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Februrary 2018


the future of humanity or a dead end?

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Mars, the future of humanity or a dead end? Is there a possibility for humans to inhabit a planet other than Earth? In this episode we learn about Mars’ ancient past, meet an architect hoping to build cities there and we hear from Mars itself, thanks to the planet’s video blog, of course. Plus: Our Moment of Um answers a question about money with the help of Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, from the Marketplace podcast, Make Me Smart. How about living there? It could happen. Scientists are currently studying the planet for clues about its past and this information might help us make Mars a little more like Earth. One day, we may even be able to build cities there. Of all the planets in the solar system, Mars is the most like our own. It’s about half the size of Earth and has about one third the gravity. That means you’d be able to jump higher and farther there, but you’d need a really warm space suit. Today Mars is a frozen desert where temperatures can drop to -100 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Brrrrr! There’s no breathable air or liquid water on the surface. However, it may have been a quite different place 3 to 4 billion years ago. “It looks like Mars long ago once had lakes, it had rivers,” said Bethany Ehlmann, a planetary scientist with Caltech. She studies information gathered by the NASA rovers about the rocks and dirt on the Red Planet. With this data, Ehlmann and other scientists are discovering that 3.5 billion years ago Mars might have been a warmer, wetter place with “plenty of water to potentially support life,” she explained. But, things change. Mars once had a decent blanket of gas surrounding the planet, something called an atmosphere. Earth has one too and they help trap heat from the sun, keeping a planet warm. Over time, Mars lost most of its atmosphere, turning it into the cold place we know today. Earth on the other hand, kept a relatively thick atmosphere. “We’re trying to figure out why do some planets continue to as great places for life while others maybe become a little bit worse over time,” Ehlmann added.

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“So the idea of maybe just going outside for a walk or to enjoy the weather does not exist… You are in a suit, you don’t really feel the wind or the sun, it’s quite hot and uncomfortable.” Still he enjoyed the experience enough to want to live on the real Mars. In fact he’s thought a lot about what a Mars city would look like. “The first Mars colonies, sort of out of necessity are actually going to be underground,” he said. That’s because Mars is constantly bombarded with harmful cosmic rays and solar radiation. Earth has a strong magnetic field which shields people from this stuff, but Mars doesn’t. The rays and radiation on Mars could make humans very sick and even kill them over time. Fortunately, dirt can block this stuff! “So until we get better suits and better protection for the surface you probably want your main living area be underground,” said Bassingthwaighte. He imagines one day whole cities could be built in Martian caves. They could be sealed off and filled with air to breathe. They could have ceilings with digital images of clouds and fake sunlight to make you feel like you were outside. They could have homes and neighborhoods and downtown areas. Bassingthwaighte admits, this would take a lot of planning, money and time. The people of Earth would have to work together and really focus if they wanted to pull off a plan this extreme. Still, he thinks it could happen if we set our minds to it. “This is definitely something that could happen sooner than people realize,” he added. “I have every intention of retiring to Mars.”

Still, if we wanted to make Mars more like Earth, Ehlmann says we’d have to try to bring back that gas blanket, perhaps by evaporating the planet’s ice caps or sending plants there that could help make more oxygen. For now these ideas are in the realm of science fiction.

Tristan Bassingthwaighte thinks we might be able to find another way to live on Mars. He’s an architect and was part of an experiment called HI-SEAS, or the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. It’s a project where people live in a fake Mars base on the side of a volcano. They must act like they are really on an alien planet at all times, Bassingthwaighte explains.

Photo of Mars’ surface showing the type of terrain one can find on it at all times.

Curiosity rover indulging itself in a selfie.

NASA’s concept art for possible future Mars bases.

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Space X: Advancing the Future Leading inovation in technology Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, which launched on top of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy on Tuesday, is going farther out into the Solar System than originally planned. The car was supposed to be put on a path around the Sun that would take the vehicle out to the distance of Mars’ orbit. But the rocket carrying the car seems to have overshot that trajectory and has put the Tesla in an orbit that extends beyond the Red Planet’s path. However, the Tesla won’t be making it to the asteroid belt, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk originally claimed. After launch, the Tesla cruised through space for a good six hours — a trip that was also live-streamed by SpaceX. This “coast” phase was meant to show off a special orbital maneuver for the US Air Force before the rocket completed one final engine burn in space and put the car on its final orbit. It looks like that burn might have happened somewhere over Southern California, as some people in the area started reporting sightings of the rocket igniting in the night sky after 9:30PM ET on Tuesday. Now it seems that engine ignition worked a little too well. Musk originally tweeted out a map on Tuesday of what was thought to be the Roadster’s final orbit after the burn, showing just how far out the car would travel. And it looked like the Tesla would go out into the asteroid belt, getting relatively close to the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres. But astronomers online noticed some discrepancies with the numbers Musk tweeted, and SpaceX ultimately sent

a revised orbit to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Wednesday (You can find it by selecting “target body” -143205.) The new orbit shows that the car will indeed travel farther out than the orbit of Mars, but not far enough to make it to the asteroid belt. The belt begins about 329 million miles from the Sun, and the Tesla will reach a distance about 160 million miles away from the Solar System’s star. Before the Tesla launched, Musk said that there was an extremely tiny chance that the vehicle would ever hit Mars, and that seems to hold true. Within the next decade, the roadster will make its closest approach to Mars in October of 2020, coming within 4.3 million miles, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard and spaceflight expert. He also figured out the next time the Roadster gets “close” to Earth is in March of 2021, when it passes within 28 million miles of our planet. The Tesla’s journey certainly demonstrates the Falcon Heavy’s capabilities of putting objects into deep space. The idea that the rocket could send things to the asteroid belt is likely to be attractive to some space companies, like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which are working on technologies to mine water from asteroids someday. But even though the Roadster won’t bwe venturing into the belt, it will still overshoot the orbit of Mars, which is good news for scientists looking to send vehicles to the Red Planet some day.

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Cosmic Ocean  

Cosmic Ocean is a magazine aimed at space lovers of all walks, from young to old. Cosmic Ocean is here to fill all your space needs. From te...

Cosmic Ocean  

Cosmic Ocean is a magazine aimed at space lovers of all walks, from young to old. Cosmic Ocean is here to fill all your space needs. From te...