Solar System: Mission to live on Mars (II), by Prof MK Othman
Man’s insatiable and unquenchable thirst for adventure is driving him to think the unthinkable, nurse the “crazy” idea of not only visiting mars but colonising it and making it a second planet to be occupied by a man in the next 40 to 100 years. The condition on Mars is certainly a far cry from that of Earth. The average temperature on the planet is negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and it doesn’t have Earth’s dense atmosphere, which is what results in huge temperature fluctuations and massive dust storms.
Similarly, Mars also lacks a magnetic field, which means there’s nothing to shield inhabitants from the intense radiation that is blasted out by the sun. Living on Mars would be like living in a bunker after a nuclear explosion. Despite the envisaged harsh condition on the red planet, the prospective travellers will not undertake the trip free of charge! Trips to Mars are estimated to cost about $10 billion per seat equivalent to 7 trillion Naira.
Can the people travelling to Mars be protected from radiation while travelling in space? Then, there is a need to have a life-support system for the residents of Mars. We need to figure out how to create habitats that have electricity, sanitation, clean air, and potable water. And what about food supplies and spare parts when things break down? And several other unanswered questions, yet, people are still nursing the idea of a “mission to live on Mars”.
These “crazy” adventurers liken “Mission to live on Mars” to how “America was founded/discovered” by pioneers who braved the worst imaginable conditions, to cross the Atlantic Ocean, discovered America, and then crossed the entire country to the Pacific. Thus, Mars can be considered the next “New World” in that regard. From imagination to action, what are the prospects and progress of man’s plan to visit and occupy Mars, our neighbouring planet?
Answering the second question, scientists have been working marvellously well on a mission to Mars with trillions of USA Dollars support from their governments. So far, from 1971 when the first mission was launched by Russia to last year, 2021, there were 14 successful missions to Mars and two failed missions. The average distance from Earth, our planet to Mars is 140 million miles (225 million Km) and it takes nine months of travelling to reach Mars and another nine months on the return trip, and three months of staying on Mars before coming back.
Among the successful missions were four spacecraft sent by China and America in 2021 with each sending two separate spacecraft. CNSA of China sent the Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover in 2020 and landed on Mars in 2021. CNSA is an acronym for China National Space Administration, a government agency of the People’s Republic of China responsible for civil space administration and international space cooperation, including organizing or leading foreign exchanges and cooperation in the aerospace field.
Tianwen-1 lander is a robotic spacecraft, which consisted of six other spacecraft: an orbiter, two deployable cameras, a lander, a remote camera, and the Zhurong rover. The spacecraft, with a total mass of nearly five tons, was one of the heaviest probes launched to Mars and carried 14 scientific instruments. It was the first in a series of planned missions undertaken by CNSA as part of its Planetary Exploration of China program. The mission’s scientific objectives were to investigate Martian surface geology and internal structure, search for indications of the current and past presence of water, and characterisation of the space environment and the atmosphere of Mars.
The mission was launched on 23 July 2020. After seven months of transit through the inner Solar System, the spacecraft entered Martian orbit on 10 February 2021. For the next three months, the probe studied the target landing sites from a reconnaissance orbit. On 14 May 2021, the lander/rover portion of the mission successfully touched down on the surface of Mars which made China, the third nation to make a soft landing on the planet with an established communication system from the Martian surface, after the Soviet Union and the United States.
Similarly, the USA sent the perseverance rover and ingenuity helicopter on a mission to Mars in 2021. Perseverance is a car-sized rover designed to explore the Jezero crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. It was launched on 30 July 2020 and successfully landed on Mars on 18 February 2021. As of today, 12th September 2022 when I am writing this piece, perseverance has been active on Mars for 555 sols (days on Mars – 571 Earth days, or 1 year, 6 months, and 25 days) since its landing.
Perseverance carries seven primary payload instruments, nineteen cameras, and two microphones. It also carried the mini-helicopter ingenuity to Mars, an experimental aircraft and technology testbed that made the first powered flight on another planet on 19 April 2021. As of August 31, 2022, it has made 30 successful flights. Ingenuity’s 25th successful flight, which occurred on April 8, 2022, saw the helicopter set new records for the highest speed and distance travelled during a single flight.
The Mars mission’s goals include identifying ancient Martian environments capable of supporting life, seeking out evidence of former microbial life existing in those environments, collecting rock and soil samples to store on the Martian surface, and testing possible production of oxygen from the Martian atmosphere to prepare for future crewed missions.
Now, any possibility of human residency on Mars in the next foreseeable future? Several factors are working against sending a human being to Mars but scientists are working round the clock to squarely address those challenges. To be concluded next week.
Prof Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria and can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.