Will this scene ever become reality?
Image credit: SpaceX
Would you go to Mars?
Last week, SpaceX’s Elon Musk made a seemly bold announcement, as he outlined how humanity could colonize Mars.
It was exhilarating stuff, for sure. Elon’s the closest thing we have to a real-life Tony Stark, one of the new generation of civilization-conscious billionaires, a guy we’d actually like to have a beer with.
Sure, we’d love to see skyscrapper-sized rockets departing the Florida Space Coast with colonists bound for a brave new world. Vision is great, vision is vital. And Elon’s talk sparked lots of discussion of Mars and human exploration ’round ye ole web, which of course is a good thing.
The trouble we see is, we’ve been here before, with alarming frequency. The pattern seems to be hold a press conference and announce some amazing proposal Steve Jobs/Iphone style… but the problem is, nothing in the way of solid action in the form of getting rockets on launch pads ever seems to happen. Humans on Mars seems to be in the league of promises that are always 20 years away, akin to controlled nuclear fusion and a cure for cancer.
Sure, we could do it, and someday, assuming we decide to maintain a scientific technical edge as a civilization, we will. But I’d also maintain that we’re doing it wrong, and that a mission to Mars won’t be a simple flag-planting trip. But there’s a few things we need to conquer right here on good ol’ Earth before we become a truly space-faring civilization.
Everyone talks about living off the land on Mars, but the reality is, we can’t even do that yet here on Earth on a small scale. If we could at least master growing food via hydroponics say, in Antarctica — a place more hospitable than Mars, where you can at least breathe the air — and establish a base there for an extended period of time, then we’re ready to replicate such a feat in space. Ironically, the hydroponics pioneers of a future space colony might be the marijuana growers of today…
And speaking of which, we need to build the promised machine mentioned in every ‘lets go to Mars’ press conference that takes rocks and dirt in one end, and produces fuel raw building material out the other. Again, we could start figuring this out now before we head to Mars.
Radiation exposure is also a non-trivial issue. There’s good evidence to suggest that a two year trip to Mars will give you the brain of an alcoholic Alzheimer’s patient. Shielding is one solution, but who wants to live out their last days in a tin can? One idea is to simply let cosmic rays and solar radiation do their dastardly deeds, and then have nanobots in an astronaut’s bloodstream ready to repair the damage. This would regulate the solution to a simple nanobot inoculation, prior to spaceflight. Sure, this is hand-waving super-science, but hey, we’ve always got that ‘Mars in 20 years’ window to figure out how to do it.
Finally, we need to engineer humans for space travel. Sound outlandish? Well, perhaps genetic engineering techniques of the future might just make this a reality. Imagine: it would take much less, food, fuel and energy to send 12 inch tall humans to Mars. Weird, I know, but the future of space just might belong to the miniature.
That being said, we hope to live to see humans make footfall on the Red Planet and just maybe, buy a ticket there for ourselves one day.