life on mars

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

The lit­tle red planet is the most sim­i­lar to ours ge­o­log­i­cally and if the hu­man race were to re­lo­cate, this would be the likely des­ti­na­tion.

While there are three or­biters cir­cling it and two ro­botic ve­hi­cles roam­ing its sur­face al­ready, beam­ing back im­ages through an ex­ist­ing in­ter­plan­e­tary in­ter­net, how long will it be un­til we fol­low?

Well, the dis­tance be­tween Mars and Earth fluc­tu­ates by ten mil­lion km over a pe­riod of 15 years. The two plan­ets will next get cosy in 2018 – and US mul­ti­mil­lion­aire space tourist Den­nis Tito wants to make the most of the prox­im­ity.

Hav­ing started a non-profit out­fit called the In­spi­ra­tion Mars Foun­da­tion, he hopes to launch a 501-day manned mis­sion in Jan­uary 2018, fly­ing past Mars and back to Earth in May 2019. Alas, that sharp dead­line and the mis­sion cost makes it all-but-im­pos­si­ble un­less NASA con­trib­utes cash and a craft that’s still in de­vel­op­ment.

That craft is the Space Launch Sys­tem, which when ready will be ca­pa­ble of tak­ing as­tro­nauts to near-Earth des­ti­na­tions such as as­ter­oids and, yes, the Red Planet. An un­manned test flight around the Moon is planned for 2017.

This is still our best hope of a manned trip to Mars in the near fu­ture, un­less you’re happy to never come back, of course. Over 20,000

people have signed up to Mars One, an­other non-profit that plans to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent colony up there by 2024, doc­u­ment­ing it – and pre­sum­ably try­ing to pay for it all – in a BigBrother- style re­al­ity show.

But while cost seems the largest fac­tor to over­come, cos­mic ra­di­a­tion will also be a prob­lem. We can sus­tain life by grow­ing wheat and al­gae to cre­ate oxy­gen, re­move CO and cook

2 up nu­tri­tious sludge piz­zas for ex­pat Mar­tians, but with one so­lar flare, they’d be ir­ra­di­ated to death. NASA is look­ing at us­ing a plasma de­flec­tor to send ra­di­a­tion back to space.

An­other is­sue is the lack of grav­ity, with colonists’ mus­cles wast­ing away be­fore even reach­ing Mars, let alone liv­ing there. NASA had started work on a grav­ity gen­er­a­tor but fund­ing was cut back in 2009. Given that the al­ter­na­tive is the sci-fi dream/nightmare of ter­raform­ing, in­volv­ing nukes, they may want to re­visit the whole grav­ity idea.

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