Water flowing on Mars changes the game for settlers
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.
An artist's rendering of a manned mission to Mars.