Much like the bold journey of Marco Polo and company to the unknown worlds of East Asia, NASA is set to embark upon a 21 month manned mission to the surface of Mars by 2030. With this in mind, there are two rationales that people seem to align with when discussing a manned mission to another planet like Mars.
One side believes that by sending humans to Mars we are completing yet another great technological endeavor while gaining valuable understanding of life. The other rationale is that sending humans to Mars is a fancy feat that will merely appease our natural human curiosity. Simply put, on one hand we have the opportunity to explore a vast planet of unknown potential, and on the other hand we have a block of fancy cheese made to appease or curious senses.
As a former NASA intern, I wont tell anyone which side to choose, but I will bring different perspectives into one location. The only thing left for you and me is to choose a side to align with.
AGAINST MAN ON MARS
1 It’s dangerous
There are numerous unforeseeable events that can occur en route or on Mars. The major concern would be Space Radiation. Space radiation, usually ionizing radiation, has been shown to cause cancer, cataract formation, or death. NASA is developing materials to diminish incoming radiation and utilize a combination of radioprotectors to limit the effects of ionizing radiation. But sometimes the level of radiation will be to high to safely protect astronauts.
There are also the effects that microgravity have on the human body. Anyone traveling to Mars would need to follow a rigid exercise routine, and proper nutrient intake would be vital to minimize muscle and bone wasting that would occur in microgravity.
2 It cost too much
The cost of a manned mission to Mars would be 20+ billion dollars. That money could be put to better use fighting the rising national debt, infrastructure, education, and many more immediately useful projects.
3 Robots can do the job
If we send humanoid robots to Mars we can eliminate many of the dangers of space travel. There would be no need to launch food,water, oxygen, or medical supplies in advance. The highly dexterous Robonaut 2 is already being tested for possible missions in low earth orbit and beyond.
4 Lack of Technology
Although NASA is developing a new spacecraft for deep space exploration, the technology to lift the required supplies into space hasn’t been fully developed yet. Upon developing that technology there will be an extended period of time when the astronauts on Mars will not be able to communicate with the Earth because they will be on the far side if the sun. Travel to Mars would be feasible after communications, and heavy lift technologies develop further.
5 We have bigger problems on Earth
We have many pressing issues like poverty across the globe, uprisings and wars that are tearing African nations apart, and climate change that is becoming more apparent every years. There are hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and severe flooding effecting much of the world. Does the glory of traveling to Mars really deserve to continue in spite of the other issues here on Earth?
FOR MAN ON MARS
1 Discover new forms of life
There have been many instances where we believed there were signs of life on Mars.
- The face seen in photographs of the surface of Mars
- Discovery of Ice water on Mars
- Possible Discovery of Flowing Water by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
The best way to confirm the presence of water, which is a key precursor for life, is to send humans to Mars.
2 Valuable Natural Resources
Mars has several elements that are the raw materials that could be harvested and utilized to support and expand human exploration of Mars and beyond. We could essentially gather materials, construct space vehicles, and launch to other planetary bodies from the surface of Mars without wasting time and resources here on Earth. For example, Methane, which is found in high abundance on Mars, could be used to construct plastic based structures
3 Pushing the limits of our technological capabilities
Many of the advancements we have today were the byproducts of not-so-favorable undertakings. Although the missions carried out by NASA since Alan Shepard first went into orbit may not seem important right now, you can thank NASA for:
4 Safety Planet in case we destroy this one
Some day the global population may not be able to survive off the resources here on Earth. We also have a large global stockpile of nuclear weapons that could destroy the planet multiple times.
Then there is threat of asteroids hitting the planet and causing a worldwide catastrophe. This may seem like complete science fiction, but according to a press release by the Near Earth Tracking Project “An asteroid large enough to wipe out France hurtled past the Earth at a distance of a half-million miles just days after scientists spotted it. The asteroid, dubbed 2001 YB5, came within 520,000 miles of Earth on Monday, approximately twice the distance of the moon. “. That asteroid could have caused a global catastrophe and there was very little we could have done to change that.
A user posted an interesting scenario in a comment on one of NASA’s blogs proposing that the lost civilization of Atlantis could have possibly been on Mars, therefore we have already destroyed one perfectly suitable planet in the past. While this is unlikely, it is an interesting allusion of how advanced human civilizations have disappeared in the past.
5 Stepping stone for exploring the universe
For NASA to be relevant to the needs of society they must constantly be making advancements that “amaze” the average citizen. Nobody wants to see that the pinnacle of NASA’s capability stops at orbiting the Earth. After all who else is going to inspire the future generations of engineers to dream the unimaginable. The longer NASA waits to embark on this bold journey, the more likely someone else will beat them there…
In the 13th century Marco Polo embarked on a bold journey with his father and uncle to the unknown worlds of central and East Asia. While Marco Polo and company did discover advanced societies which possessed knowledge greater than their own, all they brought back from their adventure were descriptions of how other societies used paper money, and the taste of noodles. Is a trip to Mars a Marco Polo type endeavor where we bring a few goodies back to earth, or a Christopher Columbus expedition where a new frontier to exploring the unknown may be opened again?
Don’t rely on me alone. This is where I found some of my information.
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/nasa-astronaut-why-go-to-mars_n_929439.html (Discover life on Mars)
- http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,993172,00.html (Don’t go to Mars)
- Marco Polo. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 7/1/2010 (Marco Polo info)