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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

My favorite Martian...

Posted 1/31/17 (Tue)

If you get a chance to read a copy of the November 2016 edition of National Geographic, there is a fascinating expose in it about sending humans to Mars.

It seems remarkable that we have had a direct connection with the Red Planet since 1964 when Mariner 4 flew by and provided us with the first up-close images of the surface of Mars.

But humans have had a much longer fascination with the Martian surface, ever since telescopes detected the “canals,” which are nothing more than deep ravines.

Today, there is a strong push to send humans next door that will take 16 months to get there even during its closest approach to Earth, which apparently is due to happen in 2018.

Many of us thought Mars was big in the night sky last year at 47 million miles away. In two years, it will be down to 36 million, making it somewhat less of a burden to make the trip.

However, in one of the National Geographic articles, it states that “if the trip doesn’t kill you, living there just might.”

In Hollywood, living on the surface of Mars isn’t so bad because temperatures warm to 72 degrees during the day on the equator and there’s lots of space to play golf.

The reality of it all is perhaps more psychological than it is physical endurance.

Right now, nobody on Earth has the capability or know how to get back. That means whoever goes, is stuck there and will most likely die there.

There’s an atmosphere, but it’s much thinner than ours and the bulk of it is made up of carbon dioxide, not oxygen, so one couldn’t just go for a hike in a T-shirt on a warm day.

People would have to live in underground shelters because that 72 degrees during the day, turns to 120 below at night. In addition, Martian winds are far worse than anything we experience on Earth. The record high on Mars is 86 and the low, 200 below.

This, in itself is fascinating because there are lava tubes under the surface of Mars that have a constant temperature and would protect humans from cosmic and solar radiation because of the thin atmosphere.

How many people can go and where do they get their food and water supply?

According to National Geographic, water would be extracted out of the air using zeolite, which is common in water softeners.

An expedition would take enough food for an undetermined time but science has already identified that tomatoes, rye, carrots and water cress will grow better on Mars than on Earth – in a greenhouse, of course.

The other big “if” is human health. What if somebody gets sick and has a contagion that spreads throughout the colony?

We can simulate all we want in the Australian outback, but nobody really knows how the human body will react to the atmosphere until we get there.

There are some bright sides to sending humans to Mars. Man’s thirst for knowledge and exploration will further be exemplified on such a trip.

Communications would be easy and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if people on Mars could pick up and listen to something like CITI-FM.

All kidding aside, it’s basically a line-of-sight signal. But instead of the 7-second delay like the A.M. radio stations used, this would be more like a 15-minute delay because of the distance.

A lot could be learned about solar power and although nuclear power is suggested as the go-to source, solar power could easily furnish electricity to a colony of up to 100 people.

Two drawbacks; distance from the sun and dust storms, would make an alternative mandatory.

Where to land? The entire surface of Mars is already mapped so it would be whatever is most convenient for humans, kind of like Ponce de Leon finding Florida.

Ever since Viking I landed in 1975, we’ve seen stunning photographs of the Martian surface.

Can you imagine someone looking at Olympus Mons up close and personal? Olympus Mons is a volcano that rises 70,000 feet in the air, more than twice the height of Mount Everest.

There’s also the polar ice caps and how much frozen water is really there. Also, north of 60 (Degrees Latitude) one has to look long and hard to find a crater when the rest of the planet is peppered with them.

The greatest psychological catalyst causing depression would come from looking at the night sky and seeing two moons, Phobos and Deimos, and the Earth and knowing you won’t be going back.