Astronomy

Manned Mission to Mars



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We do not do things because they are easy, said a U.S. President, we do things because they are hard. Space travel is inherently hard; there can be doubt about this. The United States' expeditions to the moon cost in excess of $20 billion, according to NASA, and called upon the brightest and sharpest minds the world had to offer.




The moon has been visited by humans no less than six times, and on each occasion the human spirit of exploration brought home our first glimpses of the surface of another celestial object.




The technological legacy of Apollo reaches further into our society than any other project in the history of mankind. The onboard computers, although by today's standards mere pocket calculators, were revolutionary and inspired the development of integrated circuits, the core of modern electronics. Astronaut's power and water supplies came from the fuel cell - the key to ending our dependence on oil as fuel. The materials used in Apollo were like nothing seen before, encouraging the design of huge passenger airliners that, today, soar around the world.




But the moon was just the first step into human spaceflight. What we learned from visiting the moon is still relevant today, but we need to adapt it to something even bigger: the voyage to not just a rock that orbits around us, but to another world that lies far beyond what was possible in the days of Apollo. We have taken our first steps into space and now it is time to lengthen our stride.




In much the same way as Apollo revolutionised science in the 1960s, so too will manned missions to Mars. This time, however, the challenges are not scientific; they are financial. The technology that took humans to the moon will take humans to Mars; it simply needs to work on a bigger scale. The materials needed for a manned spacecraft to Mars can already be produced; the computers needed to guide them there already exist and the engines to power them have already been designed.




From an engineering perspective it can be done. It will not be easy, but it can be done. Just like Apollo, our next step into the cosmos will be one of excitement and discovery. Just like Apollo, it will unite mankind as we reach out beyond our petty differences and see that from space, we are all the same. Just like Apollo, however, it will cost money. Money that, now more than ever, is hard to come by. At a time when governments are pouring billions into banks on the verge of collapse, it seems churlish to ask for funding for such an ambitious scheme.




But now is the ideal time. We have the academic work done; that has remained the case since Armstrong set foot on our moon forty years ago. Now is the time for the physical work, the building and preparing, the testing and the improvement. And the fruits of this work could not come at a better time.




A spacecraft that will be travelling for six months to another planet will need a reliable source of power. Cars on Earth need less reliance on oil based fuels. Is it coincidence that these technologies sit hand in hand? The developments in one can only benefit the other. A crew will need water on the journey; people on Earth are finding their supplies of water dwindling. The weather on Mars is unpredictable and the expedition will need to stand up to the elements; the weather on Earth can decimate entire communities in hours. Never before has one project had such close ties to the needs of society. Through a giant leap into space we can apply our collective knowledge to problems that threaten us all, whilst, at the same time, following one of our most basic human instincts: exploring the universe around us.




After all, as Tsiolkovsky said, the Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.

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