• Casey Roberts

Path to Mars

NASA is currently in the development stage of what they call Mars Direct. The project is multifaceted, and the first significant event will be landing a human on Mars. Currently, the year 2022 has been tentatively set as the year of humanities first step on a foreign planet. Because of its constantly evolving nature, the project cannot yet set a definite schedule for completion. The difficulty involved with this undertaking is extreme, but it is also well within the conditions of reality. Manned missions to Mars have been seriously considered and discussed since the late 90s, and advancements in technology have allowed NASA to pursue this course with stronger conviction.

A further goal of the project is to construct bases on the planet that can sustain an astronaut for one year, and inflatable cabins are the most likely choice of the developers. Inflatables save space for rations and dramatically decrease construction time. Housing, medical laboratory, science laboratory, and botany cabins have been designated as essentials for the mission. The botany cabin will be used for gardening, the astronaut will grow food in a greenhouse environment, ensuring that the last few months of the year won't be endured in starvation. The housing cabin is self-explanatory-the medical lab will be used as a treatment facility, stocked with supplies to handle any injuries or sicknesses the astronaut may incur, and the science lab is for studying anything and everything that can be physically examined.

The operation necessary to return a person to Earth from Mars is still being worked out, the one year trip is designed to develop the processes of the return simultaneously with the likely unknown conditions that will present themselves throughout the astronaut's stay. Luckily for the astronaut, a day on Mars is only forty minutes longer than a day on Earth, a time change that is negligible and an easy adjustment. This is beneficial for not only psychological health, but it applies a structure to scheduling that is inter translatable between Mars base and the control center on Earth-which is vitally important.

Beyond landing and building bases, Mars Direct is planning to terraform the planet to make it as habitable for humans as is the Earth. This will be the crowning achievement of space exploration should it work. The first phase of terraforming will be to create an atmosphere, which will involve building what are essentially smoke stacks, and by emitting the same gasses and chemicals that would overheat the Earth, Mars will have a fresh, crisp atmosphere. Mars, like the Moon, has no atmosphere, no meteorological activity, and no liquid water. Moisture in certain parts of the soil show remnants of ancient bodies of water, but that soil is similar to the consistency of thick mud rather than liquid. Mars is over four billion years old, soil and mineral samples taken from the surface by the Curiosity rover have shown that liquid water most likely existed on Mars billions of years ago.

Because they are building it from scratch, scientists can customize the cocktail of chemicals to create the perfect temperature and living conditions for humans. Creating the atmosphere will lead to the formation of clouds, which brings rain, the rain will fill up the dry lake and ocean beds on Mars, and the planet will have oceans and rivers for the second time in its history. The smoke stacks will have to run constantly for one hundred years to accomplish their goal, a difficult task, but it might be the human species' best hope for a sustained existence.

If we become an interplanetary species, we may have a chance to survive beyond the demise of this planet. Earth is on its way to inhabitability, climate change is destroying the planet, and human activity is to blame. Should the entire project be successful, I hope that humanity will have learned how to take care of a planet's environment, avoiding the historic disasters of greed and mismanagement. The deterioration of this planet is nearly irreversible, a massive shift from fossil fuels and coal to clean energy, such as wind andsolar power, would only serve to slow Earth's inevitable demise. For our species to continue, a change in location seems to be the best option currently available.