Friday, July 04, 2008

Going to Mars

Going to Mars
Originally uploaded by daveterry.
If you are going to Mars you'll need to know a few things.

First off, take plenty of books, you'll need them. Using today's rockets and equipment it'll take you about 9 to 10 months to get there. Mars is 35 million miles away.

Oh, and you'll need a reading light. For two months of the trip you'll be hurling through inky black space. No Sun, no Earth, no Mars. Just total darkness.

There will not be a lot of trips to Mars in your lifetime. The opportunity comes around only every 26 months, providing the rocket is back from it's previous trip. You see, to benefit the most from the gravity of earth and your sling into space, you have to blast off at just the right time. And that's true also for your return trip. When you get to Mars you'll have to wait a few months before earth is at the position to accept you back. Otherwise you could return only to find empty space where the Earth once was. It takes perfect timing. So now you know where we got that expression: "waiting for the planets to align."

Of course, if you get sick, you'll need to take care of yourself or maybe one of the flight crew will be a doctor. If the worst should happen, they'll have to bury you at space. Kinda what they used to do on long sea voyages, dump the dead bodies overboard.

Most say that in order to get to Mars you'll require far too much fuel than could be blasted into space in one rocket. You'll need about 60 rockets worth of supplies. And even if that could happen, 60 rockets worth of stuff wouldn't fit on the existing space station. It'll be a while before they build one that can. So don't buy your ticket yet.

Still, some are getting ready for the flight that could come in about 20 years. They are setting up Mars simulation sites in Antarctica. To help determine what happens to a body in weightlessness, some of the volunteers spend 60-90 days in bed. Now that's the ultimate job, getting paid to lay around. Cool.

One of the more interesting findings is the psychological issues that come with long space exploration. People have a very hard time living in a soup can while hurling through space sitting in each other's laps for 10 months. You tend to get on each other's nerves. But scientists have discovered that those that cook together form closer bonds. Well, if that's true in space, it's got to be true here on earth. You know the saying: "Families who eat together..." What's that saying again?

NPR got me to thinking about all of this when I heard a report about Mars exploration. But, I dunno, it really doesn't excite me much. I've got way to much to do here. And if I went away, I'd have plenty of catching up I'd have to do. Just trying to catch up on all my email for the past two years would require 10 months. (Two years is the total round trip time to Mars. Getting there, walking around for a little window shopping, you know, picking up a few trinkets, and then the return trip home.)

Oh, and don't imagine you'll be conversing much with family and friends during the flight. By the time you get to Mars the transmission delay is 45 minutes.

Yeah, traveling to Mars is no walk in the park.

Count me out.

Most things I worry about never happen.