By: Yang Lu
On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped foot on the moon. From then on, mankind has looked beyond the moon to our neighbouring planet, Mars. The red planet shares many of the Earth’s characteristics. They both have similar atmospheric compositions, go through seasonal changes, and have around 24 hour days. Most importantly are the ice caps on Mars that contain water ice. These factors mean that in the future, people could go to Mars to stay. But what are the challenges stopping us from going there now?
Challenges of the Journey
The main challenge of getting to Mars is maintaining the mental and physical health of the astronauts throughout their 6 to 8 month flight. Mentally, the astronauts are hundreds of thousands of kilometres away from home, living in a sealed container off recycled air and water. Not to mention only a couple of inches separate the astronauts from the vacuum of space. This stress can build up over time and finding ways to maintain focus in case of emergencies is key. Additionally, the astronauts must get along as they will be stuck in tight quarters together.
Not only is the astronaut’s mental health tested, but also physically, as they must overcome the lack of gravity in space. Without gravity, a person’s cardiovascular system is greatly impacted. Their muscles and bones gradually weaken and waste away. A possible solution is creating artificial gravity by a centrifuge via a spinning spacecraft. However, getting this type of spaceship into space would be another challenge and current solutions involve a treadmill and bungee cords. There are also large amounts of radiation in space that could cause cancer if exposed for long periods. Simply put, the human body does not belong in space! Scientists must find solutions to these problems before risking astronauts on a spaceflight.
Another difficult task scientists are faced with is deciding what to bring. Scientists would need to bring enough supplies like water and food for the astronauts to live a year or two on the Martian surface. NASA has a plan to solve this problem. NASA is aiming to build a permanent outpost on the moon that will enable rockets to launch directly from the moon’s surface. Rockets launched from the moon use less fuel because they don’t have to fight against Earth’s atmosphere. This clears up room in the spaceship to carry more equipment and supplies.
The venture to Mars is unforgiving and filled with challenges. Yet, companies such as NASA and SpaceX are developing technologies that have the potential to change space travel permanently. Each innovation and rover we send to Mars bring us one step closer to stepping foot on the Martian surface. And after that, a whole other challenge arises. How can we stay?