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Travel to Mars

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This is a research brief on the potential colonization of humans on Mars.
Nicole Russell
He, She, and It research brief
May 1st, 2016
 
Throughout the novel He, She, and It by Marge Piercy we are introduced to an array of different biotechnology concepts. Organ scavenging, float cars and a knife that could cut through diamonds are just a few of them. However the one that seems the most plausible in today’s society is routine travel to Mars.

It all started back in the 1960’s when only the fifth-ever class of NASA astronauts was told that a Mars mission could be in their near future. Now during this time period we had the first ever mission to Mars (November 28th, 1964) with the satellite Mariner 4 being put into its orbit but no one ever imagined humans could go. Fast-forward to 1985 there was a collaborative effort between the United States and the Soviet Union to get their people onto Mars by 2010.

As we are now approaching closer to 2030 and obviously the 2010 deadline has passed, NASA is making strides towards getting humans onto Mars (“Mars One”). With all of this talk about sending humans to Mars there have been some major concerns about these potential missions.

Two major issues that have been debated about are human safety and cost. There is still a ton of research to be done about Mars and its capacity to have people live there; people are still wary about if humans can even survive this trip. The question of who is going to play for this trip and fund the continuous research is also brought up a lot. Overall people are still unsure if the projected date of the “ Mars One” mission, 2026, is being rushed.
 
Mars One is one of the non-profit organizations committed to establishing a human residency on Mars in the near future. Back in 2011, Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders held discussions with potential suppliers in the United States, Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom. After receiving feedback from these companies the architecture, budget and rough timeline were established.

Overall the initial mission will cost six billion United States dollars and every other mission after that will be around four billion United States dollars. Then in 2013 the Astronaut Selection Program (ASP) was publicized in New York and Shanghai. By the end of the selection process six teams of four people were assembled and are now projected to start undergoing an 8-year training program in 2017.

The first outpost-training center will contain a Mars-like terrain and the second one will be located more in an Arctic desert. In order to prepare for the arrival for humans the first unmanned mission will depart in 2020 and in the projected year of 2026 the first one-way journey with humans aboard will launch. After the initial manned launch a new crew will make the journey every 26 months. The living units will be connected to a “life support” unit by a hose. This “life support” system will transport water, air and electricity and will be powered solar panels. Every time a new crew lands, they will bring cargo and replenish resources (“Mars One”).
 
This all may seem fine and dandy on paper but there have been some serious concerns. People are not so sure that this budget of $6 billion is reasonable or practical. In order to apply to be a part of one of the crews, besides the fact you have to be 18 or older the fee fluctuates. For an American the cost is $38 and in Mexico it is $15. Before the excursion has even begun, 100,000 people have already applied to be the first to live on Mars.

Now doing the math even if all 100,000 people were from the United States, which is only $3.8 million in revenue, which does not even make a dent in the budget. Assuming that more people will start to apply when the ball starts rolling and factoring donations and investors it looks more reasonable. The company said it “sets the price based on the gross domestic product per capita of each nation.” The idea behind the low cost is said that most of the funds will come from sponsors and media companies paying for the rights to create shows and movies based on this concept (Juarez).

Some business analysts say that $6 billion at face value seems like a lot of money but in reality it can barely get anything accomplished. In 2014 a panel from NASA said that “Mars could probably become a reality with a budget of somewhere between $80 billion and $100 billion.” If the $6 billion budget did not seem reasonable based on the number of applicants there is a less than likely chance this mission can be more than an idea because that is a huge chunk of change.

Also even with the “low budget” Mars One is having trouble making ends meet. In 2014 the company failed to meet its Indiegogo campaign goal of $400,000 that was supposed to help pay for the project. Before the first shuttle has been launched they can’t even meet a small goal that they need in order to impress investors. As of February 28th, 2015 the total amount of donations that the Mars One company has received is about $759,816 which barely covers .01% of the budget.

So far no media corporation has bought the rights to broadcast the finalist’s video interviews. From the looks of it the company is banking on the revenue from a proposed reality TV show which has yet to catch the interest of major investors.

On the other side are the skeptical views of most of the business people, it is clear that some people have an interest on living on Mars. While yes, it is very expensive and does not seem realistic, already 100,000 people have applied to be one of the first people to live on Mars. The more trips that we send people on the more knowledge we will gain on if the built living spaces work for humans and what does not work. For a pretty penny we can better our knowledge of Mars while also making strides toward bettering the conditions (lessening pollution and over population) of Earth in the process (Dickerson).
 
Another major concern to people is human safety. Since we have not had human life on Mars and all the data collected is from a machine we do not really know much about how humans will react. We can gather all the information we want from a machine but it cannot compare to a physical human analyzing Mars. Obviously this is the point of the project and it can compared to the philosophy of “sacrifice the few for the many.” Since there will only be four humans on the first trip it will be a small casualty but still their lives matter too.

As of right now we lack the technology to carry enough fuel to make the trip to Mars. According to NASA it would take six months to get to Mars and if you are planning on return there is a 18-20 month grace period you would have to wait until the planets to re-align. If you factor in the other six months it takes to travel back you are looking at a 2.5-year mission. While most people that are trying to travel with the Mars One company are only looking for a one way ticket, six months is still a very long time.

If you factor in the concept of “aerobraking” which is the process of using propulsion to insert the aircraft into orbit and then moving in and out of the atmosphere to enter the orbit at a desired time, and then slowing down the aircraft that is a lot of fuel used. Typically to slow down an aircraft it is done by firing retro-rockets (rockets firing in the opposite direction) which in itself uses a lot of fuel. Once you break the surface of the atmosphere you have to dive deep down into the atmosphere which causes the energy from the aircraft to be transferred into heat.

Scientists are still not sure if the technology that will be used is even advanced enough to recognize important parameters. It will need to know how deep it can go into the atmosphere because if you go too deep you will burn up. Some scientists aren’t even sure if a space craft could even land safely on Mars.

Walter Engelund of NASA’s Research Center says “One thing we have learned is that Mars atmosphere is certainly a big variable. It is much more dynamic than our own Earth’s atmosphere.” In the past we have had serious trouble breaking through our own atmosphere and now we are trying to break though one that is more complex than ours? That does not seem like the next logical step.

Another concern scientists have is that yes we have had successful excursions to Mars by robots are significantly lighter than the aircraft that would carry the humans to Mars. Going back to the point on not having enough fuel, obviously if the aircraft it heavier it will take more to propel it than a lighter robot (Herath). Say the space craft did penetrate the Mars atmosphere, we physically do not have the resources to keep humans alive there. According to an MIT study, “the bottom line is that the first settlers would suffocate within 68 days because the equipment would not be able to balance oxygen levels in the pods.”

Another huge concern is that we would not be able to grow our own crops since the soil is issuable. If one of the aircraft does not make it to bring supplies then all the humans will die off. While MIT has made many arguments against the under-developed technology, Landsdorp has come back with some good defending points. When asked about the MIT report his response was, “The so-called MIT report was actually written by a few undergraduate students. They have made very incorrect assumptions about our mission, which basically resulted in a completely different mission to Mars with, honestly, a very bad design. Of course such a badly designed mission will result in all kinds of issues and higher cost. The result of our life support supplier Paragon Space Development Corporation is coming out early March. Because of the superior design of Paragon, a company that has built life support systems for decades, none of the issues mentioned in the students [report] arise.” (Dickerson)
 
He is shutting down the claim that the technology will not be able to sustain human life. While yes it is a risky trip if we don’t attempt it we will never know if it can be done. Also it is hard to judge the plan right now since the plan is still in the developing stages. We have a few more years until the launch and between now and then, a lot of progress can be made. One major point in favor of exploring Mars is that if we destroy Earth with pollution and toxins (which we already are in the process of) we can retreat to Mars to continue life (Dickerson).
 
Overall the company Mars One is taking the initiative to further the knowledge on other planets. While yes their proposed plan is still under developed there will always be risks to any experiment, this one just happens to involve human lives. Eventually in 200 years or so people will look back at this time period and ask “why didn’t we travel to Mars sooner?”
 
Works Cited
  • Dickerson, Kelly. "The Mars One Plan Is Totally Delusional." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Herath, Anuradha. "Why Is It So Hard to Travel to Mars?" Space.com. N.p., 18 Apr. 2011. Web. 02 May 2016
  • Juarez, Jennifer. "More than 100,000 Want to Go to Mars and Not Return, Project Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • "Mars One." Mars One. Mars One, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
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