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Life on Mars Help (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 16, 2011

From Venus To Mars

Imagine that you go on a mind journey and, for a few moments, become one of those privileged few who get to walk around on Mars, taking precautions, of course, to ensure that you do not suffer the fate of H. G. Wells’ fictitious Martians and perish from some unknown disease for which your body has no defense.

Speed, Fuel, And Plants

As you accelerate away from Venus, the primary problem will be one of fuel. It will be necessary to accelerate considerably to hurl the vessel out to the orbit of Mars. Here you encounter one of the bugaboos of long-distance space travel. The more you accelerate, the more fuel you need at the outset, and the more fuel you tank up with, the harder it becomes to accelerate in the first place. Fortunately, there is a way around this problem on the way from Venus to Mars. You can refuel by making a rendezvous with one of the space stations in orbit around Earth (Fig. 6-3).

Mars From Venus To Mars Speed, Fuel, And Plants

Figure 6-3. On the way from Venus to Mars, an interplanetary vessel can refuel at an Earth-orbiting space station.

The trip from Venus to Earth is uneventful, and you enter an equatorial orbit high above the surface.

“We’ll be staying here for a couple of days,” says the first officer. The ship needs to be checked over, and the Venus craft will be taken off our hands. We’ll use the Mercury lander to set down on Mars, but we also need to get the MUV.”

“What is the MUV?” you ask.

“That’s short for ‘Mars utility vehicle.’”

“I should have known.”

“The MUV is a like the SUVs (sport utility vehicles) that were popular when cars used to burn fossil fuels to get around. Of course, this vehicle, like most modern Earth surface transport vehicles, is powered by compressed hydrogen. The only difference is that the MUV needs to take along its oxygen, too,” says the first officer.

“Can’t the oxygen be extracted from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere?” you ask.

“If that were possible,” says the first officer, “there would be hundreds of robotic MUVs roving Mars right now. It might someday be possible to get oxygen from subsurface water ice on Mars by melting it and electrolyzing it using solar energy, but that is not a convenient way to obtain oxygen for a moving vehicle run by a combustion engine.”

The first officer has just been informed, by means of his digital communicator, that there is a problem with the Valiant , your main ship. Apparently, the life-support systems need some further work before you can embark on the journey to Mars.

“What is the problem?” you ask.

The first officer explains how the life-support system works. “It makes use of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation to manufacture oxygen by a sort of super-plant photosynthesis. Specially bred plants, a result of genetic engineering research, recycle the carbon dioxide from our breath and produce oxygen from it. The result is, ideally, a self-sustaining system that could, if it were possible to overcome other problems, work long enough for humans to go all the way to Saturn and back. (Beyond Saturn, solar radiation is not intense enough for the system to work.) The problem at the moment appears to be that the plants have come down with some sort of ailment,” he says.

“What does this mean?” you ask.

“Replacement photoplants,” says the first officer. “And a few new decorative plants as well.”

“You mean all those potted plants in the residential areas are real?” you ask.

“Of course they’re real,” says the first officer. “You didn’t think they’re plastic, did you? They serve at least two important functions. They assist with the oxygenation of the air, and they help make the ship look less institutional.”

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