Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Scientists, who have a heightened level of curiosity, are forever crossing the ‘Frontiers of Science’, like American frontier pioneers, whocrossed the ‘frontier’ to the American Wild West ie west of the Mississippi River, to conquer and settle in the land, inhabited by Native Americans for millennia.
‘Frontiers of Science’ was a very popular comic strip worldwide, created by Professor Stuart Butler and illustrated by David Emerson in 1961 in Australia. Since then this jargon has weaponised the English language. Science is Western civilisation, produced by scientific habits of mind. In the pursuit of science the USA is the leader. Its NASA is about to find a new path beyond the frontiers of the Moon and deep into space, en route to Mars. It’s an attempt for humans to colonise the Mars, live there and work, entirely independent of Earth, by the 2030s, NASA has said.
There are many Sci-Fi books on Mars. The one that gives a fairytale story is The Martian, which was made into a film, starring Matt Damon and released in 2015. It’s the story of an astronaut who was left on Mars, presumed dead in a sandstorm, and how he later struggled to survive. He was a botanist and so he grew potatoes that were brought from America, and manufactured water from oxygen and hydrogen and so on. As you will see in the film, the term “sol” is used to refer to a Martian solar day, which is equivalent to our 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. Over the century, there had been many speculations though daunting, that the surface of the Mars might be capable of supporting life and the possibility that it could be colonised my humans. It’s now very near that Mars will no more be the subject of Sci-Fi writers. The surface of Mars is orange-reddish colour because its soil has iron-oxide or rust particles. The sky on Mars often appears pink or light orange because of the dust particles in the soil is blown into Mars’ thin atmosphere by winds on Mars. NASA on March 8 2018, has released its detailed plan to create ‘deep-space habitation facilities’. “Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. They will act as stepping stones for establishing permanent settlement on Mars.” In this report entitled ‘Journey to Mars’ NASA has said:”The mission isan historic pioneering endeavour similar to the early settlers in America and moon landing.”
“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The first planned mission by EM 1 (vide infra) is for 2019, and it will be followed by EM 2 in 2023, which will fly with crew. It will have an insignia designed by NASA’S Astronaut Office with the help of the crew that will fly abroad the most capable ‘deep space system’ to take flight.
However, some people think NASA may be beaten. The ‘Mars One project’, set up by a non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands, has proposed to land the first humans on Mars and establish human colonies. NASA also says:”It is committed to designing ‘a new and powerful transportation system’, which will involve solar electric propulsion, using the Sun’s energy to take spacecraft deeper into space. Cargo ships will be shuttling supplies to Mars, months or even years before the first human lands.” It’s also contemplated that in the next few decades, it will be able to establish human presence beyond Earth. It will learn the capacity for people to work for extended period of time, operate, self-sufficient and Earth independent. As the journey to Mars will take many months each way, early return is not an option. Living and working in deep space require accepting risks and the journey is worth the risk. NASA will continue in the coming decades, to gather information from experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS), as to how crews can live in deep space without health problems, and how micro-gravity and radiation affect them. The reason why astronauts’ time is limited is because of the fear that radiation might cause cancer and the worry that they could develop dementia or suffer fertility problems. Currently, the returning astronauts have to wear glasses because of micro-gravity that builds up presser in their optic nerves. Plans are underway to do experiments away from the ISS, in the cislunar space (between the Earth and the moon) before venturing further deep in space. The aim is to send human missions into Mars’ orbit or one of its moons, before crews actually land on Mars and set up colonies.
NASA’S first spacecraft, the Orion Spacecraft, in its Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in NASA’S
Special Launch System (SLS), will soon test with an unmanned flight, deep in space, from Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions.”This will demonstrate NASA’s commitment and capability to extend human existence on the Moon and beyond,” said Mike Sarasin, EM-1 mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The most powerful rocket in the world will carry the spacecraft farther than any spacecraft, ever built and ever flown. It will travel 280,000 miles from Earth for thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about three weeks. Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts, has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than before. NASA said: “This is a mission thatwill truly blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight.” SLS and Orion will blast off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’S modernised spaceport at Kennedy Space centre in Florida. The SLS rocket is designed to travel beyond Earth’s orbit, carrying crew or cargo to the Moon and beyond, with an 8.8 million pounds of thrust during liftoff and ascend into the space of low Earth’s orbit, carrying a vehicle weighing 6 million pounds. The rocket with its four RS-25 engines, will reach the period of greatest atmospheric force within 90 seconds. After jettisoning the boosters, service module panels, and launch abort system, the core stage engines, will shut down and core stage will separate from the spacecraft.Soon the spacecraft will make an orbit of Earth, when it will deploy its solar arrays and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) to leave the Earth’s orbit. It will then travel towards the Moon. It will be about 2 hours after launch, when Orion will separate from the ICPS, which will deploy a number of small satellites, known as CubeSats, to do several experimental and technological demonstrations. As it continues on towards the Moon from the Earth’s orbit, the European Space Agency will provide the spacecraft’s main propulsion system and power, as well as house air and water for astronauts on future missions.
Orion will then fly past the Global Positioning System (GBS) satellite constellation and above communication satellites in Earth’s orbit. Orion will now switch from NASA’S Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system, and communicate with Mission Control in Houston through the ‘Deep Space Network’.Orion’s trip to the Moon will take several days. It will fly about 62 miles (100 km) above the surface of the Moon, and then use the Moon’s gravitational force to propel Orion into a deep retrograde, or opposite orbit about 40,000 miles ((70,000) from the Moon.
The spacecraft will stay in that orbit for approximately six days to collect data. During this period, Orion will travel in a direction around the Moon retrograde from the direction the Moon travels around Earth.Mission accomplished, Orion will make its trip back to Earth and enter Earth’s atmosphere, travelling at 25,000 mph (11 km per second).
After having travelled above 1.3 million miles, and after about 3 weeks, the spacecraft will land within eyesight of the recovery ship off the coast of Baja, California. After the splash, divers from the US Navy from the waiting recovery ship and operations teams from NASA will approach it in small boats for a quick examination. Then engineers will tow the capsule into the well-deck of the recovery ship to bring the spacecraft home.
William Gerstenhaber, from NASA’S Human Exploration and Operations, said:”the upcoming ‘Asteroid Redirect Mission’ will bring an asteroid into lunar orbit, where it can be studied, and its progress followed by Mars scientists. What is exciting is the possibility that salt water that could sustain life, is likely to flow on Mars, as remains of ancient lakes and rivers are seen to be present.” NASA says its first exploration mission will serve as a springboard for further exploration missions to other destinations, not only to Mars, and help in trying to find out whether there was microbial life on Mars or anywhere in the cosmos, and how life began on Earth? Since the first close-up pictures of the Red Planetin 1965, many spacecraft pictures have shown the contours of Mars’ surface, seasonal weather patterns, and the possible presence of water, without which life cannot survive. Though not yet known, human beings may be the first life on Mars. The writer is based in the UK
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh