“Holy smokes man!”
That’s what Elon Musk said after he ran out with a childlike exuberance to watch the Falcon take off, and several breathless moments later, saw the successful landing of the Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral.
What is it about space travel that fascinates the collective psyche? Is it the adrenaline rush we feel when we hear the countdown on the numerous videos we see on YouTube? Is it the fear of the unknown that propels humankind to explore more? Is it to find the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe’? Bet if Starman could speak, he and his outer space travel in the spanking red Tesla Roadster would have surreal stories to tell.
All these are stories for the ages for sure, but recently that narrative of space travel has also been propelled into a more functional, a more necessity-based realm. The dawning realization that we might have to look for a backup planet, at the rate our current planet is being exhausted of its resources. And the closest we have come to actually visualizing another planet where humans can survive, is the red planet Mars. Mars is the best case scenario to our worst case scenario.
While Matt Damon surely hustled in The Martian and made Mars looks like a conceivable journey and living space, (we can settle there, live in tents, grow food, and take a pleasant walk around; all with a certain air of precaution but nonetheless!) that’s the reel life version. In real life, we know plenty about the red planet thanks to the multiple orbiter and lander missions from the US and Russia. The planet has a vast barren land. It can't support life as we know it, except for maybe microbes. Yet, below are a few reasons among many as to why NASA, Roscosmos, and Space X are working towards sending a manned mission to Mars.
Wipe me out once, shame on you. Wipe me out twice, shame on me (posthumously!)
The one thing that separates humans from other living beings is a sense of perception. We learn from our mistakes. Knowing that Earth was wiped out once by giant asteroids, blasting dinosaurs out of existence (can’t thank Speilberg enough for Jurassic Park!), and knowing the existential dread of it happening again, why take a chance with Armageddon right? It might happen, or it might never happen. But things like planets being wiped off; even if there is a 1% chance of it happening, we have to take it as an absolute certainty. Hence, Mars makes for a bright possibility to hit the refresh button and start a new chapter.
Mars is as hospitable as it gets
It is. Let’s compare. Venus is the closest one right? Makes more sense to go there, doesn’t it? Physicist Steve Tufte describes the living conditions on Venus as ‘well matched to Dante’s visions of Hell’. A major part of the surface is just lava, and the atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. Jupiter is made of hydrogen and helium (unless you want to die laughing skip this one!). The list goes on, and the buck stops at Mars yet again. A day on Mars is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds to be precise. (You could stuff in one more episode of House of Cards during the day!) There has been proof of groundwater and ice as well. Scientists say we can extract enough oxygen from the CO2 we find in abundance on Mars. Vegetables can be grown using the greenhouse method. There are high chances of establishing a self-sustaining colony on Mars; a second home for us.
Forget asteroids. Mars might help save mankind from mankind itself.
This highly plausible school of thought is again the brainchild of Elon Musk. There are no dinosaurs to threaten our existence, but there is a different kind of beast that does. The kind of beast that created two devastating World Wars, and the kind of beast that can very well start a third one. Mankind itself. In a scenario where a full-blown World War 3 breaks out where nuclear attacks will no doubt occur, a self-sustaining base on Mars just might be the answer to helping our species survive.
Fascination and necessity withstanding, there will no doubt be hiccups. Interstellar travel is yet far from being perfected, let alone sustaining life outside Earth’s atmosphere or on Mars. That being said, Mars is the beacon of hope that mankind is currently looking at. We’ve seen that in umpteen movies, shows and documentaries. However, nothing captures the journey to the red planet with as much realism as National Geographic’s ‘Mars’. The series delivers thrilling sci-fi elements while remaining firmly grounded in science. Its first season focused on the challenging journey to Mars. The upcoming second season set to premiere on November 17, will highlight the rift between scientists and profit-driven mining corporations. If Mars, or space exploration in general, piques your interest, head over to Hotstar to watch National Geographic’s sci-fi scripted drama.
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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 20:37:31 IST