Life on Mars Help (page 3)
Introduction to Life on Mars
The temperature on Mars never rises above the freezing point as we know it on Earth. At night in the winter, Mars would make Antarctica seem inviting by comparison. As if this were not bad enough, the Sun blasts the surface with ultraviolet radiation because the air is not thick enough to shield against it. Some high-speed solar particles also might reach the surface following solar flares.
What Might Live There?
If there is any sort of life remaining on Mars, it must be a primitive sort of bacteria or virus or some hardy “germ” similar to the toughest organisms on Earth. Even these life forms would not be found on the surface but underground.
After the invention and deployment of the first telescopes in the seventeenth century, some observers of Mars claimed to see straight lines connecting the dark areas near the equator with the polar caps. Percival Lowell, one of the most noted astronomers of all time, theorized late in the nineteenth century that these canals logically would have been constructed by a civilization intent on surviving a planet whose climate was becoming ever-more hostile. Numerous canals , as they were called, were mapped by some observers. These were optical illusions; the orbiter probes showed no such canals (although the dried-up river beds they did see were every bit as interesting and were no illusion).
No sign of life has ever been found on Mars. There is no indication that intelligent life has ever set foot (or appendage of any other sort) on its surface.
Science-fiction writers have taken advantage of the fact that Mars, while not a hospitable place by Earthly standards, at least presents an environment where life might survive with the proper equipment. Thus H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds , published around the year 1900, created a cult of people who believed in the existence of native Martians. Ironically, it was our own Earthly disease bacteria that prevented us, in this horrifying tale, from being annihilated by the gigantic, slimy aliens whose ships came streaking down like meteorites and who stalked our planet in armored contraptions resembling nothing humanity had ever seen before.
Mars has been suggested as a possible colony for pioneers from Earth. Perhaps the water ice in the permafrost can be released, plants can be introduced to provide oxygen for the atmosphere, and other large-scale operations can be launched in an attempt to make Mars into an Earthlike place. However, the obstacles to such a project are formidable indeed. The low surface gravity, the lack of a substantial magnetic field to protect against the solar wind, and the possibility that the undertaking could create some horrible, incurable new disease strains must all be taken into consideration. Arguably, it will be far easier to control the population explosion on our own planet so that it never becomes necessary to colonize Mars.
Despite all the naysayers, we Earth dwellers undoubtedly will try to go to Mars. Why? Because it is there, and we have the technology to get there. Who knows? Maybe we will find primitive life there. Maybe Mars bases will be built. Maybe people will learn to think of the Red Planet as their home, being born, educated, and employed there. We will then, by all rights, be entitled to call ourselves colonizers of space! However, it will take a special sort of human being to endure the rigors of a life spent on Mars.
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).
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.”
The Rigors Of Space Travel
The trip to Mars will take several months; this delay only adds to the tedium of interplanetary travel.
“Is there time enough for me to go down and visit my family for a while?” you ask.
“Yes,” says the first officer. “But not enough money. The new space shuttles are smaller, faster, more efficient, and less expensive to operate than the gigantic rocket-boosted ships of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, but they aren’t free, and this mission was difficult to get approved. Taking civilians such as yourself into space has always been unpopular with certain people in the establishment.”
You will watch more videos, read more books, and work out with ever-increasing devotion. The exercise is vital, and not just for staying in physical shape. An attitude problem can take hold of space travelers if they don’t get enough exercise. The captain had explained it once, when she was in one of her rare talkative moods.
“It’s called, logically enough, ‘space-travelers’ depression,’” she said. “It is like the old problem they used to call ‘cabin fever,’ except worse. Fortunately, there is a simple cure. It involves careful attention to nutrition, plenty of visible light at the same wavelengths as those from the Sun, and a great deal of aerobic exercise.”
So you take your vitamins. You make sure you eat the right foods, in the right amounts, and on the right schedule. You drink plenty of water. And you increase your workouts to twice a day, for an hour and a half each session. The last thing you need is to get depressed 50 million kilometers (30 million miles) from your home planet.
Entering Mars Orbit
By the time the ship nears the Red Planet, you are more video-literate, audio-literate, and aerobically fit than ever before in your life. “Most civilians,” the first officer explains, “are mistaken for California natives when they return to Earth from one of these journeys.”
“Why is that?” you ask.
“They are thin, they are fit, and they know every character in every movie produced during the last 100 years.”
The orbit around Mars, just as the trip from Earth to Mars, will be exactly in the Earth’s ecliptic plane (not that of Mars). There’s a good reason for this: fuel economy. Altering the plane of travel, even minutely, is a fuel-guzzling business. Because of this efficiency, the round trip between Earth and Mars requires less fuel than did the journey from Earth to Mercury, then to Venus, and then back to Earth.
Practice problems of this concept can be found at: Mars Practice Problems
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