Recently, there has been much speculation surrounding the colonisation of other planets. From SpaceX to NASA, there have been an array of meetings, plans and discussions surrounding the future of Mars, and whether it should one day be colonised.
One argument for the colonisation of Mars is presented by futurist Michio Kaku, who points out that 99.9% of life forms on Earth have gone extinct. On this planet, he claims, we either adapt or die. With the multitude of problems facing our planet, and a growing private sector in space exploration, the frequent discussion of Mars is understandable. Issues such as global warming, antibiotic resistance, and nuclear disaster threaten the planet, as do the countless asteroids that may hit Earth at any given moment. In the case of our planet’s destruction, many argue that a ‘backup planet’ is a viable solution. Such an argument was also supported by the late Stephen Hawking, who conjectured that we needed to colonise the planet in the next 100 years to avoid extinction.
Although such a topic undoubtedly stirs excitement among the population, the reality is that the colonisation of Mars is highly impractical. Ideas such as home-building robots, genetically modified plants that can survive on Mars and other necessary technologies are, in many respects, a huge challenge to attain. Whilst easy to succumb to the fantasy of life on Mars, one must not forget the many dangers associated with space travel. Life on a planet with little gravity, high doses of radiation, and micrometeorites is hardly appealing.
Of course, with sufficient research and investment, these issues could be tackled. But why should the government and the taxpayer invest such large sums of money in another planet, as opposed to their own? Even in the event of large- scale disasters such as global warming, or an atomic bomb, the Earth would be far more habitable than Mars. Many have concerns over polluted water, and yet the only water on Mars is in the frozen ice caps. Many have concerns over the volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and yet the atmosphere of Mars is 96% carbon dioxide. It is certainly hard to envision a scenario in which Mars is more habitable than Earth. Then why spend so much money, time and resources fixing these problems, instead of focusing on rebuilding our own planet?
The issue of asteroids still remains. Many theorize that the potential for asteroids to destroy Earth is a valid reason to seek shelter elsewhere, and colonise another planet as potential backup. However, if an asteroid was on course to Earth, surely instead of relocating the population, it would be far simpler to build asteroid deflecting technology? In the unlikely case that no area on Earth was safe, one could invest in constructing deep sea colonies in bio domes. Although this sounds challenging, it is still more feasible than relocating a population to a planet nine months away.
To summarise, although the idea of travelling to Mars is both exciting and tempting, one needs to look at the practical implications of this. Spending billions on robots, housing, GMO food and all the necessary technology to achieve such a feat is far less reasonable than focusing on renewable technologies, and our own planet. In times of great uncertainty, we should not be focusing on the colonisation of space, but rather the current state of Earth, and tackling our climate crisis.
By Tatiana, 11L
How will our universe end?
The mystery of our universe and its end has left scientists baffled since it was discovered that our solar system was the smallest part of a cosmos larger than was every previously thought possible. While the earth is predicted to vaporize in about 6 billion years, the universe will continue long after that. The issue with finding an answer to how our universe will eventually end is that with such a large part of our universe being made up of the elusive dark matter, and the potential ‘end’ of the universe being trillions of years into the future, it is difficult to come up with one definitive theory. So far, there are three major competing theories hypothesizing potential ways that the universe will end.
The Big Freeze theory grounds itself in the field of thermodynamics, the study of heat. In the universe, events, processes and more generally, everything, occurs due to a heat difference between different sources. This theory suggests that since heat always moves, eventually heat will be evenly distributed throughout the entire universe. At this point, also referred to as ‘heat death’, all stars will run out of fuel and die, all matter will decay and the only thing remaining would be a few particles that would also over time be shifted away by the expansion of the universe. Even the largest stars that collapse into black holes would eventually give off Hawking radiation, eventually evaporating these too. A rather bleak theory, this suggests that the universe will eventually end up cold and empty.
In many ways the Big Crunch theory is a direct opposite to the Big Freeze. Thanks to the theory of relativity, and the consequent discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, it was discovered that the universe is expanding. As a result of this discovery it has been speculated that although the universe is expanding right now, it will eventually reach a threshold where there is so much matter in the universe that gravity becomes the dominant force, causing the universe’s expansion to slow down, stop and then to contract. The universe would contract faster and faster, becoming denser and hotter as it does so, until all matter finally implodes in on itself in a final singularity. This is often though to be in effect a reverse big bang. However, this theory is less widely though because of a more recent discovery that makes this theory improbable, the rate at which the universe is expanding is increasing.
The Big Rip is the final major theory entirely grounds itself in the activity of dark matter. Dark matter is thought to be responsible for the universe’s expansion, and since its density remains constant despite the universe growing, it is thought that more and more dark matter ‘pops’ into existence in order to keep up the rate of expansion. Oddly enough, this does not contradict the fundamental law of conservation of energy. This law states that in an isolated system, the total amount of energy will remain constant. This law is conserved because as energy and momentum are dependent on spacetime, if spacetime stays the same, total amount of energy remains the same but since spacetime changes, so does total energy. It is suggested that eventually, so much dark energy will have popped into existence, that its density would be above that of ordinary matter so the forces of expansion from the dark matter will overcome the gravitational forces of ordinary matter. This will essentially rip the universe apart, with larger objects of a lower density like planets and stars being ripped apart first, then humans and other living creatures and finally atoms will be destroyed before the universe will finally be entirely ripped apart.
All of these theories have their merits and provide good explanations for what will one day happen to our universe, but none yet provide conclusive evidence. What we can be sure of, is that by the time that these doomsday scenarios might happen, after trillions of years humans will be so far evolved that we probably will not still be able to call those living at that time humans anymore, if life still continues to exist for that long.
By Yuval, Year 11
Getting to Mars
Humans have looked out at the stars and planets for millennia, but it is only with the advent of flight that the dream of leaving our planet has become even remotely possible. The first human space flight by the soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin in 1961 was relatively quickly followed by the US moon landing in 1969. However, progress since then has been confined to near Earth orbit. The Cold War, which spurred the space race, had ended by the late 1970’s and commercial usage of satellites and near- earth exploration became the priority. This is compounded with the fact that the technical difficulties of reaching another planet are indefinitely greater than flying to the moon. Yet this has not stopped space enthusiasts from dreaming of a day when we will land on another planet, the most obvious choice being Mars. Mars is the second closest planet to Earth in our solar system, and the most earth-like, therefore it is thought to be the easiest stepping stone in our quest to become a multiplanetary species.
When the orbits of Earth and Mars are closest, the distance between the two planets is 34 million miles, 1000 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. To travel this distance, we will need an extremely powerful rocket, and massive amounts of fuel. This is where our first problem arises. The only model of rocket we have ever built that would have been capable of carrying us to Mars – the Saturn V no longer exists. This rocket was the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket that has been brought to operational status, and only 13 were built. They were used to bring us to the moon, and the last was launched in 1973. Today, no rockets exist that could provide us with a return journey to Mars. In order to do this, we would need reusable rockets (which have not yet been invented). The more fuel we use, the shorter our travel time will be. There is, of course, investment in other modes of transportation. A vasimr engine could reduce travel time to 5 months, while antimatter could reduce it to 45 days. However, it will be decades at least until some of these technologies will be on the market and ready to use.
Alternatively, SpaceX, a rocket company founded by Elon Musk is in the process of designing ‘Super Heavy’ (also known as BFR), a rocket system that is hoped to be fully reusable, designed to carry up to 100 people on interplanetary flights. This rocket, alongside the ‘starship’, one intended to reduce flight time to anywhere on earth to under an hour, are some of the world’s current greatest underway inventions. Considering that SpaceX has, in 10 years become a company worth $25 billion, and has in only a decade, managed to become the world’s biggest rocket launching company, with over 50 successful missions, it is amazing to think what it may be able to do in the next decade.
The distance to Mars gives rise to another issue- the lengthy amounts of time that astronauts will have to spend in space. Getting to Mars will take roughly 240 days. Surviving this long in space is a challenge for any astronaut and its dangers are varied. The first is its impact on mental health. Despite the fact that all astronauts are heavily psychologically tested, depression and attention deficit are conditions that astronauts are likely to have to face. This is mainly due to the massive amounts of time they will spend staring at a black void. A recent study observing a group of people in isolation as the base of a volcano has determined that to avoid mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, astronauts will have to be kept busy with physical activity and work for the majority of the day.
Astronauts will however also be faced with many physiological dangers. The gravity on Mars is 38% of Earth gravity, at 3.7m/s2, compared to ours at 9.8m/s2. Throughout the journey to Mars, the gravity inside the rocket will be in micro-g’s (microgravity). The long-term effects of weightlessness for a journey of 7 months are likely to include the atrophy of the heart and muscles, balance and eyesight disorders, as well as a reduction of aerobic capacity and a slowing down of the cardiovascular system. When on Mars, the human body will have to adapt to small amounts of gravity again. The return journey will be even harsher, as astronauts will not have experienced our full gravity for several years. It may be possible to counter this problem by slowly reducing gravity in the spacecraft and then increasing it again on the return journey, but the technology for this is still questionable. Other dangers include those of disease. Growing evidence shows that prolonged periods in space can have a detrimental effect on the human immune system making astronauts more vulnerable to disease. In addition to this, outside dangers such as cosmic and solar radiation could cause cancer, dementia and impaired vision. To prevent these, engineers are in the process of designing suits and shelter that will be able to withstand heavy radiation. However, the dangers of stray rays piecing them will always be there.
Now that we can understand some of the dangers and issues that astronauts and technicians will face to get us to Mars, how soon will it actually be?
Elon Musk believes that SpaceX will be able to bring the first people to Mars by 2022. That is in just 3 years. Its objectives for this mission will be to confirm water resources, identify hazards and to build the initial infrastructure that will be needed to live on Mars for a significant amount of time. They optimistically believe that a second mission with crew and cargo aboard, will land in 2024.
NASA on the other hand is slightly less optimistic. They plan to take advantage of the point in a 15-year cycle when we will need to least energy to make the journey, and get to Mars by 2033. President Trump himself has issued a mandate urging NASA to do this. However, for NASA to fulfil its aim it will require an estimate of over $500 billion. Currently NASA’s annual budget is $19.5 billion. It would take many years for NASA to accumulate the funding for such a mission. This has led rise to the debate between whether it will be national or even international organisations such as NASA that will be the first to land humans on Mars, or whether it will be privately owned companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, who will achieve this feat. National organisations lack the funding a mission of this scale would require, and therefore it is private companies that are launching a new space race. This race is not greatly international. Many companies that aim for interplanetary travel are based in the US, and they do not compete for dominance in achieving a goal, but rather for customers. Their aims include commercialising space travel in orbit, making life on other planets possible, and visits to the moon.
Once we have reached Mars, there is one more challenge we must overcome – how to survive there. The basic requirements for human life on earth are food, water, and shelter. Living on Mars requires the same things, and one more - oxygen. The Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner than ours, containing 96% carbon dioxide. This is not breathable. For humans to survive on Mars, we would need to produce our own oxygen, and we would not be able to step outside without a spacesuit. Carrying enough oxygen from Earth to Mars to support around 6 people for 4 years would be impossible. Luckily, Michael Hecht a scientist at MIT has developed an instrument called MOXIE, a specialised reverse fuel cell that converts CO2 into O2. This instrument has been selected by NASA to accompany Mars 2020 (a rover being sent to Mars next year to aid the Curiosity rover). It is believed that a system like MOXIE, may in the future be able to provide oxygen on a larger scale that could support a mission to Mars.
The next challenge astronauts living on Mars would face is temperature. The average temperature on Mars is -630C. At the height of summer at the equator, it might reach 210C, while at night lows can reach -730C. This would make it impossible for astronauts or even future colonists to go outside without a highly insulated suit (this is forgetting the problem of Mars’s extremely low pressure at 0.6% of Earth’s).
Getting water on Mars will be another issue. Water is an extremely heavy substance and it would therefore be impossible to bring it from earth to our destination. Although Mars may look barren, it is not. Only a few cm under Mars’s red surface lies a layer of permafrost. Rovers have discovered that the Martian soil contains up to 60% water, and in addition to this, large amounts of ice are concentrated at its north and south poles. However, melting this will not be necessary as in 1998, a dehumidifier was invented that would be able to draw all the water needed to live on Mars from its atmosphere.
With possible solutions for obtaining water and oxygen on Mars, other key challenges revolve around shelter and food. Although it may be possible to grow 20% of settlers’ food requirements hydroponically in greenhouses, 80% of food will have to be dried and brought over from earth. The issue of shelter is possibly easier to solve. Initially astronauts are expected to live in their landers, and inflatable pressurised buildings. Later, it is thought that they will be able to build bricks out of the Martian soil, or live in caves and lava tubes.
Surviving on Mars looks as if it may be achievable. But will living in restricted shelter, without being able to go outside and breath fresh air really satisfy us? Although we currently see going to Mars as scientific exploration, some believe and hope that we will one day be able to live there. While Mars is the most earth-like planet in our solar system, the differences between the two planets are significant. The variety of life, nature and beauty on earth simply does not exist there. Scientists say that it may be possible to terraform Mars, that we could heat the dry ice on the poles to thicken its atmosphere, we could sublime ice with solar sails to flood the planet with water, and we could create a water cycle with rain and snow similar to that on Earth. Yet these theories are not proven. For now, we must focus on getting to Mars, living there will be a separate issue.
By Caroline Utermann
SPACE TECHNOLOGY THROUGH THE AGES
Space technology today is a result of various inventions, experiments and discoveries over the last 20,000 years.
Human beings have always been fascinated by the world above us and space exploration is the outcome of this curiosity. Indian mythology has examples of a divine vehicle called the Pushpak Vimana which can traverse through space. Indian mythology also refers to different realms in space where different types of people lived such as the Gods, the demons, normal people etc.
The earliest prototype of a rocket has been constructed by Archytas, a Greek philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who built a wooden bird which could fly based on the theory that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, which later came to be known as Newton's 3rd Law.
Centuries later, the Chinese created the 1st working prototypes of rockets by attaching bamboo to arrows filled with gunpowder. When lit, it would launch itself due to the power of the escaping gas. Soon, it was used as a battle machine in war against the Mongols in 1232. Taking inspiration from the design, the Mongols used it in other battles spreading the design to Europe.
After this, rockets were not only used for warfare but by the late 19th century this technology had advanced enough for use to enter the orbit around the earth defying gravity. One of the 3 fathers of Rocketry, Konstanin E. Tsiolkovsky published the rocket equation, a mathematical equation which considers the principles of a device which can accelerate itself by expelling components at high speeds in the opposite direction. This was significant as it was years before the first propelled rocket was launched by Robert Goddard the second father of Rocketry.
The 3rd father Hermann Oberth published a book about how rockets could be sent out of earth’s orbit. He also studied multi-stage rocketry and proposed human spaceflight.
By this time, the Space Race had begun and after many failed attempts, some famous achievements were made including Sputnik (USSR), Explorer 1 (NATO) and Apollo 11 (NATO). On the 31st of January 1958, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed as an American space research centre.
In the future, NASA promises to make progress with research on habitation in Mars asking questions like ‘Can you grow it / make it in space? Can you do your own repairs and maintenance? ‘ (as NASA states) They will also try and answer the question ‘Are we alone ?’ NASA says, ‘as before NASA will adapt solutions to these and other challenges into technology that will improve lives at home.’
While space remains a frontier for mankind to overflow into and establish colonies if earth becomes overcrowded the world today is less focused on space exploration and rocket science than in the last few decades. This is possibly because there have been no further advances in space science since the Space Shuttle, the end of the Space Wars or exciting advancements in electronics and communications. However, we need to invest in Space as that is where the future of mankind lies.
By Anagha Sreeram, 8C