I have a feeling we’ll be debating the merits of the Mars One plan for the next decade or so, and perhaps even after the actual colonization mission is underway (if that indeed happens). I’ve been pretty critical about certain aspects of the plan, namely the reality television funding model, and people who know way more about the science than I do have expressed skepticism about whether the current mission model is feasible. The UAE even issued a fatwa against Muslims traveling to Mars, likening the endeavor to suicide. But not everyone is down on the idea of sending human colonists on a one-way trip to Mars. On Wednesday, the idea received got vocal support from a pretty compelling person: Buzz Aldrin.
With today’s technology, it takes a spacecraft approximately seven months to reach Mars. That’s a long time for astronauts to be crammed together, especially if their Netflix access is choppy. It also means that astronauts have to eat, use the bathroom, exercise, and clean (at least a little bit) during the journey, which increases the amount of supplies they need, and thus, the cost of the mission. And something tells me that playing “I Spy” would get a little old. NASA is backing a study at SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta to see if it’s feasible to put a crew into deep sleep for the journey.
The official term for the state is “torpor,” which involves slowing down metabolic functioning to the point where hypothermia is induced and people enter a state of hibernation. The technique has been used in medical facilities, particularly in trauma units, for keeping patients alive long enough to undergo surgeries or other procedures. For crews headed to Mars in the future, scientists consider six months to be an optimistic traveling time. So the idea of the idea is to see what it would take to keep humans in a state of torpor for 180 days. Thus far, the longest any human has been kept in this state is one week. Human suspended animation trials are currently being conducted on gravely injured ER patients, however, and may provide some insight into how the process can be adapted for longer-term scenarios.
It’s been a big week for Mars, with the arrival of both NASA’s Maven and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (also known as MOM) probe. Maven will try to gather information about Mars’ atmosphere (namely, where it went), and we’ll definitely be keeping tabs on what it uncovers, but at the moment, the arrival of MOM is bigger news. India is the first Asian country to reach Mars, and only the third space program to do so. It’s also the first country to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt, which indicates the arrival of a new space power.
MOM entered Martian orbit yesterday, which may not seem as grand an achievement as actually landing on the planet’s surface. However, almost half of all attempts to reach the Red Planet’s orbit have failed, largely due to malfunctions that occur when spacecraft begin complicated positional maneuvering. India’s success here is indicative of a solid space program, and puts the country ahead of China when it comes to exploring Mars.
Work is underway to figure out methods of growing produce in space, which is especially vital for eventual Mars colonists. Space food leaves a lot to be desired, so scientists are working on getting more variety into astronauts’ diets. They’re also working on ways to create sustainable agricultural practices, given that resupplying Earthly goods will bend, if not break, the budget. But that will require astronauts growing their own food, which raises the question of how suitable an environment is Mars (or the moon) is for growing plants. According to a study recently published in PLoS One, both Mars and the moon may be much better suited for agriculture than previously thought.
Dutch researchers planted fourteen different species of plants in soil similar in composition to that on Mars and the moon—the same soil NASA uses for simulations. The control group in the study used Earth soil from an area without many nutrients. Scientists planted mustard, tomatoes, rye, carrots, wheat, and cress into 840 different pots—20 replicas of each kind of plant species in each of the three types of soil. From there, all the subjects were kept under the same greenhouse conditions with 16 hours of light each day and temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers let them grow for 50 days.
Streamers! After a short hiatus, your favorite Giant Freakin’ Robot streaming column is back! (Just because it wins that distinction by default doesn’t mean it’s not a victory.) We’ve given Cross the Streams a bit of a facelift, and we’ll be moving forward by sticking to the five most notable new movies and TV series that the Internet has to offer by way of streaming, for better or worse. If this means we’ll have to leave all the $15,000 creature features behind, so be it.
If we, as the collective human race, are ever going to get to Mars, there are some massive challenges that we will have to overcome. Actually getting there is only the first part of the problem, once we arrive on the Red Planet, we’ll have to deal with other issues, like where the hell do we live? Now we have a look at three designs that could, in the future, prove to be habitats for humanity while we vacation on our nearby neighbor.
NASA has joined forces with MakerBot to issue the Mars Base Challenge, which allows anyone willing to go through the effort the chance to submit their own design for possible Martian domiciles. In doing so, the contestants have to take a number of factor into consideration, like bitterly cold temperatures (down to negative 70 Fahrenheit), the constant, deadly radiation, vicious dust storms, and other things that I probably haven’t even considered that will make life on Mars rather difficult.