Fancy stepping onto Mars in 2030? NASA is already taking the steps to make this happen
Ground Control to Major Tom
Brave new world
In the grand scheme of things, planet Earth is but a tiny blimp in the universe. Given that there are over 10,000 new galaxies humans have yet to explore, we're talking about a scale of infinity that we can barely begin to come to terms with. During a recent panel session at EmTech Asia 2017 with Dr Dava Newman, Apollo Program Professor Chair MIT, and Dr David Oh, Project Systems Engineer & Former Lead Flight Director at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, we gleaned a few insights into the big unknown that is space, and how NASA's journey to Mars has changed our understanding of the solar system.
1. Let there be light
Love watching sunsets? As it turns out, it's even more spectacular in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station witness around 15 sunrises and 15 sunsets every day. The space station orbits the earth at approximately 27,700 km per hour and takes about 92 minutes to circle the Earth once. It follows that astronauts get to witness a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.
2. Mars, here we come
2030. That's the year NASA plans to send a human to the Red Planet — and that reality isn't too far away. As it is, the journey to Mars has already begun, with NASA and its partners sending orbiters and rovers to this fourth planet from the sun. Most notably, NASA's Curiosity rover has successfully landed in Mars, gathering such information as radiation data to increase our knowledge about the planet. The big questions still remain: Is there life on Mars? Will it be the next safe home for humans?
3. Holding up a mirror to human physiology
When astronauts return to earth, it takes them awhile to acclimatise to life on earth. Most of them forget that gravity exists and tend to release and drop items to the floor without thinking twice. After all, up in space, these items would simply float away. They also have to learn how to regain motor control, use their 'land legs' again and navigate corners without bumping into them. These tasks seem easy enough, but if you've lived and worked in space for long periods of time, it takes time to adjust to the forces of gravity. What happens to the human body in space? NASA's Human Research Program has shown that the muscles and bones begin to deteriorate, making it necessary for astronauts to exercise daily. Exposure to radiation could also increase one's lifetime risk for cancer and the program is concerned with how best to protect humans from the harmful effects of radiation, yielding findings which can be mapped onto current developments in medical science.
4. Earthly harvest
Space, as big an unknown as it is, has much to teach as about science. You've probably used the GPS function on your phone today — and that technology was first developed in space before it trickled down to commercial applications on Earth. Technology developed for space exploration in the '60s has laid the groundwork for much of the connectivity that we enjoy today.
5. Psyched about Psyche
Imagine an asteroid the size of Massachusetts that's made of over 95 per cent of iron and nickel. That's Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It is suspected to be a survivor of violent hit-and-run collisions in space. Why is it of interest to the folks at NASA? Every world we've explored thus far (apart from gas planets such as Jupiter or Saturn), have possessed a surface of ice or rock. Psyche, with it's predominantly metal core, could shed light on how Earth's core and the cores of the other terrestrial planets were formed.
Keen to find out more about NASA and space exploration? Drop by NASA - A Human Adventure, at the Art Science Museum. The exhibition runs from now until 19 March 2017.