As NASA’s Perserverance spacecraft speeds towards its February 2021 landing on Mars, many people are pondering the possibility of ordinary humans one day traveling to and living on the planet.
In the 1910s, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ masterfully written fictional books about Mars excited the public’s imagination with tales of humans traveling to the Red Planet and interacting with the native Martians. Hollywood’s 2015 movie, The Martian, teased the possibility of human survival (tenuous as it was) on Mars. Could humans really live, work and play on the surface of Mars, or will such an idea forever remain but a fantasy of literary fiction and cinematic CGI?
The problem of safely travelling to Mars aside, the first question that needs to be asked and answered is where would we live once we got to Mars? Due to the significant, constant solar radiation – not to mention periodic solar flares – that the surface of Mars is subject to due to its thin atmosphere (Earth’s atmosphere protects all life on its surface from the greater portion of the sun’s harmful radiation), we would have to live in some sort of underground structure.
Current estimates indicate at least five meters below the surface would provide the same protection level as our atmosphere. While the technology certainly exists to build such structures (NASA already has prototype Mars One shelters under construction), they would still have to be transported to Mars and constructed, perhaps by robotic construction crews, prior to any human settlers arriving.
OK, so we have a place to live once there, what other things are required? Foremost would be a supply of air to breathe – a properly-proportioned mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and other trace gases to match that of Earth’s atmosphere. We would have to transport an adequate supply for the number of settlers on hand. That’s not a problem for a couple of astronauts carrying their own backpack supply, but certainly a more difficult task for a large number of settlers planning on emigrating there. It might be possible, over time, to grow enough oxygen-producing plants within specialized structures to generate the needed oxygen amount (to then be mixed with the other required gases); something, with enough space and time, that’s well within the realm of achievable, perhaps, once again, by robots pre-human arrival.
The next two requirements would, by necessity, be a high priority – food and water. At least initially, there would be no immediate means of obtaining water or growing crops, all water and food supplies would have to be transported to Mars, a significant and expensive logistics problem for those planning the trip, particularly if a large number. Terra-forming the Martian surface to generate a breathable atmosphere, a climate, and soil conducive to growing crops, and establishing an adequate water supply (from underground ice deposits) would probably take at least a few hundred years.
Could humans survive on Mars? Yes, at least a few could, for a short period of time, provided they took everything they needed for the time they planned to be there. Long-term settlement, however, would require a massive investment of time, money, technology, and effort; doable, yes, but would it be worth it? Perhaps. After all, the early explorers and settlers of our own planet faced many unknown challenges and life-threatening risks (though, perhaps, not to the same degree) when they set sail for distant lands, unsure of a safe arrival and what life would be like in the new world. In many ways, settling Mars would be a similar challenge, just on a much larger scale.
However, despite my own astronomy interests and science fiction-fueled dreams of traveling to distant planets, I think we humans would be far better off to invest all that time, money, technology, and effort into mitigating the significantly endangering environmental and social issues that are already confronting us. We live on a very unique (as far as we know), special and extremely beautiful island in the middle of a vast celestial ocean. It’s time we woke up to that fact and collectively worked to maintain and preserve that uniqueness, specialness and beauty, not only for ourselves, but also for the generations that follow.
Yes, the urge to and fascination of traveling midst the stars to other planets is exciting, and perhaps one day, in the distant future, humans will travel out there and settle other planets (including Mars), but if we don’t soon start to take care of the planet we live on, we’re not likely to survive as a species to ever step foot on any of those distant worlds.
This week’s sky
Mercury is too close to the sun, and, thus, not observable at present.
Jupiter (magnitude -2.54) is visible above the southern horizon around 8 p.m. It reaches its highest point (21 degrees) in the southern evening sky around 9:20 p.m., remaining visible until about 12:40 a.m., when it sinks below seven degrees above the southwest horizon.
Saturn (magnitude +0.35), as it has all summer, follows Jupiter into and across the early evening sky, becoming visible 18 degrees above the southeast horizon around 8:15 p.m. It remains visible until shortly before 10 p.m., when it disappears from view after dropping below 10 degrees above the southwest horizon shortly after 1 a.m.
Mars (magnitude -1.98 on Sept. 7, and -2.12 by Sept. 13) will continue to brighten this month and next, as it heads for its Oct. 13 opposition (when it will be at its brightest). The Red Planet is visible above the eastern horizon shortly after 10 p.m., reaching an altitude of 50 degrees above the southern horizon shortly before 4 a.m., and lingering in view until it’s lost in the dawn twilight around 6:25 a.m.
Venus (magnitude -4.3) rises in the east around 2:50 a.m., and reaches a height of 38 degrees (its highest point of the year) above the horizon before fading with the approaching dawn by about 6:25 a.m. On the morning of Sept. 13, look for the crescent moon directly above Venus in the pre-dawn sky.
Until next week, clear skies.
- Sept. 7 – Venus at highest point in sky for 2020
- Sept. 10 – Last quarter moon
Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers at email@example.com.
New measurements show moon has hazardous radiation levels – FOX 8 Live WVUE
Wimmer-Schweingruber said the radiation levels are close to what models had predicted. The levels measured by Chang’e 4, in fact, “agree nearly exactly” with measurements by a detector on a NASA orbiter that has been circling the moon for more than a decade, said Kerry Lee, a space radiation expert at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
China's Chang'e-4 detects hazardous radiation levels on the Moon – CGTN
Space radiation on the moon is two to three times higher than that on the International Space Station (ISS). This could be one of the biggest dangers for future moon explorers, the Chinese moon probe discovered.
A Chinese-German team reported on the radiation data collected by the moon lander – named Chang’e-4 for the Chinese moon goddess – in the U.S. journal Science Advances. Chang’e-4 made the first ever soft-landing on the far side of the Moon in January, 2019.
The discovery provides the first full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, vital information for NASA and others aiming to send astronauts to the moon, the study noted.
“This is an immense achievement in the sense that now we have a data set which we can use to benchmark our radiation” and better understand the potential risk to people on the moon, said Thomas Berger, a physicist with the German Space Agency’s medicine institute.
Though Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s proved it was safe for people to spend a few days on the lunar surface, NASA did not take daily radiation measurements that would help scientists quantify just how long crews could stay.
The question is now answered.
Astronauts would get 200 to 1,000 times more radiation on the moon than what we experience on Earth – or five to 10 times more than passengers on a trans-Atlantic airline flight, noted Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber of Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.
“The radiation levels we measured on the Moon are about 200 times higher than on the surface of the Earth and five to 10 times higher than on a flight from New York to Frankfurt,” added Wimmer-Schweingruber.
That means humans can stay at most two months on the surface of the Moon without special protection measures, according to Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, an astrophysicist at the University of Kiel.
Sources of radiation
There are several sources of radiation exposure: galactic cosmic rays, sporadic solar particle events (for example from solar flares), and neutrons and gamma rays from interactions between space radiation and the lunar soil.
Radiation is measured using the unit sievert, which quantifies the amount absorbed by human tissues.
The team found that the radiation exposure on the Moon is 1,369 microsieverts per day – about 2.6 times higher than the International Space Station crew’s daily dose.
The reason for this is that the ISS is still partly shielded by the Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects most radiation from space.
Earth’s atmosphere provides additional protection for humans on the surface, but we are more exposed the higher up we go.
NASA is planning to bring humans to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis mission and has said it has plans for a long term presence that would include astronauts working and living on the surface.
For Wimmer-Schweingruber there is one work-around if we want humans to spend more than two or three months: build habitats that are shielded from radiation by coating them with 80 centimeters (30 inches) of lunar soil.
(With input from agencies)
NASA Is Using Its Astronauts to Help Promote a Cosmetics Company – Futurism
Later this month, NASA is scheduled to launch an unusual payload — 10 bottles of a face cream by cosmetics company Estée Lauder.
The idea is that NASA astronauts will take pictures of the bougie cream, which Estée Lauder will then use in a social media campaign, in a strange echo of the way influencers like the Kardashians take payments from brands in exchange for exposure on Instagram. As SpaceNews reports, the arrangement is prompting questions about whether it’s an appropriate use of NASA’s resources.
On Wednesday, for instance, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen grilled NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine about the project.
“I’m a fan of Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair, like anybody else who might want to benefit from its antigravity properties,” she said, according to SpaceNews. “I guess I’m having trouble understanding how Estée Lauder’s effort is going to support the commercialization efforts of NASA.”
“Can you talk about how shooting a cosmetics commercial advances NASA’s mission?” she asked.
Bridenstine, awkwardly, said he wasn’t aware of the project, but defended it anyway.
“I don’t think that shooting a cosmetics commercial is the intent of that particular mission,” he said.
Furthering the questions around the launch is that Estée Lauder is only paying NASA $128,000 for the launch, according to SpaceNews — chump change by the standards of space travel, and an amount that Shaheen said wouldn’t even cover the costs associated with it.
Astronauts won’t appear in the photos, and they won’t be paid extra for their participation in the stunt, but they will take the photos of the product.
The launch is taking place against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s edict for NASA to develop an economy in space. In one initiative, it’s offering payments to any private companies that can bag up Moon dirt. It’s also involved in a deal in which SpaceX will fly film star Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman to the International Space Station next year, where they’ll reportedly film scenes for an upcoming movie.
But those projects have at least some potential to break new ground or develop new technology. It’s less obvious how the Estée Lauder face cream will do that.
NASA director f commercial spaceflight development Phil McAlister, though, defended the project to SpaceNews.
“In order for those destinations to be sustainable,” he told the site, “they’re going to need customers other than NASA to support their operation. This Estée Lauder payload is one part of NASA’s overall strategy to help making that transition and to help commercial LEO development.”
READ MORE: NASA working with cosmetics company on space station commercialization [SpaceNews]
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