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MEETH: ON MARS

It’s the fourth planet from our sun, and on average 140 million miles away from the planet we call home. But “home” may not be limited to Earth for much longer. The fascination with the Red Planet has been around for decades, yet any hopes of landing man there has been purely science fiction until recently. With the rise of SpaceX under the visionary leadership of Elon Musk, the media-hype surrounding Mars One, NASA’s successful launch of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV), and newfound social popularity in literature, films, and TV series, a manned mission to Mars is more of a reality than ever before.

That being said, there is still a lot of work to be done— and not just by scientists. In order for humanity’s vision of colonizing Mars to find any success, there needs to be a cultural shift. Mars is not an option; establishing a permanent colony on Mars is a necessity. Jonathan Lunine, the director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University, recognized that “getting to Mars… will take decades and hundreds of billions of dollars and, quite probably, human lives,” but it is a global need for humankind to prepare for the long-term future. Stephen Hawking spoke for a growing mass of brilliant minds such as Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, when he spoke at NASA’s 50th Anniversary lectures: “If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

But the quest for Mars is not just to ensure the survival of our species. There are other factors that make going to Mars more than just emotionally appealing:

 

We could discover life

Mars is an ideal target— it’s day is about the same length as Earth’s, and it has water ice on its surface. Given this, the question has always been: is there life on Mars? A growing theory supports the idea that life on Earth arrived in the form of a Martian rock, expulsed into space and carrying extremely resilient microorganisms we already know exist. The best way to test this theory: going there, in person, to work faster and smarter.

 

It will improve our quality of life

British doctor Alexander Kumar wrote about the possibilities of sending humans to Mars for BBC, and said: "Only by pushing mankind to its limits, to the bottoms of the ocean and into space, will we make discoveries in science and technology that can be adapted to improve life on Earth." The struggle for many is surrounding the concept of— why spend so much time and effort on space when we have our own pressing issues here on Earth? But, as Jessica Orwig of Business Insider elaborated, “it's impossible to predict how cutting-edge technologies used to develop manned missions to Mars and habitats on Mars will benefit other fields like medicine or agriculture. But we'll figure that out only by ‘pushing humankind to its limits’ and boldly going where we've never been before.”

 

It will inspire generations, and demonstrate economic and political leadership

By pushing humanity’s most far fetched aspirations, we are driven to ambition and innovation. In 2013, when Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked about why we should go to Mars, he commented: “The next generation of astronauts to land on Mars are in middle school now.” So it is vital for us to exemplify and galvanize future generations to pursue their dreams. In addition to the scientific factor, there is also the politics/policy factor. There is no doubt that political and economic benefits will befall whomever lands a man on Mars first— but what’s more important is to understand that Mars is a global mission. No matter whose name is on the outside of the first manned spacecraft, it will require combined resources, information, and unprecedented teamwork to solve such a vast problem as Mars.

Currently, the earliest plans for manned Mars missions are set for the 2030’s. However, a recent 300-page report by the National Research Council's Committee on Human Spaceflight cast serious doubt on the feasibility of such a timeline. It pointed out 10 high-priority developments that will need to be operational in order to support a mission to Mars, including planet entry, landing, radiation safety, in-space propulsion, and power.

The committee’s co-chairman, Mitch Daniels, hopes the committee’s efforts “"[carry] the national conversation forward in the direction of realism… realism about risk, realism about cost, and the incredibly daunting technical challenges of the horizon goal [of going to Mars] that we believe the world embraces," but ultimately concluded: “We're optimistic. We believe the public will support [a mission to Mars]; we believe the rationales justify it; we believe the achievement would be monumental if it occurred.” Belief will be the key to reaching Mars— without believing in the necessity of our exploration, humanity will never be able to realize that home is wherever our people are.

 

Alex Meeth

December, 2016