Mars is one of the planets in the solar system. It is referred to as the red planet due to its appearance. It is the second smallest planet after Mercury. Mars is just after planet Earth. It is believed that human beings can survive on Mars. Since Mars is one of the closest planets to the sun, it is considered a terrestrial planet. It is interesting to note that the planet can be seen from Earth. It comprises of minerals that contain metals, oxygen and silicon. Mars has been of great interest to the space arena and science for many years. Many people including scientists, astronauts and average people are curious about how it would be like for them to live on another planet. That is why organizations such as NASA are still examining whether there is life on Mars. This piece seeks to discuss whether life is possible on Mars.
Environmental Conditions of Planet Mars
The scientific search for life on Mars started in the 19th Century and is still ongoing. The searches were conducted through landing missions and telescopic investigations. Astrobiologists are of the opinion that water is essential when exploring for life. Scientists speculate that in the past, water from streams and rivers flowed on the surface of Mars. However, they believe that the water vanished into space. The scientists suggest that those early conditions on Mars could have supported life in the planet. Today, the planet is barren and dry with a majority of its water now in polar ice caps. To make matters worse, Mars has a thin atmosphere allowing radiation from the sun to reach its surface. The small atmosphere makes the environment inhabitable. The planet’s temperature average 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperatures can be low as 195 degrees Fahrenheit. The salts in Mars are corrosive and they can harm human beings and other organisms.
Scientists take on survival on Mars
Researchers confirmed three out of thirty-four meteorites had shown past the possibility of life on Mars. The three meteorites are:
- ALH 84001- it comprised of structures from remnants of bacteria-like life forms. In 2012, it was established that no life was involved in the formation of the structure.
- Nakhla- it was linked to DNA in earthly rocks. Its structure is still unknown, and no DNA was found.
- Shergotty –comprised of characteristics of microbial communities.
However, scientists believe that life on Mars is possible. They have offered many ideas that would go a long way to making life on the red planet possible. Spacesuits can be done to assist in keeping off radiation from the sun. A person can plant his or her crops in the Martian soil after doing away with poisons contained in the soil. Peoples’ habitat should be heated and pressurized to provide them favorable conditions on Mars. In 2016, NASA reported discovering underground ice. They have equated this volume of water with that in Lake Superior.
To date, the Scientists cannot confirm the past or present existence of life in Mars. The discovery of water on Mars does not help scientists know if life on Mars is possible. It only gives them hope of life in Mars. The scientists will continue to explore the possibility of life on Mars. NASA has scheduled other missions to Mars to continue their exploration.
In what promises to be an exciting prospect, the ESA and NASA have announced that they will be joining forces in their attempts to take astronauts to Mars. The announcement by two of the Earth’s largest space agencies is seen as a step to taking humans outside of the Earth’s orbit for the first time since 1972. That’s right. 1972 witnessed the last of the six landings on the moon by NASA. Ever since then, the furthest from the orbit of the earth that humans have gone is the International Space Station. Although the initial target of the cooperation between ESA and NASA is to take astronauts to the moon, the long-term view is to have manned missions to Mars. These missions would represent huge strides being made in the world of space exploration. Ever since mankind conquered the moon, manned missions to Mars has always been its next target.
What Have the Cooperating Agencies Planned in the Run Up to the Manned Mars Missions?
To begin with, the manned missions to Mars are heavily dependent on the success of the initial phase – a manned spacecraft that will orbit around the moon. This mission is expected to take place by 2021. During this mission to the moon, it is anticipated that the spacecraft will orbit around the moon in three extending orbits. It is then scheduled to return to Earth in what is expected to be the fasted re-entry ever done by a manned mission.
They have further joined hands with Airbus, the aerospace company from France. Airbus is expected to come up with the module that will get initially get astronauts to the moon. The module is supposed to have characteristics similar to Orion, which it has already sent to NASA. It is to be used in unmanned flights. Orion’s unmanned flights will, therefore, form the initial phase with the main aim being the testing of the spacecraft. Once successful, it will be followed by the manned flights to the moon. These flights are expected to have four astronauts, although the final number of astronauts will be arrived at after some other factors are considered. Once these flights are successful, they will be followed by manned Mars missions in the years that will follow. The tentative date for the manned Mars missions is set at around 2025.
ESA and NASA’s Cooperation Shows That Joining Forces is the Way to Go
The spirit of co-operation by space organizations is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is what led to the formation of the International Space Station. Over the years, there has been this realization that it has become increasingly difficult for a single space agency or country to send missions that are manned outside the earth’s orbit. Notwithstanding the fact there have been significant strides in the advancement of aerospace technology, the costs involved in preparing manned missions are prohibitive. The future, therefore, lies in the sharing of the resources and technology that is available. This exchange can only take place where space agencies and countries cooperate with each other. Cooperation, however, has been made difficult by some organizations which remain non-committal to the idea. Chinese and Russian agencies are the most notorious for these. They prefer to undertake space programs on their own.
Most observers will keenly follow the efforts of ESA and NASA with the hope that the agencies manned missions to Mars will materialize.
NASA’s efforts to investigate and look out for signs of life on planet Mars are set to go on. These efforts are in the form of the Mars Rover 2020 Mission. More specifically, the mission by the 2020 rover will examine specific regions of Mars where the conditions might have been conducive to life. In the course of the investigation, the rover is expected to collect rock and soil samples, and then store them on the surface. The researchers hope that the samples will then be taken back to Earth through another mission in the future. Once the samples reach Earth, they will be analyzed for signs of any form of ancient life on the red planet. The samples will also be analyzed in special laboratories for any potential health risks. These results will then influence how future missions by humans will be undertaken.
Where is the Mars Rover 2020 Expected to Land?
With the rover scheduled to land in February of 2021, NASA has chosen three sites where the rover could land. These sites were narrowed down from a pool of about thirty locations. The top picks by Nasa are Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis. Let’s briefly look at the characteristics of these sites and why NASA chose them.
The Jezero Crater is a prehistoric lakebed. A statement by NASA officials suggests that microbial life could have found a way to develop in the crater. It also has a structure similar to that of a river delta. From the look of this structure, it seems that water occupied the crater and then drained at least two times. Additionally, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter identified some minerals analyzed to have been chemically transformed by water.
Searching Possible Landing Sites
Another of the top three landing spots chosen by NASA is the Columbia Hills. Explored by the Mars exploration rover Spirit, it forms part of the enormous Gusev crater. It is the only spot on the crater where the spacecraft was able to find any signs of water. In fact, the exploration by Spirit revealed evidence of mineral hot springs in the past. These traces of water perhaps explain why Columbia Hills was shortlisted by NASA as one of the three potential landing sites for the 2020 rover.
The third landing site chosen by NASA is the Northeast of Syrtis. Research suggests that an ancient volcano resulted to the warming up of the area. The heat from this volcano could then have led to the formation of hot springs and the melting of ice. The two events could then have provided a perfect environment for microbial life to thrive. NASA specifically targets the edge of these volcanos. Scientists at NASA think that this site has a lot of minerals that were transformed through encounters with water. This transformation is suspected to have occurred during the early years of planet Mars.
However, the final decision as to the particular landing site will be probably made in 2018. This would be during the fourth workshop on the mission. Should the workshop not conclusively deal with the issue of landing sites, then a further workshop will be held in 2019. The criteria to determine the best landing site includes a place where the rover can land and travel safely, a place where there are a variety of rocks and soils to be analyzed, where the best environment that supported life existed and finally where there are rocks that would hold any indication of ancient life.