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RACE TO THE RED PLANET

NASA Rocket launching

NASA likens the journey to Mars to the “historic pioneering endeavour” of the moon landing

 “If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before,” declared Stephen Hawking in a 2008 lecture for NASA’s 50th anniversary.

Some of the greatest minds of our age such as Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson feel the same.

As intriguing as it may sound, the need to explore alternative homes for the human species is becoming more urgent than ever as mankind moves rapidly along a path of apparent self-destruction.

Global warming is the gravest threat to life on Earth in human history. Scientists predict that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their present trajectory, more than a third of our planet’s plant and animal species face extinction in a mere three decades, and up to 70 percent by 2100.

Astronauts near a spaceship in outer space

This will spell the imminent doom of life in any form on Planet Earth. While it may be inconceivable, it’s happened before. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for 165 million years but all that remains of them today is fossils.

Indeed, history could easily repeat itself.

Brilliant, inventive and innovative minds like Musk and Nye are already working towards realising the ambition of going where no one has gone before – and they’ve set their sights on the Red Planet.

Mars has long been viewed as the most viable alternative to life on Earth as it is blessed with the most hospitable climate in the solar system. Moreover, a day on Mars is about the same length as on Earth. And the planet has water in its soil, which can be used for hygiene, drinking and farming.

According to Musk, there are two destinies awaiting humankind: one is that we stay on Earth forever and face the inevitable – an extinction event; the alternative is to become a spacefaring civilisation and a multi-planetary species.

Numerous organisations and agencies are already actively working towards making life on Mars a reality. Musk’s space transport company SpaceX believes it can make manned missions to Mars a reality by 2022 while NASA has said it is working to establish human colonies on Mars that are entirely independent of Planet Earth by the 2030s.

In a report titled Journey to Mars, NASA likens the mission to the “historic pioneering endeavour” of the moon landing. “In the next few decades, NASA will take steps toward establishing a human presence beyond Earth,” it reveals, adding that it seeks “the capacity for people to work, learn, operate and sustainably live beyond Earth for extended periods of time.”

“We embark on this journey for all humanity … We will be going to stay,” the report declares.

In fact, NASA is already conceptualising a home that will use the planet’s resources to ensure a comfortable and hospitable shelter for the proposed first inhabitants of Mars. Dubbed the Ice Home, the concept brings the igloo into the space age, featuring an inflatable outer shell that can store water in cellular pockets to be used as a shielding material for cosmic rays.

The Ice Home’s design would allow the penetration of natural light, making the structure feel more like a home than a cave, which is critical to ensuring mental health and morale in an alien environment, and providing insulation. The home will be constructed by using Martian regolith, thereby minimising the cost of transporting raw materials from Earth.

Meanwhile, the Mars One project – set up and run by a non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands – is also working towards enabling interplanetary human colonies. It expects the first humans to land on Mars and establish a permanent human colony on the red planet by 2027 – yes, that’s a mere 10 years away!

The project has already contracted aerospace companies to accomplish its mission and promises that a habitable settlement will await the first crew before they depart Earth. Crew selection began in 2013, which is to be narrowed down to a team of 24 who will be the first inhabitants of Mars – they will begin their training at several proposed Earth-based simulation outposts.

In the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter who reaches the goal first, if at all. The vision is to create a sustainable home planet for the human species in the event that our present home is no longer able to support us.

The alternative is too dire to consider.

 

Story by

Ayesha Reza Rafiq

 

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