Matt Damon as Astronaut Mark Watney in “The Martian”: “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math and you solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”
The Planet Mars has been a part of human mythology since man first look towards the heavens. Since the late 1800’s when Schiaparelli first discovered what he thought were “canali” on the Martian surface, novels and movies demonized inhabitants of the angry red planet. Of course today we are pretty sure the only Martians living on the dusty, windswept planet are of the microbial kind. But we won’t know for sure until we actually land there.
Mars is not a very hospitable place for humans. For starters, the atmosphere is very thin and is 95% carbon dioxide. And, then there’s the temperature which, on average, is a minus 80 degrees with a chilly 170 below zero at the poles. So when we do go to Mars we will have to bring our own air to breath and insulated suits to keep warm. Most scientists also suggest the suits be pressurized since the pressure on Mars is only 0.06% of that at sea level here on Earth which
would eventually cause considerable problems for anyone trying to get a complete tan. We will also need to bring our own food and water, at least in the early landings. So every contingency must be carefully planned for because if your air supply fails you die. If your pressure system fails you die. If you lose your food or water you die. And, most important if you lose your ride home you die. But humans are explorers if nothing else. Just look at our history, it is full of brave men and women who have faced the unknown just to see what is out there. This trip to Mars will be no different.
So who are the major contenders in this race to the Red Planet? The heavy weight in this group is an old friend all of us know only too well…NASA. If President Trump is actually serious of bumping up NASA’s budget then more time and research can be spent on getting to Mars and back. His latest budget increases NASA’s budget to 19.5 billion dollars, a 1 billion dollar boost from 2016. Then in 2018, NASA’s budget is cut by 1% to 19.1 billion. This is definitely not a confidence booster and should let the Martians sleep a little easier for a while.
But NASA is moving forward none the less with its continued testing of the “Mother Of ALL Boosters” the main propulsion system and the backbone of the SLS system. According to QUORA, “The SLS uses tried and tested propulsion technology. The first stage consists of four Space Shuttle main engines (RS-25) and two solid rocket boosters. The upper stage uses the J2-X engine – an advanced version of the J2 that powered the upper stages of the Saturn V.” The final version will be capable of sending the Orion capsule safely on its way to Mars. The first generation of the booster is under construction. But, the engine and control system tests were completed successfully in June 2016. The first test flight, dubbed by NASA as EM-1, will be in late 2018.
With the Orion capsule still undergoing tests NASA expects it will be ready to go to Mars in the early 2030’s.
“Mars is a barren wasteland and I am completely alone here. I already knew that, of course. But there’s a difference between knowing it and really experiencing it. All around me there was nothing but dust, rocks, and endless empty desert in all directions. The planet’s famous red color is from iron oxide coating everything. So it’s not just a desert. It’s a desert so old it’s literally rusting.” Mark Watney from the book “The Martian”
That will be what our astronauts will have to look forward to. So do they have the “Right Stuff” to see it through? We’ll answer that question in the next segment of “To Boldly Go.”