Its costly, but by exploring the red planet we could solve some of the great mysteries about space and ourselves
When US president Donald Trump called astronauts aboard the International Space Station last week to congratulate Peggy Whitson, who now holds the record for the most time spent in space by a Nasa astronaut, he also asked when he could expect to see humen land on Mars( answer: the 2030 s ). Well, we want to do it in my first word or at the worst in my second word, he joked, so well have to velocity that up a bit.
Nasas not alone in its mission. Space bureaux worldwide “re looking for” Mars, and the coming decades hold numerous plans for manned and unmanned missions. Although other worlds in the solar system hold significant scientific promise( not least Saturns moon Enceladus, which hosts a salty underground ocean and was found to have almost all of the ingredients are necessary to ensure life as we know it about a week ago ), it seems that we just love Mars the most. Too much? I dont think so.
Mars is an especially good mission target due to its proximity to us, and has been easy to see in the sky since the year dot; it is relatively similar to Earth in a number of crucial styles, stimulating it a better bet for manned missions and potential colonisation than any other planet in the solar system. There is still much we do not know about countries around the world and so much science to be done there.
We have loved Mars for centuries. The planet has firmly embedded itself in our culture, so much so that Martian is somewhat synonymous with alien although the foreigners you imagine, from sleek black obelisks to giant Wellsian tin cans or little green humanoids, may vary.
Science-fiction writers Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, HG Wells, John Wyndham, Robert A Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick have penned thousands of pages about the red planet. Staggeringly influential albums have described otherworldly rock starrings with backing bands of Martian spiders. A story about an cosmonaut( played by Matt Damon) cultivating potatoes on the surface of Mars became a Hollywood blockbuster in 2015, raking in $630 m at box offices around the world. All manner of television programmes have found inspiration in Mars, from Captain Scarlet to Looney Tunes hapless Marvin the Martian.
This cultural interest is mirrored in scientific interest. Our first mission to Mars launched in 1960, and we have attempted more missions to the planet than to anywhere else in the solar system bar the Moon. Given this history, youd be forgiven for thinking that we must know almost all there is to know about Mars by now but thats absolutely no truth to the rumors. For one, were still unsure of how Mars formed. The planet is surprisingly small, and doesnt fit into our models of how the solar system came together. Were not sure how its two small moons formed, either. These lumpy, bumpy rocks have puzzling properties. They may have formed in orbit around Mars, they may be captured asteroids, they may be the result of a giant, shattering impact that knocked material from their mother planet or something else.
We also absence a complete understanding of Marss history. We find signs of past water all over its surface and in its chemistry, and so think it was once much warmer than it currently is in order to support liquid water. However, were not sure how this waterworld changed into the arid hunk we see today. To support widespread water and warmth, Marss atmosphere must have been very thick during the planets youth( likely facilitated by a far stronger magnetic field, which has long since switched off ). Where did it all go?
Then, of course, theres the question of life. Is the planet habitable? Is there, or was there ever, life on Mars ? We dont know enough to be sure either way. Perhaps dormant microbes lie buried deep in the soil, or are happily flourishing in warm underground aquifers away from prying eyes. Perhaps the planet is lifeless and always has been, or life has died out.
Read more: www.theguardian.com