|Devanshu Dutta / March 01, 2021
At the time when videos of NASA’s Purvirans landing on Mars were going viral, the United Arab Emirates was also measuring the distance of Mars through its first interplanetary mission ‘Hope’. At the same time, China’s Mars Thynwen-1 mission was also placed in Mars orbit.
This is not a coincidence at the same time. Aerial mechanics have an important role in this. Earth is the third planet from the Sun and Mars is the fourth planet. The distance between the two is ‘only’ 56-65 million kilometers. When the two planets are at the greatest distance from each other, then the distance between them becomes 400 million km. Efficient spacecraft consumes minimal energy. A small door opens every 26 months for Mars missions, which leads to a rush of Mars missions.
These new missions will further enhance our understanding of the Red Planet. NASA hopes to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Elon Musk then hopes to establish a colony there with the first manned SpaceX mission around the year 2026.
However, many technical and engineering problems have to be solved before making these efforts. We need to know more about Mars and other conditions related to it at the moment.
Mars is a cold, rock-filled planet with very little atmosphere and only one percent denser than Earth. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is similar to the pressure found at 35 km altitude in the Earth’s sky. The height of Everest is only 8.8 km. There is no evidence of free oxygen yet.
The gravity of Mars is about 38 percent of the Earth. There is water ice at the poles but as far as we know, there is no free water flow. Earthquakes accompany Marsquake all the time. A day there is 24 hours 37 minutes, almost equal to the Earth. Though it is a very small planet, the terrestrial part will be equal to or even higher than that of the Earth, because there is no ocean.
Sunlight is weak on Mars. Solar panels take much longer to charge. There is also almost no magnetic field. The lack of atmosphere and very weak magnetic field means that there is no protection from harsh solar radiation, whereas such solar radiation on the earth does not come to the ground.
We do not know if a human can survive much longer under such conditions. Even if this happens, the possibility of their going crazy due to separation cannot be ruled out. We also do not know if plants can be grown inside high-tech greenhouses on the surface of this dry planet. A Mars expedition would mean at least a 12-month commute journey and at least 20 months of waiting on Mars before returning. Altogether it will take at least 32 months.
Apart from scientific curiosity, there is a reason that Earth has suffered mass extinction events due to events such as meteorite attacks.
There is no solid defense shield available against large meteor strikes, and there is no guarantee that there will ever be a terrible nuclear conflict. If a colony develops on Mars, this allows DNA related information to be stored in ‘libraries’ to protect against mass extinction events on Earth.
Any manned mission will require a more powerful propulsion system. It features a superior heat shield (to prevent humans from boiling), better spacesuits with the ability to separate oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide, transport systems to roam the surface of Mars, reliable power supplies (perhaps using miniature nuclear reactors) And solutions of laser communication etc. have to be found. There will be a need to create viable habitats on Mars where humans can live indefinitely.
In addition, food will need to be developed and recycled waste. Experiments to grow food on the International Space Station suggest that it may be possible to grow food on Mars despite low gravity, weak sunlight and high radiation.
Experiments such as growing fungi in the stratosphere also indicate that black mold (which is a poisonous fungus) can survive in the Mars environment.
The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mission will provide a complete picture of the atmosphere, studying the daily and seasonal changes on Mars. The Chinese mission will look for underground water and any signs of life. NASA will measure minerals, temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, atmospheric dust, etc. It will break down carbon dioxide molecules to produce oxygen and seek organic compounds from extended soil analysis. In addition, the Robot Ingenuity helicopter will test flights there for technical demonstration.
With so many challenges, this step may seem insane. The solution to any of these challenges is not so easy. Different techniques have to be developed at the same time. They may also face failure many times.