Future Earth, Future Travel

John Carter of Mars, eat your heart out

0 Comments 05 September 2012

I have to say this latest expedition to Mars has really caught my imagination.  Way more so than the previous voyages to the red planet and I think it’s mainly down to how NASA have approached the whole thing:

  • Take its ‘mission’ for example. According to their website it is essentially to ‘find out whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms. In other words is the planet habitable?’ You can’t get more ambitious than that.
  • And of course Will.i.am got to beam his new hit single “Reach for the Stars” 350m miles to Mars and back again. Love him or hate him, that type of publicity is great for NASA.
  • Have you noticed how clear the pictures are? I know it’s a small thing but it makes such a big difference. It makes the planet look very accessible and ‘liveable’ in a weird way.
  • The space rover, ‘Curiosity’ also looks great. Its brimming with high tech, had a faultless landing and they even made it lifelike. Does WALL-E ring a bell?

All in all they’ve done a fantastic job. And rightly so. They need to get as many people as interested as possible, especially kids. It fires their imagination. Gets them dreaming of the stars and thinking about making the impossible, possible. Of maybe even putting a man on Mars in the not too distant future. Of someday settling the planet; maybe eco refuges escaping from the havoc we are currently unleashing down here on Mother Earth.

Of course these are great aspirations but the problem is, I’m not sure it would be worth the trip. Ok there are similarities to Earth. But not many. Yes, it tilts like Earth which gives it seasons. Yes, it has an atmosphere. But that’s about it. There are lots of awkward differences which make an extended stay well-nigh impossible:

  • It’s way smaller. Just half the diameter of Earth in fact which doesn’t bode too well for massive repopulation.
  • Although anyone that did make it out there would receive a John Carter type advantage. Due to its smaller mass and density the gravity is much less. 62% in fact so if you weighed 100Kg on Earth you would only weigh 38Kg on Mars. You could throw things further, run faster and jump higher.
  • Lower gravity also affects the topography. Mountains are higher, as are sand dunes and canyons run deeper.
  • Whilst it does have an atmosphere, don’t get too excited – at 95% CO2 it makes our CO2 look positively benign. And sadly unliveable for us unless we lived in oxygenated stations. Quality of life does spring to mind!
  • Seasons are great to have but they last much longer. The average rotation around the sun takes almost 779 days or 2 of our years.
  • It’s way colder as well. Mean temperatures are -63 degrees Celsius but to be fair it only receives 40% of the amount of sunlight. Mmmmm sounds like a lot like an English summer.
  • And it’s got water. That’s the bit that has all the scientists so excited. Water is a pre-requisite for life which gets us back to NASA’s mission.

That’s the reason we’re spending so much money studying the planet. There are others of course. One theory I’ve read is that Mars at some point in the very distant past may have had a similar atmosphere to our Earth. However something changed. One of the goals is to discover what and why. It might help us avoid the same thing happening to our own planet.

That’s got to be worth something. No?

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