The title is a quote from the movie and the book “The Martian”. Astronaut Mark Watney says this as he looks out over the endless Martian vista. Though the movie is still Science Fiction that statement basically sums up what it will be like when humans first walk on the Red Planet. They will be the first humans to tread on the windswept, dust filled mars scape. But, they will also be very much alone.
The trip to Mars using present day technology would take nine months there and nine months back. But because of planetary alignments the team would have to stay on Mars for a minimum of three to four months before they could leave. If they left Mars early when they got back to Earth orbit the planet would simply not be there. So if anything went wrong the team could not simply pull up stakes and run for home.
The astronauts that first land on Mars will be the pioneers. They will literally write the book on how things will be done. According to “Mars One” the three main tasks the astronauts will be working on are Construction, Maintenance and Research. Construction will include the habitat and all necessary for the crew and future crews to survive. Maintenance would include daily checks on all systems and technology. This includes keeping astronauts alive; their pressure suits, rovers and environmental equipment. Last but certainly not least would be their Research of Mars itself. Somewhere in this mix leisure time must be included to keep the astronauts themselves in good physical and mental health.
So where will the first astronauts to Mars actually land? NASA has been working on the problem. They have created a list of criteria for a landing zone. First of all, it must provide a safe landing zone for the Mars Lander. Second it must have a 60 mile Exploration Zone (EZ) surrounding it. This would allow several research teams to explore the area more easily.
The site must also be in an area that will provide enough daylight to allow proper research and fully charge the solar panels. The site should be free from big rocks. Additionally, long shadows will make exploration difficult. And, strong winds and blowing dust which could easily mess up mechanical equipment, airlocks and space suits. As of right now NASA has some 50 proposed landing sites on its list that they hope will meet the above criteria. You can be sure dozens of unmanned probes will be sent to the area in the next 15 years.
The astronauts pick to be the first humans to walk on another planet will have to be a diverse group of people. First of all they will have to be able to withstand almost 3 years of isolation from the rest of humanity and the fact that some of them may never make it home. They will be doctors, engineers, scientist, botanists, astronomers, meteorologists and military personnel. They will have to endure extreme hardships and agonizing loneliness.
But mankind has always been curious about what is just beyond the next horizon and we have lost many brave souls along the way. Our journey into space is no different. It is just the next horizon, the next great voyage mankind must make. So who will be the next Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong? Only time will tell but you can be sure they will have “The Right Stuff” to see it through to the end, wherever and whenever that will be.
But NASA is not the only one seeking to get humans to Mars. Both Space X and Mars One are also aiming to colonize our neighbor in the night sky. In the next installment of “To Boldly Go” we will cover Leon Musk and Space X’s vision for the colonization of Mars.