The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a commitment with the National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) to commit to a joint long-term program for the exploration of Mars. This treaty comes on the heels of several new technological breakthroughs that could put us on the course for a manned mission to Mars sooner than we previously thought.
Professor David Southwood, who spearheaded the agreement, has said that the program comes as a result of the EU’s being “mature” and “old enough” to have a cooperative venture with the United States. Such a move could result eventually in Martian colonization and open up a gateway to the stars for mankind, eventually even outrunning our own dying sun so that humanity can break the unfathomable reaches between stars and progress ourselves as a species far in advance of what we previously saw in our own futures. Obviously, Mars is a small step in that direction, but a step that has had its fair share of stagnation as funding was cut, rockets exploded due to improper handling, and mankind’s previous farsightedness reached a thirty year roadblock after the Apollo missions found men standing on a cold dead lifeless planet.
In addition to this treaty, there have been several other things that have brought the concept of human footfalls on The Red Planet closer to a reality. In late October, a new rocket system designed by Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield would reduce the projected travel time from six months to a mere 39 days, thanks to new ion propulsion technology. The Ad Astra Rocket company’s VASIMR engine alone has solved several of the problems previously thought to make a long-term Mars expedition almost impossible.
And it’s not just the rockets themselves that have extended the horizon of manned missions. An almost forgotten technique of rocketry that uses the Earth and Moon’s own gravitational pull to project objects into deep space could reduce the amount of fuel required by several factors, making the expedition even more financially obtainable than ever before.
So with the two greatest hurdles, time and fuel quickly diminishing, what stands in the way of mankind’s destiny on The Red Planet other than 34 million miles of space dust and vacuum? Maybe it’s motivation. Earth needs something to do once it gets to Mars. The best way to ensure funding for a space program’s success will not be found in the realms of aeronautics and astrophysics, but in the simple arts of biochemistry and botany. Once agriculture becomes feasible in a transportable environment, and more importantly an eco-system capable of sustaining human life is established, the rest will naturally become motivated enough to follow.
Of course any time mention of a possible Mars mission comes up, it sets the imagination aflame with ideas for possible ways to make it succeed. Rather than sending humans in craft to a dead lifeless planet, what if we worked on making the destination a place worth coming home to first? Automatic assembly drones could work in tandem, each small working robot self replicating with materials inherent on Mars. The robots could essentially be programmed with a “DNA Blueprint” that could create a veritable five star hotel out of basic components, and have such a system waiting for astronauts when they arrive on Mars.
What would allow such an endeavor to happen? Perhaps nanotechnology is beyond our current grasp, but a larger version of robotic systems working in tandem is already in the works. Could this, along with the continued cooperation of the US, Canada, Europe, and the world eventually stretch us across the stars? Only time will tell. But from the looks of it, that time may be sooner than we thought!