The idea of travelling amongst the stars is often romanticized in science fiction and pop culture. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly are just a few examples where space flight is so well developed in that universe that traveling to another world is as easy as it is for us to travel to another country. Travelling by spacecraft in science fiction is often akin to travelling by airplane in the real world. But even as advanced as our technology is compared to when Star Trek first aired or when Star Wars graced the movie screens, it still is not quite at that level. The furthest mankind has ever touched down in space is the Moon, a relatively meager 238,900 miles away. For reference, Mars, the next place humanity may travel to, is 33.9 million miles away. And that’s only the next planet over from Earth. Mars has been a challenge to scientist for a long time. The closest it ever gets to Earth is 35.8 million miles, or 57.6 kilometers (1). Even at the fastest a NASA spacecraft can go (100,000 miles per hour in heliocentric speed), we still won’t get there for 350 days, or about a year. But in order to truly understand the troubles NASA and other space agencies are having in quite possibly the biggest engineering problem in the modern day, we must examine what makes it so hard for people to go into space.
If you paid attention in your History classes, you may remember the hardships faced by settlers whenever they tried to create colonies on new land. These included finding food, shelter, and fighting diseases. A lack of supplies, little to no knowledge of the terrain, and long journeys all contributed to make colonization a particularly difficult challenge. But the main difference here is that there was still air in those new lands. And there was still water. And soil to plant crops and… see what I’m getting at? The land on practically anywhere we go, at least in this solar system, will be hostile and infertile. There won’t be any air to breathe, we’ll have to bring our own oxygen. And depending on where we go, there will be little to no water. And any that we find, we may not be actually able to use it. However, humanity is crafty, and we have had scientists working on this for decades. Three main problems for space travel is having enough oxygen, enough water, and and enough power to get to a given destination. Water molecules can be split up into oxygen and hydrogen, which is “possible using a process known as electrolysis, which involves running a current through a water sample containing some soluble electrolyte” (2). The oxygen could be used to breathe and the hydrogen could serve as a much needed fuel source. It is also possible to recombine the atoms and create water molecules, allowing the water to be recycled, theoretically. While all of this technology still requires massive work, it is the first steps to solving several key issues with the colonization of Mars.
An upside to colonizing Mars is the knowledge humanity will gain from it. While Mars is probably our best known planet outside of Earth, we still know very little about it. If we were to colonize Mars, this could lead to a lot of new discoveries about Mars. As useful as they are , rovers can only do so much. Whereas humans are able to analyze better and can do certain tests that rovers may not be able to do. This would give us new data on Mars and help us understand not just Mars but also the rest of the universe. With this knowledge we could create new inventions for further colonization. Ways to terraform planets or better ways of transporting people and goods. Colonizing Mars would be a jumping off point for humans to start expanding out into the cosmos.
So, will we ever get to the point where we travel the cosmos? Is it possible to colonize other worlds? Humanity has a habit of asking “ Can we go there? Maybe we can go there.” (3). So what’s to stop from going to the final frontier? What stops us from making that leap into the heavens? The answer, of course, is our own willingness to go there. And by the looks of the technological advancements we are making to do it, I’d say we’re willing to.
- “Mars Close Approaches.” NASA, NASA, mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/nightsky/mars-close-approach/.
- Dunnill, Charles W. “Method of Making Oxygen from Water in Zero Gravity Raises Hope for Long-Distance Space Travel.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 July 2018, theconversation.com/method-of-making-oxygen-from-water-in-zero-gravity-raises-hope-for-long-distance-space-travel-99554.
- Staff, Wired. “The 12 Greatest Challenges for Space Exploration.” Wired, Conde Nast, 16 Feb. 2016, http://www.wired.com/2016/02/space-is-cold-vast-and-deadly-humans-will-explore-it-anyway/.