June 25, 2012
Can We Survive A Trip To Mars?
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com
Many have often gazed into the night sky, pondering the beautiful expanse of space, hoping to one day make the journey. While we´ve already landed and tread the grey-dust of the moon, few locales have mystified us and set our passions ablaze like Mars. Often the focus of many Science Fiction novelists and dreamers, Mars also happens to be the planet with the greatest likelihood of sustaining life. Therefore, the mystery and similarities of the distant Red Planet has caused many to strive to land there one day.As such, some space exploration experts, planetary scientists and an astronaut gathered at SETIcon II to not only discuss the possibilities of visiting Mars but how we could do it responsibly.
Starting off the talk, Nathalie Cabrol, senior research scientist with the SETI Institute explained the reason so many people are trying to shoot past the moon to Mars is because it´s the “closest environment to our own home.”
“Mars is our next destination,” said Ms. Cabrol.
She was also clear, however, when asked the question “How do we survive the trip to Mars?” (Also the title of the panel´s discussion.)
“There is no program to Mars.”
Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute who has focused on Mars, was then asked why a trip to Mars has yet to happen. Lee likened a trip to Mars to the first American trip to the Moon. Our nation´s first astronauts were sent to our moon because they had been challenged by the President to beat the Russians into the final frontier.
“Countries take trips to serve national interest,” said Lee. Rather than only send Americans to the Red Planet, however, Lee also said, “I am hopeful that I will see an international mission to Mars happen.”
Without the driving motivation of international competition driving explorers out into the deep, some say the biggest reason we haven´t made our way to Mars are the many complicated risks involved.
“NASA isn´t ready to sign up for the safety risks,” said astronaut Dr. Tom Jones. It may not be risk aversion alone which keeps government from funding a trip to Mars. After all, the risk of death was worth it to beat the Russians to the moon in the 60s. Now, government is looking for a strategic value before sending people there.
Dr. Jones knows about risk, as he´s made the trip to the International Space Station four times. While Dr. Jones would like to make his way to Mars one day, he said we won´t fully understand what it takes to get there until we shoot for the moon first.
“The Real key to address risk aversion is in lunar excursions,” said Dr. Jones, saying that today´s explorers need to “get their spacesuits dirty on the moon.”
Going beyond understanding risks, Dr. Jones also said lunar excursions could also be a source of income with which to fund future excursions to other planets.
“It´s only when we´re making money on the moon when we can go to mars,” he said.
For now, any expedition to Mars is likely to be funded privately rather than publicly.
Once we do land on the surface of Mars, and indeed if we ever do, Margaret Race, another senior research scientist with the SETI institute, wants to make sure we get there responsibly, protecting both planets from potential contamination. After all, what´s the point of traveling for 9 months, one way, to get there if contamination kills any science or experiments conducted on the surface?
In addition, Ms. Race also said there were challenges concerning food sources and waste which still need to be addressed before we may the bog trip.
While these are questions that still need answering, Ms. Race said the fear of contamination and challenges in human behavior wouldn´t stop us from going. If the researchers at the SETI Institute have anything to say about it, we´ll be heading that way sooner rather than later.