In the not too distant future, people will be living and working on the red planet Mars! It's not going to happen tomorrow, but people should be allowed to live on Mars. One way or another, it will happen. Just six hundred years ago, Europeans began migrating to the Americas. Of course, there were natives living here and we probably won't see that on Mars until we become the natives!
The timetable to land on Mars is within 20 to 30 years from now. Unless some revolutionary form of rocket propulsion is discovered that allows us to get there in a few days, there is a lot of research work to do. Speaking of rocket propulsion, the astronaut Chang-Diaz is working on a plasma rocket that will enable a spacecraft to reach Mars in about 37 to 40 days compared to 7 to 8 months with conventional chemical rockets. Chang-Diaz is the astronaut who has been to space the most times, so this man knows what he's talking about . He and his rocket team are in the testing phase now, and the plasma rocket will be tested in space soon. This is exciting stuff, because we need to reduce the time element when it comes to interplanetary travel.
Getting to Mars is one thing, living there is a whole other dimension. NASA's next big goal is to land on an asteroid. We need to experience living and working on another heavenly body that is somewhat close to us before we get to Mars. But we need to learn more about the dangers of space.
We touched the surface of interstellar danger in space when the Apollo program was in existence. Radiation from the Sun comes in the form of cosmic rays, which can wreak havoc on the human body. The Apollo astronauts experienced this when going to the Moon forty years ago, but their stay wasn't really long enough to study the long-term effects of exposure. Again, this is another piece to the jig-saw puzzle of space travel that needs to be conquered. There are enough risks that exist right now, and reducing those risks are key to any successful flight we choose to take. Heavy-duty shielding from lunar dust, which is called regolith will help, as it is a natural shielding component. Also, foot-thick layers of iron and other materials within the living compound will be constructed when the Sun goes into a "storm phase". The astronauts should have enough warning to enclose themselves inside the shielding and wait it out before venturing back out.
How many people should be sent to Mars? What should be the breakdown between male and female? How long will it take before we feel comfortable enough so that we can set up a permanent base on Mars? These questions and more need answering before a serious commitment becomes reality. Maybe the future Moon missions will be enough to answer these questions and the many more we will encounter. I would like to think so, because we're not talking about a trip down the street. Mars is just too far away, about 140 million miles.
Living on Mars can be compared with the research stations down in Antarctica. McMurdo Base in Antarctica is like a small city, inhabited mostly by scientists and support staff. That is probably going to be the first group of people brave enough to put some roots down in the Martian soil, but what an opportunity! Can you imagine looking up into the Martian sky and gazing at Earth? Earth will look like a large star from the Martian perspective, and the sense of isolation and distance would be overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
Man will truly be an interplanetary inhabitant when that time comes, and I for one wish it was tomorrow!