I’m very interested in the colonisation of space, as I do believe that this is the future. Our planet has been plagued by human error in our quest to develop civilisation. Thus, it makes sense that, with our rapidly developing technologies and breakthrough discoveries in science, we can indeed “redeem” ourselves by setting up a colony on another planet.
We have already colonised the space around our own planet, so to speak, as their are thousands of man-made craft orbiting the Earth at various heights.
I’ve presented a speech that was quite successful in late 2009 (the transcription and a few images are available here), and the research that I undertook for that presentation really caught my attention to the fact that it’s possible to colonise right away. The problem with the methods described in my research was that the costs are insanely high, and because of the arcane nature of the project, and the volatility of such an endeavour, investors are not willing to part with their money just yet.
Over the course of 2010, I hope to talk more on this fascinating subject. I will, naturally, be discussing the colonisation of Mars, our nearest neighbour, as its similarities to our own home are very high.
There is a trilogy of novels written by Kim Stanley Robinson called the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars) that really captures the idea of terraforming a planet, and the scientific, cultural and social repercussions that accompany it, from a wide variety of viewpoints. I plan on reading the series this year to further enlighten my quest to understand the colonisation of space.
The great inventor and artist, Leonardo da Vinci, once said, “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return.”
Ever since mankind developed cognitive ability, the desire to soar has been ever present, unwavering. It’s powerful presence has driven man to dream, and realise dreams. To invent the wheel, and traverse the seas. To fly like an eagle, and land on a neighbour whom he gazed upon for centuries, which may have been one small step for man, but a giant leap for Mankind.
But now, restlessness stirs once again in this exploring soul. Exploring even our own planet has not become enough for man, who’s very nature is to not be content with what he currently has. And so, after aeons of dreaming, the time has come to realise that dream, of stepping on… the red planet.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is not a science fiction idea. This is reality. Welcome to the future. Welcome to our new home.
The colonisation of Mars is not just for the mere advancement of science and technology or to provide a “benchmark” for mankind’s progress. It is, in fact, a need, a necessity, due to the current plight of our own Earth.
Overpopulation, the detrimental effects on our environment caused by the notorious Global Warming, and depleting natural resources are the fundamental aspects that are pushing us towards establishing a colony on Mars. Furthermore, history tells us that, six times before, the Earth was struck by a large asteroid. The result? Extinction. All six times.
Do we want the hundreds of years of advancement in society to be lost, crumbling in dust and ashes, if another rock out there with our name on it were to strike?
And so, as NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said, “We also hope to discover if Mars can provide a second home for humans—an extension of our civilisation—40 million miles from Earth.”
Thus, Viking 1 was the first spacecraft to land on the Red Planet, on 20 August 1975. Launched by NASA, it began our journey into the in-depth study of this fascinating planet. Viking 1 studied the soil of Mars, and began the search for life on the planet. Today, four artificial satellites orbit the planet, whilst two exploratory rovers are studying its geography. These vehicles are the first step towards colonising this planet.
What we currently know about Mars, is that it is relatively similar to Earth. Some of the similarities include: the Martian day being very similar to Earth’s (24 hours and 39 minutes). Mars has an axial tilt similar to Earth’s, meaning that Mars experiences seasons similar to the ones we have here. It has an atmosphere that can aid in aerobraking spacecraft landing on the surface. But most importantly, a recent discovery by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, points to the presence of water-ice on the planet.
These discoveries mean that the Red Planet is ready and waiting to support Terrain-base life.
But the journey to getting life on the planet isn’t going to be easy. It will involve an intricate and colossal process that involves re-engineering the entire planet.
This process is called terraforming.
Terraforming will, essentially, transform the planet from looking like this…
a very inviting, Earth-like planet.
First coined by science fiction writer Jack Williamson, the term has now become accepted in the world of science. Meaning literally “Earth shaping”, it involves the process of deliberately modifying a planet’s atmosphere, temperature, surface topography and ecology to conditions similar to Earth, in order to make it habitable by humans.
In order to better understand terraforming, we need to look at why it needs to be done on Mars:
The temperature and atmosphere on Mars is vastly different to the Earth’s. Where the Earth has 79% nitrogen, Mars has a mere 2.7%. Even more alarming, is that Mars has a whopping 97% Carbon Dioxide — extremely lethal to human beings.
Furthermore, Mars has a very thin atmosphere, and thus does not retain much heat. Let’s take a look at the average surface temperatures on Earth and Mars. Earth’s average is 14.4?C. Mars… -62.77?C. These factors clearly outline the need for terraforming.
The process is hypothesised to be conducted in two stages. In the first stage, specialised plants, such as lichen, which are able to withstand extreme conditions such as those on Mars, will be implemented. They would adapt to the Martian climate whilst the second stage is being prepared. In the second stage, additional plants and organic material will be introduced to the planet. These will begin the transformation of the atmosphere into a more habitable one. Lastly, specially developed structures to withstand the Martian weather conditions would be sent, so as to house the first colonisers whilst the planet is being terraformed.
What’s great about this development in science, is that, with our current technological systems, the process can begin this very minute. However, the cost of terraforming is mammoth. Investors are very sceptical about it, because the process will take about 20 to 40 years.
While this is the case, our great pioneers of the age — our modern-day Leonardo da Vincis, if you like, are already planning with Project Virgle in 2014, spearheaded by Richard Branson and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history; Project Virgle will be the first permanent human colony on Mars.