‘Humans to Mars as a Bridge to the Stars’ by Nicole Willett, Education Director, The Mars Society

MarsMDRS Hi ResBecoming a space faring civilization is the goal of millions of Earthlings. If one pays attention to the universe around him, it is impossible to deny its breathtaking humility. We long to explore, to expand, to go out and touch a piece of another planetary body. This longing is what encouraged NASA and their supporters to stand behind the Apollo missions to the Moon.   President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon not because it is easy… but because it is hard.” We are on the verge of a new millennial space race. On September 16, 2014 NASA announced the human return to space. They are utilizing Boeing and SpaceX to accomplish this. SpaceX and many others have plans to send humans to Mars. The interest in exploring and settling the Red Planet is obvious.   The first true plans to go to Mars were analyzed in 1948 and published in the 1950’s by Dr. Werner von Braun.

TMS logoInterest in human missions to Mars have ebbed and waned in the years since then. In 1990 Dr. Robert Zubrin, President and founder of The Mars Society, and David Baker proposed a mission called Mars Direct to NASA. Zubrin later published his book titled The Case for Mars, where he expanded on the details of the mission. The mission involves a series of launches. First, a spacecraft lands on Mars first without human occupants. This craft is the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) and it will act a fuel manufacturing station in order to provide fuel for the future human explorers to return to Earth. The Habitat Unit (HU) will arrive with a crew of 4 humans approximately 26 months later.   There will be many ERV’s and HU’s sent to the Red Planet in succession. An ERV will be fueled and ready at all times and the HU’s will be interconnected in order for a larger and larger living space to be available for the increasing number of human occupants. Human exploration and settlement of Mars is the mission of The Mars Society. Zubrin states, “The time has come for humanity to journey to the planet Mars. We’re ready. Though Mars is distant, we are far better prepared today to send humans to the Red Planet than we were to travel to the Moon at the commencement of the space age. Given the will, we could have our first crews on Mars within a decade.” The Mars Society feels strongly that sending humans to Mars is a top priority for our civilization and we wish good luck to all missions that are being proposed. When people read or hear news they often confuse the plans for humans to Mars. The following three plans are listed separately and details are given to differentiate between them.

The night sky at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) outside Hanksville in the Utah desertSpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk. He was the recipient of the 2012 Mars Pioneer Award at the 15th Annual Mars Society Convention. SpaceX is the first privately owned company to launch cargo to the International Space Station using the Falcon 9 rocket. They have also had a successful test flight of the Grasshopper rocket which launched vertically approximately 800 feet, moved horizontally about 300 feet and then landed safely by descending vertically. Musk has a goal of enabling thousands of humans to go to Mars for permanent settlement.   His vision is to first send a small crew of about ten humans to Mars, utilizing reusable Falcon Heavy rockets. He plans on continuing to send more and more humans to settle on Mars with the hope that his first Martian colony has a population of about 80,000 people.

mars-oneInspiration Mars was founded by Dennis Tito. He is the first private citizen to pay to be taken to the International Space Station. His company recently released their design report which outlines their plans and their timeline for the mission. The highlights of the mission are as follows: a two person, 589 day unprecedented human flyby mission to the Red Planet to launch during the launch window in 2021. The justification for a flyby versus landing on the surface is that it is much less technologically daunting and the risk is much lower for the human explorers. Inspiration Mars believes that this historic event will pave the way for future Marsonauts to land on the surface at a later date.

mars sunriseMars One is headed by Bas Lansdorp. This is a non-profit organization that plans on launching a four person capsule to land on Mars in 2022. There will be several steps in this process. In 2016 a supply mission will be sent ahead, in 2018 a rover will explore the terrain, and in 2021 rovers will assemble habitats and life support systems. By 2022 the four person crew will land on the surface of the planet, followed every two years by four person crews. Mars One hopes that this will be the beginning of the first permanent human settlement on Mars.

Mars is a great technological challenge for humanity. But what’s the point? Who cares? Why should we waste all of that money when we have problems at home? This is what the naysayers ask. The answers are many. The following are excerpts from The Mars Society’s Founding Declaration, outlining the long held beliefs of the founders, the members, and fans of the organization.

Mars Society Logo (High quality)“We must go for the knowledge of Mars. Our robotic probes have revealed that Mars was once a warm and wet planet, suitable for hosting life’s origin. But did it? A search for fossils on the Martian surface or microbes in groundwater below could provide the answer. If found, they would show that the origin of life is not unique to the Earth, and, by implication, reveal a universe that is filled with life and probably intelligence as well. From the point of view learning our true place in the universe, this would be the most important scientific enlightenment since Copernicus.

We must go for the knowledge of Earth. As we begin the twenty-first century, we have evidence that we are changing the Earth’s atmosphere and environment in significant ways. It has become a critical matter for us better to understand all aspects of our environment. Mars, the planet most like Earth, will have even more to teach us about our home world. The knowledge we gain could be key to our survival.

We must go for the challenge. Civilizations, like people, thrive on challenge and decay without it. The time is past for human societies to use war as a driving stress for technological progress. As the world moves towards unity, we must join together in common enterprise, facing outward to embrace a greater and nobler challenge than that which we previously posed to each other.

Mars is waiting for usWe must go for the youth. The spirit of youth demands adventure. A humans-to-Mars program would challenge young people everywhere to develop their minds to participate in the pioneering of a new world [and promote the passion for STEM related subjects.] The net result would be tens of millions more scientists, engineers, inventors, medical researchers and doctors. These people benefit the world in innumerable ways to provide a return that will utterly dwarf the expenditures of the Mars program.

We must go for the opportunity. The settling of the Martian New World is an opportunity for a noble experiment in which humanity has another chance to shed old baggage and begin the world anew; carrying forward as much of the best of our heritage as possible and leaving the worst behind. Such chances do not come often, and are not to be disdained lightly.

We must go for our humanity. Human beings are more than merely another kind of animal, -we are life’s messenger. Alone of the creatures of the Earth, we have the ability to continue the work of creation by bringing life to Mars, and Mars to life. In doing so, we shall make a profound statement as to the precious worth of the human race and every member of it.

inspiration-mars-340We must go for the future. Mars is not just a scientific curiosity; it is a world with a surface area equal to all the continents of Earth combined, possessing all the elements that are needed to support not only life, but technological society. It is a New World, filled with history waiting to be made by a new and youthful branch of human civilization that is waiting to be born. We must go to Mars to make that potential a reality. We must go, not for us, but for a people who are yet to be. We must do it for the Martians.”

So, now that these words have inspired you, what should we do once we get to Mars? We know the Sun has an approximate lifespan of ten billion years, which we about halfway through.   If humans behave in a way conducive to the health of the planet and themselves, we may still be in existence by then. If that is the case we must be able to take humanity to a new home. The Red Planet is a perfect first stop in this process. Mars will survive longer than Earth, but will eventually perish as well. In that case we must use Mars as a “practice” ground for learning how to take humanity to extrasolar planets in order to spread humanity around the galaxy.

0 thru 600NASA and other science organizations have been discussing a process called terraforming for a very long time. Terraform means to make like Earth. Many proposals have been submitted on the best way to make Mars like Earth. The timelines proposed have varied from 100 years to 100,000 years. We must find a balance between moving too fast and too slow. If we terrraform too fast, we may end up with a runaway greenhouse effect similar to what we see on Venus. If we move too slowly, we run the risk of other complications, such as the natural rhythms of the Red Planet changing during the process which could interfere and complicate any progress we may be making. Terraforming Mars is of utmost importance in order to learn to live on other worlds. Humanity must have the ability to be a multi-planet species in order to preserve Homo sapiens for millions or billions of years.

How could we go about terraforming Mars? The 1,000 year plan seems to be a reasonable timeline. If you utilize a version of Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan, we would send up a series of habitats ahead of humans. An automated system to manufacture fuel on the surface of Mars would be included in the initial payload. This would allow the visitors to Mars to have a fuel supply ready for the return to Earth at a later date.   Crews of Marsonauts would have an enormous responsibility to lay the groundwork for future Martians.

The first visitors would set up the habitat modules and start the greenhouse work.   When each successive group arrives at the initial home base, all necessary groundwork will have been laid for them to immediately begin working on the next set of tasks. This may include creature comforts. In order for the settlers to feel at home on Mars, the habitats would need to be comfortable and roomy. We would like the crew to feel at home, which will help with psychological concerns. The greenhouses must also be a top priority. CO2 is already present in the atmosphere of Mars for plants to utilize for respiration, and they will return the favor by “exhaling” breathable O2 for the settlers.   Humans may feel depressed and isolated, but the aesthetic value of plants could make them feel more at home. Plants will also serve as a major source of food which is essential to our survival. They will also provide oxygen for breathing. The Curiosity Rover has confirmed that the Martian soil is at least 2% water, so we will be able to heat up buckets of soil and extract water for plants and it must also be used for human consumption. The H2O can also be divided into hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for breathing when necessary. After we have perfected plants in greenhouses on the Red Planet, we may be able to allow bacteria and lichens, which are able to survive in arctic environments, to grow on the outside of the habitats and greenhouses.   The rovers on Mars have confirmed that the soil is already conducive to certain types of plants.

proof captureNow we are ready for the next set of terraforming duties. What is needed next is a nice thick and warm atmosphere. Several suggestions have been proposed as to which approach for this is best. Ideas have been as varied as giant orbiting mirrors to nuclear explosions and everything in between. A common suggestion has been to release the CO2 frozen in the soil and in the polar ice caps into the atmosphere using factories spewing out what we consider greenhouse gases on Earth. Whichever tactic is utilized to thicken the atmosphere, once it is warm enough for the polar ice and ground ice to melt and turn some H2O to liquid and some to gas then we are well on our way to add more complex plant life. The water cycle should begin to look more Earthlike. Rivers should start to flow, seas will develop, and rain will fall. Regular weather patterns will develop and Martian meteorologists will surely scramble to predict weather as they do now on Earth. Next we will add insects and flowering plants. The soil will become more enriched with the addition of each more complex organism. This will allow for the addition of even more complex plants and animals in succession periodically, for instance large trees will allow forests to take hold.

Energy is a must for the spread of civilization. It is hoped that we have learned from our mistakes on Earth, and we will use all clean energy with little waste on Mars. Transportation and city planning systems will be developed. An entire new branch of humanity will start to evolve on the new Mars. Plants and animals will grow and change over time being separated from their parent species on Earth. Entire ecosystems will develop on their own trajectory, separate from all life on Earth. Over the 1,000 year period Mars will be turned from a vast desert with a coral sky into a bountiful planet full of life with a beautiful blue sky. It may look similar to Earth, but the inhabitants will become truly Martian.

Nicole WillettHumans to Mars as a Bridge to the Stars~

For more information contact The Mars Society info@marssociety.org

Or visit our website: http://www.marssociety.org/

For educational outreach inquiries: nicolew@marssociety.org