… continuation from – Part 1 –
The Human Factor continued ..
Then comes the problem with weightlessness in space. A trip to Mars lasts 7 to 9 months just in one direction and the human body suffers bone and calcium degradation, muscle loss and swelling of the optic nerves. Today astronauts exercise every day for hours to keep their bodies fit. There are ideas to spin the Mars spaceship on a central axis to create an artificial gravity for the crew. Why and how? Well, take a small tether and attach something to one end. Then start rotating it with your hand from the other end in circle. You can feel the pull of the mass on the other end of the rope. Astronauts in a rotating spacecraft would feel the same gravitational pull.
It’s not enough that radiation and weightlessness are big physical problems for the human body, but what about the psychological ones? A crew of six or seven will be in a small confined space (the size of a small apartment) for months! How can it be done that they don’t kill each other during the long months? There is very little to do and nowhere to go! Cabin fever is a real possibility on a trip to Mars and it has to be taken seriously. There are numerous programs that test the human psyche during isolation. Some of them are Biosphere-2 and Mars 500. During Mars 500, a crew of six spent more than 500 days in a simulated environment in space. They showed a very serious signs of depression, deterioration of cognitive performance and less activeness. Only one crew member stayed active and fit until the end! How will be the Mars crew selected? Every astronaut needs to also have a set of generic skills apart from their general area of expertise. Everyone has to be able to repair technology, to understand how to make computers, networks and habitability systems, repair spacesuits and to operate with robot-helpers.
Sex in space is a real possibility! It has not been forbidden to astronauts as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing their duties. Then there is the problem with time! The Mars crew will be in space for a very long time and bad things can happen to their family on Earth. What is the codex in such a situation? Would you tell an astronaut that his son died while he travels to Mars? Emails from relatives come with delays due to the huge distance.
The trip to Mars is an exercise of boredom – science experiments, aerobic exercises, dehydrated meals and sleep! There won’t be any baths alike the ones we have here on Earth! Then comes an unexpected problem with attention tunneling. This is a syndrome that appears after an extensive period of boredom and doing nothing, suddenly the astronaut has to switch to a period of intense performance demand when they arrive to Mars and start the landing. Next time when you look up to the stars, imagine that you are traveling to Mars for these long months and you are exposed to all these dangers. Can you handle them? Really? Can you survive without cracking up?
Let’s see how the first “Martians” will land on Mars!
Landing on Mars
If the exhausted Mars crew survives the long trip to Mars, they get into the most dangerous part of their trip – entering the Martian atmosphere and landing on the red planet!
First of all, it has to be very specific and pointed where is the crew landing. The site has to be safe for the lander and it has to be suitable for future landings too. The crew needs a narrow landing ellipse (in the hundred of meters) and current landing ellipses (the area at which the spacecraft is calculated to land) are in kilometers. If you are kilometers away from your pre-deployed Martian hab and you don’t have a transportation with which to travel on the surface of Mars, you are going to die! The site has to be also a place where there is an evidence of water and habitable environment. After all, the astronauts will be there with the main task to examine the water history of Mars and find evidence of past life on the planet. Mars has recently presented us with information about gully systems on the surface formed by water.
Approaching Mars in the final 50-100 km descent is dangerous because, there is a large atmosphere that is rare compared to Earth’s (1/100-th of it), but it is strong enough to destroy a spacecraft if it doesn’t have a heat shield or hypersonic inflatable decelerators to help slow the lander and keep it from burning up in the 3000 degrees in reentry (hypersonic inflatable decelerators are still untested technology in space). So, a lunar type of lander without aerodynamics is out of the question!
What are the hypersonic inflatable decelerators? They are basically very large, very tough structures that are folded in the front part of the spacecraft, but once it enters the Martian atmosphere, they are inflated rapidly to create a very rigid structure. Why is this needed? Can’t we use the regular heat shields instead? No! A human mission to Mars will need tons of supplies. The lander will weigh probably more than 40 tons and with current technology we have reached a limit of 1-ton weight that we can land on the surface of Mars. (Curiosity – Aug., 5, 2012). With hypersonic shields the Martian lander will decelerate at higher altitudes where there is less density, less air to be hitting, so the heat generated is much less and what this does is it allows to land a larger mass on the surface than we could put into a rigid aeroshell construction.
So, once the Martian lander enters the atmosphere, there is no turning back! In 6 minutes the human crew will be on the surface either alive or dead!
“You are burning a hole through the sky on Mars, ionizing the atmosphere you move through and punching a hole of burnt ionized gas and that gas is looking constantly for methods of getting into cracks and burning the rest of the spacecraft up. After slowing down with giant parachutes, the lander hurdles through the martian atmosphere.” – Adam Stelzner, Chief Engineer – EDL (Entry, Descent, Landing)
After a successful landing, the news of the event will arrive on Earth 11 minutes later! Everybody will be waiting! Imagine the celebrations all over the world when people on Earth receive the news that the crew is already on Mars! This will be a great moment in the history of Humanity! Everybody will remember this! We are so lucky to live in this short period of time in history to witness the first time humans will be living on two planets like real interplanetary species!! Take a moment to imagine this and think about how would you feel in this moment!
After landing on Mars, the astronauts will have to deal with reality! They will stay on the Martian surface for 18 months doing research and searching for evidence of life. Months earlier cargo ships would have deployed food, water, supplies, mars rovers and living quarters. The astronauts’ lives depend upon landing within a few hundred meters within this supply depot.
The Search for Life on Mars
Mars is a planet of hostile extremes, it is desolate, freezing cold, swept by dust storms, filled with a poisonous atmosphere! It is a planet where humans are not meant to live! The crew will need spacesuits with an extraordinary design! Spacesuits that are mobile, flexible and light-weight! The spacesuit will have its own life support system, its own thermal control unit and enough mobility to get astronauts around on the surface of mars while protecting them in this very hostile environment.
But people won’t be sent to Mars alone! They will have help from machines of all kinds! One of them in research right now is robonaut. Robonaut is a human-like machine from the waist up, with 2 arms and 5-digit hands. It can execute very complex procedures on places on Mars where humans can’t go. Robonaut can be remotely guided via virtual reality by a human from the safety of a rover, dozens of kilometers away. And people will be looking for evidence of water!
Recent Martian photos present an extraordinary evidence that there is a running water under the Martian surface in the last decade. NASA believes that there may be a water supply as close as 100-400 meters. Drilling on Mars will be a slow and dangerous process. There are extensive drilling campaigns to test equipment here on Earth on Devon Island’s Haughton crater (Canada). Scientists also look for life on one of the driest places here on Earth – the Atacama Desert in Chile.
“On Earth we find a little oasis of death in a planet that is alive, on Mars we would be searching for a little oasis of life on a planet that is dead.” – Dr. Chris McKay, Planetary Scientist
Mars – The Ultimate Challenge
We live in amazing times! It is extraordinary to see people’s hard work from all sectors, from around the world, coming together in solving one of the greatest, most staggering challenges a human has ever faced! Tens, hundreds of billions of dollars and plans of the grandest scale need to be touched to the finest detail and executed within whole decades of time frame, because people’s lives depend on it! Millions of kilometers traveled through space, being through dangerous situations and even more dangerous awaiting upon landing on Mars. It is almost certain that there will be casualties on the road to Mars. So, why do it? Why?
To push technology, to understand new things, to open our eyes on another world that may tell us the future course of events on our own, to give ourselves a new perspective on our own existence. We, as a civilization, need to be challenged so that we push forward in our development and Mars is exactly the challenge that we need. If we find on Mars an origin of life separate from ours on Earth, we will know that we are definitely not alone in the Universe, because if life originated twice in our own backyard, then we will know that our Galactic is full of it.
The first mission to Mars will leave behind the habitat for future missions that will bring more advanced technologies, rovers and robots. This 21st century base will grow into a small colony in the future and will end with a human occupation of the whole planet, ultimately terraform it and making it possible to walk around on Mars without a spacesuit as a real Martian!
We have already laid the groundwork for human exploration on Mars with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Curiosity roving! Exploration, knowledge and searching for life in the galaxy unite us around our only way forward to advance as people – to land humans on Mars in 12 to 20 years!
by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 03.2014
Visit us on Facebook!
Resources for you to watch and read if you are really hooked:
… you can also find a lot of useful and interesting links in the Links Section of the site.