The new space race: why we need a human mission to Mars

6 November 2020

A view from the ‘Kimberley’ formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

If we want to know whether there is life beyond Earth then the quickest way to answer that question is to explore Mars, writes astrobiologist Malcolm Walter in The Conversation.

Prof Walter of the University of New South Wales, Australia, believes “we should go to Mars because of what we can learn from the red planet, and from developing the technologies to get people there safely”.

On the benefits of space exploration, he writes:

Apart from looking for life, why bother with a mission to send humans to Mars? Many aspects of our modern lives would not be possible if it were not for our interest in space.

We rely on satellites for communication, timing and positioning. Satellites help to keep us safe from severe weather, especially in Australia.

The Apollo and other NASA missions led to developments in micro-electronincs that later made it into household devices such as calculators and home computers.

NASA has detailed many of the spinoffs it says stem from its research for exploration of space, which even include the dustbuster.

Intangible, but critical nonetheless, is the inspiration we derive from space exploration. It can be very significant in attracting young people to science and engineering, something needed more and more as our economies continue to transition to an ever higher-tech future.

In the US there was a large spike in tertiary enrolments in science and engineering during the Apollo missions to the Moon.

Four years ago, at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk set out two possible paths for humanity. “One path,” he told his audience, “is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event.” He was not foretelling immediate doom, just noting that nothing lasts forever.

“The alternative,” he said, “is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species”. Which is to say: having more than one home for humanity would increase the odds that our species survives a disaster on Earth. It is therefore prudent to look around the solar system for a place to go. Mars is our best option.

Musk has outlined his vision of building a colony on Mars with the first rocket propelling humans to the planet by 2025. And last year, he tweeted he believed it was “possible to make a self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050, if we start in five years”.

Elon Musk: we must colonise Mars to preserve our species after a third world war – video

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Elon Musk – 2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention

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1 COMMENT

  1. I understand that Mr. Musk's reasons are bold and really incredible, however, I have many doubts about the timing of these experiences. Our biological structure is not adapted to the conditions existing on Mars. There we will always be, strangers living inside special "caves" or tents in order to protect us from deadly radiation from space. It will always be a temporary, dangerous, uncomfortable, hard-working life, and if there are many hopes, our biology will never adapt to those conditions. I'm not even going to talk about the waste of time and money that such an investment represents, since the money belongs to Mr. Musk, and he can spend it in the best way he can. However, I think there would be a better way to use so many resources, for example, here on Earth. Mr. Musk thinks that, with the possibility that our species will become extinct over time, we should prepare to travel beyond orbits to ensure the survival of the human species. Except for a better judgment, this has no logic. If everything has a beginning, middle and end it is obvious that someday it will arrive that it will be the last for the human beings that inhabit the Earth. And, it will also be for inhabitants of other planets. Then we will be making a spectacular effort, just to "extend" our permanence or our existence in the Cosmos. I do not find this position convincing at all. First, because we are doing very little to impede the viability that the Earth has and from which we derive. Second, because we are looking to start a space adventure of which we are not at all sure about its viability and success in maintaining human life. The dangers are so great that life outside the Earth will be a greater torment than life right here with all the current difficulties. Here we were born and here we must end. I do not look favorably on our going anywhere else in the Cosmos where we are not children and never welcome. However, I respect the opinions to the contrary.

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