Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mars or bust!

It's not like a human landing on Mars is imminent -- certainly not by way of NASA's planning --  but people are thinking about it.

To begin, consider (from Dvice) that:

2018 is not going to be the year that humans land on Mars. But, if millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito has his way, it could be the first year that humans visit Mars. Tito has formed a group called the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which is going to try to swing two people around Mars without stopping and then bring them back to Earth on a mission lasting 501 days. 

More at "Millionaire wants to send humans to Mars (and back) in 2018."

A Martian's best friend?
Of course, a no-return landing would make (some of) the technical problems much simpler. And so, the question went out: who would consider a one-way trip?

As it turns out, lots of people! As in (from The Space Reporter), "Mars One project: More than 100,000 want to die on the Red Planet." That headline is a bit misleading -- the crux being people want to live on Mars -- but even the melodramatic wording proves a point.

There was a time when people moved/settled new lands, they didn't just visit and return. The last time I checked, IIRC, the number of volunteers for a one-way trip to Mars (paying to apply, even) had increased to 200K. For $6B in private investment, it might be doable to send a few permanent settlers. An investment to be recouped by the ultimate reality show ...

(The winnowing has begun. This just in, from the LA Times, a few hours after posting: "Mars One: 1,058 applicants still in contention to start Mars colony.") 

Simulated Mars
By comparison, this USGS study (reported by Yahoo News) seems rather tame: "Mars food study researchers emerge from dome." But the effort was not without its interest:

Six researchers have spent the past four months living in a small dome on a barren Hawaii lava field at an elevation of 8,000 feet, trying to figure out what foods astronauts might eat on Mars and during deep-space missions.

Have a couple spare months of your own? Forbes reports that "NASA Will Pay $18,000 To Watch You Rest In Bed--Really." But it won't be easy. You can't leave the bed at all during that 70 days. The purpose?

The purpose of the study is to research the effects of microgravity on the human body.  The study simulates the effects of long-duration spaceflight by having test subjects lie in beds for the 70 day period. The beds are tilted head-down at a six-degree angle. According to Dr Cromwell, this tilt which causes body fluids to shift to the upper part of the body, sets off cardiovascular events that are similar to what we see in a space flight.

“And by putting someone in bed for a long time, there is also atrophy of the muscle and atrophy of bone density,” she explains.

Home, future home?
Find a way to bring humans to Mars ... now there is a New Year resolution worth keeping.

Let's hear it for free enterprise!


Todd said...

I'm a "small government" person, but make an exception for space. Heinlein said (I admit I didn't do the math to confirm it) that the Apollo missions paid for themselves several times over. I think we should go to Mars, and maybe before that, go to the moon and stay there. I once posted a message at my government office that "the country that puts the first permanent base on the moon is the new world leader". Of course, I immediately got pushback about the wastefulness of such....and a mention that if the Soviets had got there first, the Cold War might have ended differently.

Speaking in terms of the future (as in, the next million years), I think not having our eggs in the single Earthly basket is prudent, or else humanity will be some "ancient dead culture" that some aliens study.

Edward M. Lerner said...


Re humanity's eggs all being held in one basket, Larry Niven supposedly said, "The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!"

- Ed

Anonymous said...

Just considering big expensive projects with no immediate reward put me in mind of the 'Pyramids project' ... you know King Tut, Khufu, those guys. Many Egyptologists believe, impressive as moving big stones is, that the organization required to build the pyramids—management, skills developed, housing, feeding, the math, transport, etc.—powered Egypt to greatness. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. On the Heinlein comment, it was impossible before the Apollo missions to know all the developmental breakthroughs and rewards that would follow.

And Ed, I'm optimistic that we'll yet prove to be more intelligent than the dinosaurs ... but they had a good run.

Edward M. Lerner said...

The dinosaurs DID have a good run (not even counting their avian descendants).

- Ed