When Earthlings become Martians

Did you ever wonder about traveling to another planet? Were you glued to sci-fi books and movies as a kid? If yes, read on. There’s a huge project underway to build a Human Colony on Mars. And interestingly, you can now be a part of it thanks to Mars One.

About the Mars One project

Mars One is the company that will give you an opportunity to live on Mars. The Mars One project involves sending four people to Mars every two years. Now, these are not astronauts or space-pilots, but regular people like you and me.  This is a great opportunity for people who want to be a part of a new era. Bas Lansdorp launched Mars One in 2012. He has an impressive team, well-known advisers and strong suppliers. Here is a cool promotional video.

The journey from Earth to Mars will take 7 months. The travel through space will be a great experience where you can view the stars, planets and asteroids with naked eyes. And finally, walking on Mars, an even better experience!

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Mars Landscape. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

The catch? It is a one-way ticket. You go to Mars, never to return.

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Top of a mountain that was created inside a crater due to impact. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Here’s the roadmap for the Mars One project:

2013 – Accepting applications for going to Mars.
2014 – Building the first communication satellite.
2015 – Astronaut selection process will be completed.
2016 – A supply mission that will carry 2,500 kilograms of supplies to Mars.
2018 – A space exploration vehicle will be sent to Mars to pick a location for settlement.
2021 – Six capsules and another Rover will be sent to Mars. This will include two living units, two life-support units and two supply units.
2023 – History will be created! The first colonists will arrive on Mars.
2025 – A second group will be sent.
2033 – The number of colonists will reach 20.

The coolest feature of the Mars One project is that everything will be done using currently available technology. This means, no traveling at the Speed of Light like you read in science-fiction books. The Mars One project will only use technology of today that is reliable and tested.

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Bacolor Crater. Photo by Mars Odyssey: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why do we need to explore other planets?

Hundreds of explorers weathered deadly storms to discover new continents. Consider the Mars One project to be another exploration – but this time, in the solar system rather than on Earth. We could discover new ways to live and learn so much about living outside Earth.

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Sand dune on Mars. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Aren’t there other planets that can support life better than Mars?

Astronomers have been trying their best to find a Goldilocks planet where life can be sustained. A Goldilocks planet is a planet that is neither too far or too near to its Sun. If it was too far from the Sun, it would be too cold and being too near would make it too hot to sustain water and any other life on its surface. Most of the planets we have found are so far away, that it is impossible to go there with the current technology. Take  Gliese 581 d for example, which is a Goldilocks planet that was discovered recently. Gliese 581 d is 20 light-years from Earth. This means it would take us 20 years to reach there if we were able to travel at the speed of light! Since traveling at the speed of light is not going to happen anytime soon, I don’t think Gliese 581 d is an option for now.

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Evidence of water flow. Photo by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Why Mars?

This, by far, is the most important question and has many interesting answers:

  • Water – Mars has underground ice deposits and frozen polar ice caps that show an abundance of water. If we were to melt the polar ice caps on Mars, there would be enough water to cover the entire planet upto a depth of 11 meters. Now, that’s a lot of water! Water is the most important medium for life to grow. If not for water, we would not exist today.
  • Gravity – The gravitational force on Mars is 38% that on Earth. Unlike the Moon that has 1/6th of Earth’s surface gravity, Mars has enough gravity to hold down atmosphere, which is essential for life. The atmosphere also protects from solar radiation.
  • Temperature – The high temperature on equatorial Mars is around 35 degree centigrade. This is very comfortable and very Earth-like.
  • Mars Day = Earth day – Mars takes 24.622 hours to rotate on its own axis. This means that the day-night cycles on Mars are same as that on the Earth. It would be very easy for Earthlings to adapt to a Mars day.
  • Seasons – Mars has the same seasons as that on Earth. Although, the seasons on Mars are twice as longer since Mars takes 1 Earth year and 320 Earth days (685 Earth days or 1.8 Earth years) to orbit the sun.
  • Soil – The soil on Mars is conducive for the growth of plants. The soil contains Magnesium, Sodium, and Potassium that are useful for plants.
  • Atmosphere – Mars has a sparse and hospitable atmosphere. 95% of the atmosphere in Mars is CO2. Plants need CO2 to breathe and we could take seeds or plants to Mars where they could grow.

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Ice found in a fresh crater. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Frosted ice on sand dunes (north pole). Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

What are the challenges?

After having talked about the advantages of mars here are a few disadvantages that create huge challenges:

  • Gravity – Since Mars has only 38 % of the surface gravity of the Earth, our bodies (especially bones) will get used to the lower gravity. Even if we wanted to return to Earth in the future, our bones would have weakened by adapting to the lower gravity on Mars. Our bones would be strong enough for Mars, but returning to Earth will just crush them due to the higher gravity. Although there has been enough research and treatment is available for astronauts living in zero gravity, our bones would develop a condition called osteoporosis (bones become porous). That’s why the colonists can never return to Earth even if they wanted to.
  • Atmosphere – With 95% carbon-di-oxide in its sparse atmosphere there would be no option but to wear spacesuits. We can build greenhouses to grow plants that would convert CO2 to O2, but this is really challenging. After all, we would need a good stock of oxygen to tide us over until we are able to generate oxygen on Mars.
  • Medical Services – We are on our own if we fall seriously ill. Mars One does plan for basic treatments. However, it would not be possible to provide the advanced treatment available on Earth today (for example a complicated surgery).
  • Natural Calamities – Since Mars is unchartered territory, Mars quakes (Earthquakes, but on Mars!), or dust storms might damage the settlements. We are in no way ready for this such natural calamities.

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Dust storm on Mars. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Avalanche clouds. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

How would the settlement communicate with their families on Earth?

Mars One will provide Internet access. That said, communication with Earth is particularly challenging. Mars is at a distance of 55 million kilometers (shortest) and 400 million kilometers (farthest) from the Earth depending on the orbital location.

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The Earth and her Moon. Photo by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Therefore, it would take the signal anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes to reach the Earth. You could send e-mails or use video messages, but you’d have to wait 3 to 20 minutes for your message to reach there and an equal amount of time before you hear back. There goes your Skype party.

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Panorama of Mount Sharp taken by Mars Rover Curiosity: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech (click image to enlarge)

How would Mars One fund the project?

The entire project from launch to settlement would be broadcasted to generate subscription and advertising revenue. As a business model, this is quite challenging. There must be a steady stream of revenue forever so we can constantly send supplies to our colony on Mars. Shutting down the company after sending humans to Mars is not an option. This, in my opinion is the most challenging because as a business, failure is not an option! 

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Ripples in the sand at the Proctor Crater. Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

How can I help?

There are many ways you can help this amazing project:

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Sunset on Mars. Photo by Mars Exploration Rover: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Finally…

Mars has the potential to be our new home. If the Mars One project is successful, there is no limit to the extent of space colonization. Thousands of people could migrate to Mars and live a great life there.

And you could be one of them.

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Daybreak on Mars (at the Gale Crater). Photo by Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by Mars One. 

Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech (JPL Image Policy) and  NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (HiRISE Image Usage Policy).

 

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Is the Smartphone Industry ‘Curious’ about Curiosity?

The world holds its breath as the next battle for dominance in the smartphone industry begins with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Apple recently defeated Samsung in a patent lawsuit involving user-interface elements. Samsung lost the battle, but they don’t necessarily have to lose the war. Samsung will not fade away into the night without putting up an aggressive fight. Samsung plans to sue Apple on its using the LTE (a technology for faster data speeds called Long-Term Evolution) chip in the iPhone 5.

As the smartphone war rages on, it is evident that there are many areas where industry giants compete for dominance – user-interface, operating system, physical design, connectivity, storage, and camera.

But there is one area where companies haven’t done much – the battery. Until the smartphone industry invests heavily into battery technology, devices are limited to what they can do on a single charge. Lithium-ion batteries are used extensively in all smartphones as of today. The life of a single charge is a few hours (assuming a user talks, texts, and uses data connections such as Wi-Fi or 3G/LTE). After a smartphone runs out of battery, users have no option but to carry a charging cable, USB charger, portable USB charger, a battery pack (like Mophie), or just wait to reach home to charge the phone.

Talking about battery life, the smartphone industry can learn a lot from the Mars Rover Curiosity. Curiosity has reached Mars and has starting sending photos, conducting experiments and, exploring the Martian mountains. For doing all this, Curiosity needs one thing – power.

Previous generations of Mars Rovers used solar panels to power various devices. However, dust settled on the solar panels making them inefficient. Also, note that the Sun looks much smaller from Mars as Mars is at a greater distance from the center of the solar system. Smaller sun = less light = less solar power.

To solve this problem of inefficient solar power, Curiosity uses a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Simply put, Curiosity uses the radioactive isotope Plutonium-238 as the raw material. Heat is automatically generated due to the natural decay of Plutonium-238. A device called a Thermocouple uses this heat to generate electricity. The Plutonium-238 is well shielded, and the heat – and not the radiation – is used to generate electricity. This device can last for 14 years without requiring any maintenance! Curiosity will constantly receive its power until Plutonium-238 completely decays.

Now, coming back to the smartphone industry, why can’t we design something like this for smartphones? Imagine having a very small amount of radioactive isotope that is well-shielded and attached to the smartphone. The device could then, theoretically, produce electricity for at least a year (or more!). Instead of battery packs like Mophie, we could have smartphones that generate their power and don’t need a recharge! Depending on the stability of the technology, we could have a smartphone that could last for years without a recharge. You buy a smartphone and dispose of it after a few years without charging it even once.

When I told my wife about this idea, she said, and I quote: ‘I am not carrying a nuclear bomb in my pocket!’. Well, what I am proposing is not exactly a nuclear bomb since there is no chain reaction like nuclear fission or nuclear fusion going on. The natural decay of Plutonium-238 generates heat and hence the power. Theoretically, a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238 is safer than batteries that we have today. The current batteries have greater chances of exploding than a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238!

The future of the smartphone industry is uncertain. There are no obvious winners as of today. In my opinion, only the company that designs and patents advanced battery technology will emerge as the winner. The company holding the key to advanced battery technology will be the undisputed winner and will rule the smartphone industry for generations to come. Simply because, more power equals to more things the smartphone can do without dying.

Hey Apple and Samsung – are you listening? Hopefully, I can expect to be paid a billion dollars for my idea!

(MMRTG Source: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/technologiesofbroadbenefit/power/)

Edited by: Prarthna Sri