is the temporary home to six American astronauts. They are living in the dome for eight months and are only allowed to leave the dome for short time periods and must be wearing space suits and oxygen masks. Their only contact with the outside world is through email, with 20 minute delay times between responses. One might think, “Why would someone ever want to do this?”

To understand the answer to this question, a journey through history is required.

The Mystery of Mars

Since time immemorial, people have been fascinated with Mars. Four thousand years ago, Egyptian astronomers studying the sky noticed a red light moving the opposite direction in the sky from the stars’ normal progression. This red light came to be known as Mars, named after the Roman God of war.

For years, Mars was a mystery to humanity. Not until 1610, when Galileo used a telescope to view Mars, did information about the red planet get documented.

Galileo gazing at Mars through his telescope

As time progressed, telescopes improved and more was uncovered about Mars. In the late 19th century, a map of Mars that was created by Percival Lowell, included canals that appeared to be man – made. This fascinated scientists and made the mystery of Mars even more compelling. How did these canals get there? Are there people living there? Aliens?

Percival Lowell’s illustration of Mars that shows what looks to be man – made canals and caused the public to think there was life on Mars.

Water on Mars?

The scientific community wondered about the canals and much more regarding this mysterious planet. Then, in 1997, the first robot spaceship, the Sojourner Pathfinder, landed on Mars. Through cameras this robot captured what Mars looked like on the planet itself. It extracted samples from the planets surface for scientific research. It also captured signs that water used to be present on Mars which reignited the scientific community’s fascination with the planet. Could this potentially be a place for humanity to live?

The Sojourner Pathfinder

The discovery of water on Mars launched a “Mars revolution” and countries from all over the world quickly assigned their top scientists and technicians to develop more robots to send to Mars.

International Effort to Travel to Mars

Nations from all over the world began sending robots to Mars and analyzing samples taken. They analyzed these samples and found out that Mars, in many ways is similar to Earth. Like Earth, Mars has an atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and a lithosphere. This means that Mars has systems of air, ice, and water that create its environment, just like Earth. Through analyzing these samples it was also found that the surface conditions on Mars and the fact that it used to have water on it make it one of the most potentially hospitable planets for humans.

Comparison of Mars and Earth

Scientists, astronauts, and citizens are tired of seeing Mars through the eyes of robots and are ready to take the next step’s, sending humans to Mars. This is exactly why the eight astronauts are spending eight months cooped up in a small dome. The crew is keeping journals about their mental health and taking blood samples of themselves for scientists to test. They hope the test will show that they are strong and mentally able to handle the isolation. This group hopes to be the first to travel to Mars.  

Lewis Dartnel, an astrobiologist who works as a writer and professor said, “The first human mission to land on Mars will likely take place within the next two decades.”

Competition to get to Mars

All over the world governments and private companies are in a fierce competition to be the first to send humans to Mars. This is a daunting task. The science and technology required to send a spaceship and crew to Mars is extremely complicated and finding the right crew is another hard task. Mars is located 33.8 million miles away from Earth and it takes anywhere from 150 – 300 days to travel to Mars. It is a very isolating journey and there’s no telling how the isolation will affect the crews mental health.

Scientists have been conducting studies, like the one previously mentioned of having a crew live in isolation for long periods of time. They are studying how the isolation is affecting the crew and trying to find the perfect set of traits that an astronaut should have if they want to travel to Mars.

Video explaining the race between governments and private companies to be the first to send a human to Mars

“I would like to die on Mars, just not on impact.” – Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX

Elon Musk’s company, Space X, currently has the most ambitious plans for Mars. Musk is planning on sending a crew to Mars in 2024. He plans to colonize Mars by 2050.  

Sample of what Elon Musk has planned for Mars

NASA plans to send humans to Mars in 2033 and is aiming to develop a habitable space for humans to live on the red planet. Russia plans to send humans to Mars between 2040 – 2045. Putin has not indicated why he wants to send Russians to Mars. China plans to send humans to Mars between 2040 – 2060. President Xi Jinping has not officially indicated why he wants to send Chinese to Mars but many speculate that it is to show the world that China is dominant in space travel and technology.

No matter who gets to Mars first, clearly, the time has come for humans to set foot on Mars. Within the next few decades or sooner, we will finally have answers to the 1000’s of questions raised over the eons about this mysterious planet.

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