Wa­ter flow­ing on Mars changes the game for set­tlers

Geraldton Guardian - - News - David Reneke

We’ve all been wit­nesses to his­tory with­out real­is­ing it.

Re­cently, NASA an­nounced, af­ter 30 years of look­ing, it had found ev­i­dence of flow­ing wa­ter on Mars. This was an amaz­ing dis­cov­ery and a game changer in the way we look at Mars as a fu­ture home.

It’s hard to imag­ine at one time in the dis­tant past, Mars had more wa­ter on its sur­face for its size than we have here on Earth to­day.

Un­for­tu­nately, Mars suf­fered an im­pact so great it lost its mag­netic field, the at­mos­phere drifted away and the wa­ter dis­ap­peared.

Any­way, we’ve found the wa­ter and this new dis­cov­ery will al­most cer­tainly kick­s­tart a new drive by Gov­ern­ments and pri­vate con­sor­tia to go there, even­tu­ally es­tab­lish­ing a base where hu­mans will live and work for ex­tended pe­ri­ods.

Just how close to re­al­ity is a manned mis­sion to Mars?

We’re ac­tu­ally far bet­ter pre­pared for Mars now than NASA was in 1961 as it looked to get a man on the Moon be­fore the end of the decade and re­turn him safely home.

If we put our minds to it, we could be on Mars in 10 years.

NASA’s time­frame is a lit­tle longer. The first step is to land a crew on an as­ter­oid around 2024, maybe es­tab­lish the first Moon base, then try to land as­tro­nauts on the red planet in the 2030s.

Any hu­man jour­ney to Mars would in­volve a round trip of at least three years — six months to fly there, six months to come home again, and two years on the Mar­tian sur­face while Mars and Earth move back into the right or­bital po­si­tions for the re­turn flight.

As­sum­ing you did ac­tu­ally man­age to land safely, the next chal­lenge is to ex­plore your new world.

With only a third of the grav­ity of Earth, and an at­mos­phere made mainly of car­bon diox­ide, Mars presents chal­lenges hu­mans are not re­ally pre­pared for.

With­out a pro­tec­tive at­mos­phere like Earth, as­tro­nauts would be ex­posed to cosmic ra­di­a­tion.

We would also have to con­tend with win­ter tem­per­a­tures of -60C and the best on of­fer in the mid­dle of sum­mer, in a Mar­tian heat­wave, would be 20C.

Mars is also home to the tallest moun­tain in the so­lar sys­tem, Olym­pus Mons, a gi­ant vol­cano that stands 21km high and 600km in di­am­e­ter. But you’d never get sun­burnt — the Sun ap­pears about half the size as on Earth.

Pic­ture: NASA

An artist's ren­der­ing of a manned mis­sion to Mars.

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