Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
Red Planet Day
Who’s ready to go on a mission to Mars? If you are like me, you have already been on a mission to Mars, thanks to the classic ride at Disney World. Mission to Mars was an attraction located in Tomorrowland at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. I remember being on this ride as a child in the 1970’s. As you entered Mission to Mars, you were greeted first with a control room, featuring then cutting-edge animatronic figures that talked about what the first crewed mission to Mars would be like. While footage ran on screens, a robotic scientist talked about things like “the way crystals form in zero-G.” After that you were ushered into a circular theater that looked a lot like the inside of a modern airplane. Side screens showed the diagnostics associated with the trip, including how far away you were from earth and how close you were to the red planet. Narration would play about the nature of the voyage, with phrases like “Mars acquisition velocity” and “hyperspace penetration commencing”. Dangers like meteors and black holes were detected and barely avoided. There were also references to how this kind of space travel was “routine” but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s seemed like science fiction.
Let’s fast forward to 2020!
The SpaceX Mars & Beyond program has
a robust plan to facilitate the eventual colonization of Mars. Is this
even a real possibility?
It took billions of years for Earth to
become a hospitable planet for humans and I think you would agree we’ve been
very comfortable living on earth. So why travel to Mars? Because it’s the red
planet in our night sky! Because it’s there! To paraphrase President John F.
Kennedy, we want to go to Mars, not because it is easy, but because it is hard!
The program includes fully reusable
launch vehicles, human rated space craft, on orbit propellant tankers, raid
turnaround, launch and landing mounts, and local production of rocket fuel on
Mars via in situ resource utilization (ISRU). SpaceX and Elon Musk have named
2024 as their goal for an un-crewed mission, with a crewed mission to follow
A key element of the program is the SpaceX
starship, a fully reusable super heavy lift launch vehicle under development
since 2018. To achieve a large payload, the spacecraft would first enter Earth’s
orbit after launch, where it is expected to be refueled before it departs to
Mars. After landing on Mars, the spacecraft would be loaded with locally
produced propellants to return to Earth. The expected payload for the Starship
launch vehicle is between 100–150 tonnes (220,000–330,000 lbs.).
SpaceX intends to concentrate its
resources on the transportation part of the Mars colonization project,
including the design of a plant based propellant utilizing the Sabatier
process that will be deployed on Mars to synthesize methane and
liquid oxygen as rocket propellants from the local supply of atmospheric
carbon dioxide and ground-accessible water & ice. Sound like
It’s an ambitious plan! Any successful
colonization would ultimately require involvement from many more economic
participants, whether individuals, companies, or governments—to facilitate the
growth of the human presence on Mars.
Here are some compelling reasons why this
plan is a good idea:
1. Enhanced national prestige, national
security, and economic vitality
2. Technological leadership and the development
of new technologies for non-space applications
3. New scientific discoveries not obtainable
from robotic missions to Mars
4. To inspire both the American public and the
next generation of scientist, technologist, engineer, and mathematician (STEM)
Some have suggested other reasons for colonizing
the Red Planet that are more catastrophic in nature, including Mars as a safe
haven for the survival of the human species and as a possible solution to the
exponential population explosion on our planet.
The trip will
take about nine months each way with a stay time on the surface of Mars of
several hundred days. The long length of the mission will provide an excellent
opportunity to engage the public and inspire students to pursue STEM-related
professions, products, and industries. We last witnessed a significant increase
in students studying STEM following the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957.
Why Mars? Scientists
think that early Mars was more hospitable and more Earth-like than present-day
Mars. Early Mars most probably possessed an atmosphere considerably denser than
its present-day atmosphere. The surface of present-day Mars is devoid of liquid
water. However, photographs of Mars from orbit and from the surface suggest
that early in its history Mars possessed abundant and widespread surface liquid
water in the form of lakes, rivers, and even planetary-scale oceans.
Why humans? Humans have unique capabilities for
performing scientific measurements, observations, and sample collecting. The attributes
needed for exploration and scientific discovery include intelligence,
adaptability, agility, dexterity, cognition, patience, and problem solving in
real-time. We possess the abilities to adapt to new and unexpected situations
in new and strange environments. With state-of-the-art scientific equipment and
instrumentation brought from Earth, the increased laboratory ability on Mars would
allow for dramatically more scientific return. Exploration of Mars would be
performed as a synergistic partnership between humans and robotic probes where
probes could traverse great distances/terrain too risky for human exploration.
However, the most exciting role for the human explorer/scientist is just beginning as we start the greatest adventure in human history, the human exploration of the Solar System starting with the Red Planet.
At Home Experiment:
The surface of present-day Mars is devoid of liquid
water. But if humans were to colonize the planet, water would be critical. Much
of the fresh water on Earth is contained in aquifers. Aquifers are layers of
soil, gravel, sand, and rock beneath the Earth’s crust. The water in aquifers
has been there for thousands of years. Check out our at-home experiment and
make your very own water aquifer – you never know, it may come in handy if you
ever find yourself on Mars!