Solar System: Mission to live on Mars (III), by Prof MK Othman
Deep Thoughts with Othman
With the knowledge of cosmos science and technology, mission to Mars was made successfully. In the last six decades, twenty-five missions were launched, went to Mars, and came back to the earth with all the expected outputs successfully.
These successful missions were achieved from 2011 to date. However, before achieving those successes, there were twenty-four failed missions to Mars from 1960 to 2011 according to NASA’s historical log. This means that for 60 consecutive years, scientists have been working tirelessly to send spacecraft to Mars and the series of encountered failures did not discourage them rather learned lessons from such failures and moved ahead until success was achieved. As I am writing this piece, NASA’s Perseverance, spacecraft landed on Mars on 18th February 2021. On Sunday, 18th September 2022, a NASA report indicated that Perseverance has been active since landing one year seven months ago and sending messages (pictures, audio, and video) to the NASA station in the USA.
Pass-forwarding, is there a possibility of sending humans to Mars in the next foreseeable future? Several odds are working against the mission to live on Mars for even a few minutes but scientists are working round the clock to make the mission possible.
NASA’s tall ambition is to send humans to Mars by the late 2030s. Not just the government agencies are nursing this tall ambition but several private companies are working to actual the aspiration. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has a long-term plan to build an entire city on Mars. Elon Musk is not an ordinary personality, he is the Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX. He is a co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Motors; co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-chairman of OpenAI; co-founder of Zip2; and founder of X.com which merged with PayPal of Confinity.
With an estimated net worth of $262 billion as of September 10th, 2022, Musk is today the richest person in the world according to the ranking Bloomberg Billionaire Index and Forbes’ real-time billionaire list.
Musk has an insatiable desire to build a rocket capable of taking people to Mars and supporting a permanent city on the planet. He said “it is something we can do in our lifetime”. Visiting Mars has become a personal goal for Musk and he is planning to achieve it by 2029. Musk and NASA are not alone in the competition for this rare adventure, there is a group of prospective travellers to mars called “Mars One”.
The group is planning a one-way trip to the Red Planet by the year 2026. No travelling back and the missionaries must prepare to die over there. Sending people to Mars is easier said than done, the practicality of the mission is daunting, if not impossible for now.
The trip to Mars is estimated to cost about $10 billion per seat(person) for a minimum period of stay, although Musk is trying to drive that down to just $200,000 (140 million naira). In addition to the cost, there are five other major reasons why the mission to live on Mars may not be achieved in the foreseeable future. The first is radiation from the sun. The radiation on Mars is stealthy, most menacing and hazardous to human lives. Mars lacks a magnetic field, which means there is nothing to shield inhabitants from the intense radiation that is blasted out by the sun. Can human beings survive such radiation? What will be the antidote?
The second reason is the isolation and confinement of the crews or the passengers. The trip to Mars will take about nine months going with a spacecraft moving at 39,600 km per hour, four times the speed of commercial flight, almost 200 times the speed of a car moving at 200 km per hour! The passengers to Mars will be confined with restricted freedom for 18 months of going and return trip. Tiredness, sleep loss, and circadian desynchronization may lead to adverse health outcomes for the passengers.
The third reason is the distance of Mars from the Earth, the average distance is 225 million kilometres, which requires about three years for the return trip. The logistics of continuous supplies (foods, medicines, etc) to the passengers will be difficult. Once, the engine is burned, malfunctioned or there is a failure of the equipment, there is no turning back and no resupply and the mission may end up catastrophically. The fourth is lack of gravity, the passengers to Mars will experience 38% of the Earth’s gravitational pull, and on the sixth month of a trip to Mars, they will experience total weightlessness during their confinement. When they return to the Earth, their bodies need to readapt the Earth’s gravity. Bones, muscles, and the cardiovascular system have all been impacted by years without standard gravity. The last is the hostility of the environment on Mars. The environmental condition on Mars is certainly a far cry from that of Earth. The night temperature is negative 73 degree Celsius while that of the day is positive 21 degree Celsius. Mars does not have Earth’s dense atmosphere, which is what results in huge temperature fluctuations and massive dust storms. Can we take vital resources for granted on Mars such as oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, etc.? We need to figure out how to create habitats with electricity, sanitation, clean air, and potable water.
While this Mars mission sounds bizarre, we must learn a lesson or two as Africans, we must invest more in science and technology to be able to conquer hunger, poverty, and misery and bring hope to the citizens. Later, we can think of space technology. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the leadership is mostly dominated by politicians who are highly corrupt and incompetent but powerful and influential resulting in bad governance. To cover their incompetence and hide their corruption, they have to subject the citizenry to illiteracy, poverty and thus, vote for meagre resources for education.
Poor investment in education has made the public universities close shop due to industrial action over a year in the last three years. What a shame to Nigeria’s leadership under democracy. It is high time; that true progressives come together to democratically fight this crop of corrupt leadership for the opportunity of redirecting the country to a glorious future. This is a clarion call.
Prof Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria and can be reached via email: email@example.com.