Seeing Red

The landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in August 2012 has done a lot to make the public interested in the Red Planet again. Curiosity is not the only earth-borne device to reach our second closest planet. But the rover’s discoveries and the clear images coming in of the reddish landscape make people wonder if humans will ever live on Mars.

An obstacle is a problem or difficulty.

Earlier this year NASA announced plans to send a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s. The announcement suggested that the mission would include private contractors. NASA did talk about several obstacles about putting people on Mars. These include life support and fuel storage and getting people off the Red Planet once they arrive.

The NASA announcement is not the first time a manned mission to Mars has been suggested. The Soviet Union developed a couple of proposals to send people by the 1970s. The US was the first nation to put a spacecraft on the planet – the Viking 1 in July 1976. They followed this success with Viking 2 arriving two months later. The Viking probes provided the first images of an alien landscape up close. No Martians were found, but scientists thought about the possibility of putting a person there.

Today, private companies have entered this new space race. The non-profit company Mars One has captured a lot of media attention. Mars One wants to establish a permanent colony by 2023. The argument in favour of a one-way trip is it would cost less money. However, there is the human cost. The people who volunteer will be stuck on Mars with each other, never to return to Earth, never swim in the sea, hear a bird sing or see loved ones face to face. Despite these sacrifices, over 200,000 people are trying to be one of the four crew members.

If something gives you pause, it means it makes you stop and think.

If the thought of leaving Earth forever doesn’t discourage people, perhaps the real physical dangers to astronauts should give them pause. The Curiosity mission included a radiation detector. Before the rover touched down on Mars, NASA scientists found out that the spacecraft received 0.66 of a sievert of radiation. Sievert is the unit used to measure the amount of radiation people absorb before it affects their health. One Sievert is the recommended dosage for a male astronaut over his whole career. To look at it another way, rescue workers who helped at the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster received 0.66 Sv. This amount of radiation greatly increases the risk of cancer. Mars One estimate that the radiation level will be half that because the craft will be easier to protect.

While the selection process for the Mars One mission is still happening, people will still debate the possibility. Right now, the psychological and physical risks seem to be worse than the possibility of actual colonization. But with so many volunteers, I don’t think anyone is going to stop dreaming of a mission to Mars.

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Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Since Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in August 2012, there has been a lot of people interested in the Red Planet again. The rover’s discoveries and the clear images coming in of the reddish landscape make people wonder if humans will ever live on Mars.

An obstacle is a problem or difficulty.

Earlier this year NASA announced plans to send people to Mars by the 2030s. NASA did talk about several obstacles about putting people on Mars. These include life support and fuel storage and getting people back home to Earth.

The NASA announcement is not the first time a manned mission to Mars was suggested. The Soviet Union wanted to send people to Mars in the 1970s. The US was the first nation to put a spacecraft on the planet – the Viking 1 in July 1976. The Viking probes provided the first images of an alien landscape. No Martians were found, but scientists thought about the possibility of putting a person there.

Today, private companies are in this new space race. The non-profit company Mars One has a lot of media attention. Mars One wants to establish a permanent colony by 2023. The positive thing about a one-way trip is it would cost less money. However, there is the human cost. The people who volunteer will be stuck on Mars with each other forever. Despite this sacrifice, over 200,000 people are trying to be one of the four crew members.

If something gives you pause, it means it makes you stop and think.

If the thought of leaving Earth forever doesn’t discourage people, perhaps the real physical dangers to astronauts should give them pause. The Curiosity mission included a radiation detector. Before the rover touched down on Mars, NASA scientists found out that the spacecraft received 0.66 of a sievert of radiation. Sievert is the unit used to measure the amount of radiation people absorb before it effects their health. This amount of radiation greatly increases the risk of cancer. One Sievert is the recommended dosage for a male astronaut over his whole career.

While the selection of people for the Mars One mission is still happening, the possibility of actual colonization is still very questionable. But with so many volunteers, I don’t think anyone is going to stop dreaming of a mission to Mars.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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If something ‘begs the question’ it means it just has to be asked.

The landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in August 2012 has done a lot to reignite public interest in the Red Planet. Curiosity is far from being the first earth-borne device to reach our second closest planet, however the rover’s discoveries and the clear images coming in of the ruddy landscape beg the question: will people ever colonize Mars?

Earlier this year NASA announced plans to send a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s. The announcement suggested that the mission would include private contractors; however certain details in the plan puzzled attendees. Namely, the NASA spokesperson discussed the feasibility of capturing an asteroid. NASA defended this plan on the grounds that asteroid capture would improve the agency’s ability to send people to Mars. Critics see the plan as a distraction from the real goal of getting people to Mars. NASA noted several obstacles about putting people on Mars from life support and fuel storage to getting people off the Red Planet once they arrive.

The NASA announcement is hardly the first time a manned mission to Mars has been proposed. The Soviet Union developed a couple of proposals to send people by the 1970s. The US was the first nation to put a spacecraft on the planet – the Viking 1 in July 1976. They followed this success with Viking 2 arriving two months later. The Viking probes provided the first images of an alien landscape up close. No Martians were founds, but scientists entertained the possibility of putting a person there.

Mars Direct was a more recent plan to get people to Mars. It emerged from a research paper by Robert Zubrin and David Baker. NASA had developed an alternative plan but Zubrin felt the proposal had a number of flaws. Long distance space travel requires a lot fuel to travel at high speeds. However fuel adds to the overall mass of the spacecraft thus requiring more fuel, which increases the mass. On top of that you need enough fuel to get you back to Earth. You can see where this is going.

Zubrin and Baker had a novel solution to the problem. The mission would require only fuel to get people to Mars. Fuel would already be waiting on the planet. How would this be possible? As far as we know, Mars is devoid of fuel sources. Zubrin and Baker proposed sending an unmanned ship to the planet. This ship would contain a chemical factory. It would create methane from the carbon dioxide and onboard hydrogen. If all went well the crew would find a space craft, already fuelled, waiting for the return trip. In 1990 the National Space Society, a non-profit organization advocating space travel, greeted the proposal with great enthusiasm. NASA however rejected the idea.

Two decades on, private companies have entered this new space race. The non-profit company Mars One has captured a lot of media attention. Unlike Mars Direct, which planned to bring the crew back, Mars One plans to establish a permanent colony by 2023. The argument in favour of a one-way trip is the apparent reduced cost. However, there is the human cost. The people who volunteer will be stuck on Mars with each other, never to return to Earth, never to feel the breeze, swim in the sea, hear a bird sing or see loved ones face to face. Despite these sacrifices, over 200,000 people are vying to be one of the four crew members.

If something gives you pause, it means it makes you stop and think.

If the thought of leaving Earth forever and the isolation this entails doesn’t discourage people, perhaps the real physical dangers to astronauts should give them pause. The Curiosity mission included a radiation detector. Before the rover touched down on Mars, NASA scientists had ascertained that the spacecraft received 0.66 of a sievert of radiation. Sievert is the unit to measure doses of radiation. One Sievert is the recommended dosage for a male astronaut over his whole career. To put it another way, rescue workers responding to the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster received 0.66 Sv. This level of exposure greatly increases the risk of cancer. Mars One estimate that the radiation level will be half that because the craft will be easier to shield.

While the selection process for the Mars One mission is underway, supporters and proponents will continue to debate the possibility. At the moment, the psychological and physical risks seem to outweigh the feasibility. But with so many volunteers, I don’t think anyone is going to stop dreaming of a mission to Mars.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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