Looking back on our visits to the moon it seems like we just decided to go there, and then we went there. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And then we did it. “We” as in humans, did it. I want us to go to Mars. We’ve sent plenty of Robots, so why don’t we send some people? Obviously I haven’t been asking the same questions NASA has been asking about how to get there.
Before any human can travel to Mars, scientists need to be able to analyze samples from the planet and answer many questions, NASA says. Martian dust, for example: What is its composition? How sticky is it? Will it stick to boots and clog zippers and Velcro fasteners? Is it toxic? If astronauts track surface materials into their habitat, will it cause problems?
Those are all very, very good points, and not something I had ever considered. The other thing that came to mind as I read that article is that we sent people to the moon, and brought them back. It was tricky, but we managed to do it. It’ll be a lot more difficult to get people off of Mars than it will be to put them there, and I don’t think anyone is willing to send another human to Mars without a plan for getting them back home.
My feeling is that we will need to find a fuel source on Mars, so we don’t have to try to launch a rocket from Earth carrying enough fuel to get into orbit, across space, onto Mars, back into Mars orbit, back across space and back to Earth. That’s a lot of trail mix to carry in our pockets, and it’d be a lot easier if we knew there was a corner store near our destination.
There’s evidence of methane in the atmosphere of Mars, which is interesting because it suggests there could be, might be life somewhere inside the planet, but also because it could be used as a fuel source. Of course it would be convenient if there was already a good deal of captured methane there waiting for us when we get there. That’s the kind of work our robots could be doing while we figure out how to get humans there safely.
The article quoted above describes another challenge inherent in studying Mars, the need to bring samples back to Earth. It seems a little silly that we wouldn’t be able to do our experiments remotely, but if that’s what really needs to happen then I have another prediction about our life on Mars: Space Elevator.
Big stuff doesn’t usually happen without a need for it. People talk about building a space elevator, but we don’t really need one on Earth. We have enough resources to keep firing rockets into orbit. We’re pretty good at it and it’s easier to keep doing it than to try to figure out a new way of getting stuff up there.
On Mars though we’re not going to have the same resources. We won’t have the fuel, the facilities for constructing rockets, the human resources to launch a rocket, etc, etc. Not to mention the risks involved in trying to safely land enough fuel to get off Mars. This makes a space elevator much more attractive for Mars than it is for Earth, and with the thin atmosphere of Mars it might even be more feasible.
The key of course is to send a troop of robots to set things up for us in anticipation of our arrival. I suggest ground clearing robots so we have a smooth, flat area to set up. Methane collecting robots so we have some fuel. Water gathering robots that could roam the planet for years scraping up ice and storing it for our study and use. Depending on the feasibility of it we might even consider glass and brick making robots that can create building materials, or even full structures for storage or shelter. Imagine if we had durable shelters ready for us when we got there. It would reduce the need to bring heavy materials with us.
I hope we end up on Mars within my lifetime. I’d much rather leave the arctic and antarctic and the depths of the ocean alone in favor of space. As far as well can tell there’s isn’t as much to mess up out there. We managed to get to the Moon pretty quickly all things considered, and I appreciate that we don’t really want to be too hasty about Mars. But then again, what’s the freakin’ hold up?