Terraforming Mars


Author: Fil Zivko
27/2/2019

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about Mars, so what’s the reality about Mars? How far away are we from colonizing Mars and should we? For millennia, humans have looked up at the nights' sky in awe. In early human history, many cultures connected celestial objects with their respective gods or mythology. Later, as our understanding advanced, humans were able to use the sun to track the time of day and the moon to track the months, creating some of the first calendars. The stars were also used for navigation, as ships began to use the direction of the north star and the sextant instrument to ensure safe travels. We even attempt to use the stars to tell the future, however it doesn’t matter if you’re a Scorpio or a Virgo, the chances that you’ll meet the love of your life in the next month are probably the same. The night sky and all that is within it, has always inspired awe and imagination in humans. The reason humans took to space goes back a while. The second world war was coming to an end. Germany is being invaded by its victors. The US from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. Germany had lost the war and Britain was economically drained. The US and the Soviet Union had similar power with very different ideologies. There was a gap to be filled as the world leader, thus, the cold war was fought. What had started out as a missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations morphed into the space race. JFK famously said “we go to the moon, not because it's easy but because it is hard” and six years after his assassination the US had beaten the Soviets to the moon. A few more manned missions to the moon were conducted and then it all kind of just stopped. The public lost interest and funding into NASA was seen as pointless. This continued for decades until Elon Musk came along. His Company SpaceX has taken the lead in the race to mars and most likely the first person to walk on Mars will be wearing a SpaceX suit. Musk has not only reignited people’s interest in space but also has seemed to solve the economic issues of space travel. SpaceX’s big idea is re-usability of the rockets, which is said to cut costs by nearly a factor of a hundred. This, in turn, made space tourism economically viable and hence has created a new industry seemingly out of thin air. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic add to the collection of eccentric billionaire-owned rocket companies investing in space tourism and travel. In September 2018, SpaceX announced its first passenger mission around the moon will happen in 2023. Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, along with a group of artists will board the BFR which is the newest and largest rocket being developed by SpaceX. The rocket is 118m long, has a payload of 100 metric tonnes and it's being developed to be an interplanetary transportation vehicle. The company aim to have refuelling depots along the solar system to allow the BFR to travel long distances. The ultimate goal is to colonise several places in our own solar system such as the moon, Mars, Venus and even the moons of Jupiter, then move onto colonizing places outside our solar system. A bold idea but one that could be a logical progression for humanity. Musk fears that by not colonizing the rest of the solar system and beyond, that humanity leaves itself open to an extinction event. Kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket. So perhaps it is inevitable that humans must colonize the solar system, beginning with the moon or Mars. However, there are plenty of challenges that stand in the way. SpaceX aims to have a cargo mission to Mars by 2022 followed by a second crewed mission in 2024 with the objective of establishing a refuelling station to allow future flights. Mars will still be an inhabitable place at that stage with an average temperature of -63 degrees Celsius (-81 F). That’s about 70 degrees Celsius less than the average temperature on earth. The Martian atmosphere is also made up of mostly carbon dioxide with some water vapour, hence trying to breathe without a space suit may be an issue. These are some of the major obstacles standing in the way of creating a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. However, there are plenty of theories about how we could do it. A few of these ideas include drastically altering the climate on Mars, also known as terraforming. A leading theory on terraforming Mars is to induce a greenhouse effect on the planet. Scientists believe that Mars holds large reservoirs of CO2 frozen at the south polar cap and absorbed into the Martian surface, from a time when Mars was a warmer place. [4] The heating of the planet would kick-start a feedback loop, where every increment that the planet was heated, more CO2 would be melted away from the reservoirs into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect and hence heating the planet even more. This could be achieved by orbital mirrors, which would redirect the sun’s rays to the planet, essentially allowing it to consume more heat from the sun than its surface area allows. Another idea is to discover asteroids comprised of ammonia in the outer solar system. Then to send rockets to intercept and capture these asteroids. To sustain the journey from the asteroid’s location back to Mars, the rockets would use the asteroid material as a propellant in a nuclear thermal reaction. Once in the Martian atmosphere, these asteroids would release their ammonia into a gaseous form and generate the greenhouse effect desired to warm Mars. Musk also introduced a popular but perhaps improbable way to make Mars habitable by detonating a thermonuclear bomb on the poles, kick-starting the greenhouse effect. However, the radioactive fallout would add to the obstacles in our way to making Mars habitable, even though radiation is already a massive problem on Mars due to the lack of an atmosphere to block out the sun’s radiation. However, terraforming Mars may come at the cost. Drastically changing the atmosphere on Mars would hinder the scientific research into the planet and if it exists, the extra-terrestrial life on it. Hence it is quite unlikely that we will be attempting to terraform Mars in the near future unless some selfish billionaires decide that having a Mars postcode is more important than research. So perhaps the colony on Mars, at least at the beginning, will look like a giant indoor airport, with only occasional suited visits outside. The road ahead is long, so don’t expect to be taking a vacation to mars just yet. A lot will depend on public interest in space. The space tourism companies will rely on passenger fares to make it economically sustainable. Governments also joining this new space race will rely on support from their citizens when deciding the budget that they can commit. You may be perfectly happy with just earth and you may believe that we have sufficient technology to survive an extinction event on Earth. So why do any of this? Well, as the late great Stephen Hawking put it “we explore because we are human”.

Tags : mars, terraforming, space, exploration, spaceX, space tourism, ,2019-02-27
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