The project "Exodus": what is behind the dream of colonization of Mars?

Original author: Elizabeth Kolbert
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On March 27, the American cosmonaut Scott Kelly went from Earth to the ISS. Since then, he is there. [translation of an article from June 2015 - translation note.] Every day, the ISS makes 15.5 revolutions around the planet, which means that in a month Kelly performs more than 450 revolutions around the Earth.

Kelly is 51 years old, his height is only 167 cm, he is a stocky man with a round face and a thin smile. If everything goes according to plan, it will not return to sea level until March 2016. By the time he set a record for being in space among Americans.

Cosmos is bad for the body, even for short periods of time. Changes in intracranial pressure adversely affect the eyes. Lack of weight leads to dizziness. Fluids do not collect in those parts of the body where they should. The muscles will atrophy and the bones become thinner. The internal organs move higher in the body, the spine is extended. By the time of return, Kelly will be 5 cm higher.

NASA called the mission Kelly "Annual Mission." Scientists track his physical and emotional state, sleep, pulse, immune system reactions, coordination of movements, metabolism and intestinal microflora. Kelly has a twin brother, Mark, also an astronaut. During the year, Mark will take the same cognitive and physiological tests as Scott, but already on Earth. This will help explore the effects of space travel, at all levels down to molecular.

Kelly's annual mission is a rehearsal of a longer and more difficult journey. This is the first step "to Mars and beyond." The minimum distance to Mars is 56 million km. from Earth, and in the best case, you can fly to it in nine months. Because of the mutual motion of the planets, astronauts who have reached Mars will have to cool there for another three months before flying back. What Kelly can learn can help predict and overcome the difficulties of interplanetary travel.

But while NASA rehearses its travels to Mars and beyond, the agency’s real capabilities are constantly diminishing. The last time at least the Americans flew to the moon in 1972. Since the Nixon administration, no American has gone beyond low-Earth orbit. The average height of the ISS orbit is 350 km. And today, even at such a height, NASA cannot climb on its own.

After the departure of the space shuttle in 2011, the agency has no money for the delivery of astronauts to near-earth orbit. Kelly first had to fly to Baikonur in Kazakhstan, spend some time in the hotel for cosmonauts, and then go into space with two Russian cosmonauts on the Soyuz rocket.

Of course, the journey is 56 million km long. must start somewhere. But it is worth asking - where are we going? To Mars or just to Kazakhstan?

Similar questions are asked in several books: in some directly, in others - indirectly. Chris Impey is an astronomer at the University of Arizona who studies the structure and evolution of the Universe. In the book "Beyond: Our Future in Space" [Beyond: Our Future in Space] he foresees a bright future beyond Earth. He predicts that the space tourism industry will develop greatly over the course of 20 years and zero-gravity sex motels will appear. Thirty years later, small but viable colonies will appear on Mars and the Moon. And in a hundred years children will begin to be born into them. In 2115 there will be a generation of people who were not born on Earth, and have never visited their homeland.

Impi does not hide the current NASA difficulties. In the book, for example, there is a schedule for changing the agency’s budget by year. From the 1950s to the 1960s, it grew up, and a year or two before the landing in 1969, it accounted for almost 5% of all government spending. And then he went down. Today, NASA receives about 0.5% of the budget.

Impee also does not forget about the failures that ended in two catastrophes - the loss of Challenger and Colombia, and the lives of fourteen astronauts with them. And even when the missiles did not explode, the shuttles did not perform their duties. "The number of launches was 10 times less than planned, and the cost of launches was 20 times higher."

Impi notes that besides NASA, other players are entering the field - private commercial space companies. He cites the bold plans of the Dutch entrepreneur Basa Lansdorp, who advertises traveling to Mars at one end through the Internet. He plans to finance his business by making a reality show of him. Other commercial ventures are Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic, and Eric Anderson and his Space Adventures. The latter has already found a niche, offering tours to wealthy clients. They agreed with the British singer Sarah Brightman, who, however, postponed her trip - apparently, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu will fly instead. “Cosmos is warming up after many years of depression,” writes Impey.

Stephen Petranek, the author of How We'll Live on Mars, is even more optimistic. According to his calculations, the first colonists should appear on Mars for the past ten years. Petranek is a journalist who worked as the editor-in-chief of This Old House magazine, from where he moved to Discover. Perhaps this explains why in his books a large place is given to the presence of the necessary tools among the colonists-builders. “It would be unacceptable to find out when drilling a water well, for example, that you did not foresee the presence of any mineral on your way requiring a special drill.”

Petranek imagines a multistage settlement program. The first colonists will need to fight for survival. Even for the extraction of drinking water they will have to develop the surface of the planet and melt the ice. To obtain air, it will be necessary to extract oxygen from water and mix it with an inert gas, which will also need to be taken somewhere. Gradually, from the adjustment of their lives to the conditions of the planet, the colonists will proceed to the adjustment of the planet to their needs. Rivers will reappear on the planet, more and more people will move to Mars, and, eventually, whole cities will appear there.

He writes that Mars "will turn into a new frontier, a new hope and a new destiny of millions of earthlings who will do everything to take advantage of the opportunities opening up on the Red Planet."

Another look at the future of mankind in space is the book "Exploration and Engineering: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Search for Mars" [Ericdress Conway 's Exploration and Engineering: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Quest for Mars). Conway deals with the history of science at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Its author's style is as dry as the lunar landscape. He is interested in specific technical details that Impee and Petranek omit in their books.

NASA has already conducted several missions that have reached Mars, and several have failed. Since these were not manned missions, success and failure are somewhat mixed in the public view. Conway wants to understand what mistakes were made and what lessons were learned. Judging by his analysis, there is no need to hurry to become a member of the first expedition to Mars.

Consider the Mars Climate Orbiter. This unit looked like a giant TV. He was to collect data on the atmosphere of Mars and serve as a transmitter for other probes. A probe worth $ 125 million was launched from Cape Canaveral in December 1998. For the next 9.5 months, he traveled around the Solar System, and in September 1999 he was to go to a designated orbit, circling Mars and temporarily interrupting communication with the center. He had to get in touch twenty minutes after going around the planet - but he did not. It burned in the atmosphere of the planet. The investigation found that Lockheed Martin, the contracting company, was to blame for the failure. Everything happened because of a programmer's error, which did not translate the English measures of length and weight into metric ones. As a result, the power of shunting engines is 4.5 times higher than necessary.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory serves the Mars missions for NASA. Conway has connections with people who participated in the Mars Climate Orbiter mission, as well as people from more successful projects - for example, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, or MER-1. In January 2004, he landed near the equator in a place where, possibly, there was previously liquid water. Opportunity has already worked 40 times longer than calculated, and still continues to send data. Conway is worried about the agency’s problems, and not least because of the diminished budget. However, Conway believes that people should not rush headlong to the exploration of deep space.

Conway believes that there is a difference between the desire of people to go into space and the desire to understand it. And this difference has more impact than a decreasing budget. This contradiction exists in the very structure of the company, on the one hand, including a program for manned space exploration, and on the other, scientific programs. Martian missions are usually planned by the scientific programs department, but the manned missions department also wants to be involved in planning. And in the case of the intersection of these two directions appears, according to Conway, "chaos."

Conway is leaning towards the scientific mission, and from his point of view, people are not suitable for their implementation. They do not need to strive to get to another planet. They are fragile, demanding and very expensive in terms of shipping.

"People have internal and external biomes - even if NASA can sterilize the Martian vehicles, we will not be able to sterilize ourselves." If people get to the Red Planet (and Conway, who is now 49 years old, believes that this will not happen during his lifetime), they will pollute the surface of the planet simply by appearing on it. "Scientists need clean Mars, not polluted by Earth." Not to mention the case when people start practicing terraforming. “In this case, Mars, which scientists want to study, will cease to exist. Mars will be different. "

A couple of weeks after Scott Kelly got to the ISS, a private company, SpaceX, launched a rocket with cargo for the ISS. In the cargo was electronics, food and twenty live mice for the experiments. Especially for the astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti there was even an espresso machine designed to work in low gravity. As written on the Daily Coffee News website, this will be “one small sip for a man, but a giant sip for all of humanity.”

The rocket was reusable. Her first step was to return to Earth and land gently on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. But this did not happen - the step turned over and exploded. Ilon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, explained on his Twitter account that this was due to the engine valve being too slow.

SpaceX, despite all the setbacks, did the most to prove that the private space could detach itself from the Earth. Mask became an icon of the enthusiasts of Mars. And although SpaceX has not delivered a single person into near-earth orbit (this is planned to be done in 2017), Musk said that serious work is under way on a ship for a flight to Mars, the Mars Colonial Transporter. Details of the project will be known closer to the end of the year.

For Mask, mastering Mars is not just a cool project. “Are we going to become a multiplanetary species?” He asks. “If not, then our future is not so bright. We will just hang out on Earth until some kind of catastrophe destroys us. ”

Impy says the same thing. “Humanity has evolved over millions of years. But over the past 60 years, atomic weapons have created the possibility of complete self-destruction. Sooner or later we must go beyond the limits of the blue-green ball or perish. ” Petranek echoes him. “To continue the existence of humanity there are real threats - in particular, the impossibility of saving our planet from environmental destruction and the possibility of nuclear war. The first people who emigrated to Mars are the best hope for the survival of the species. ”

Why do people who believe that you can live outside the Earth, believe that you can not live on it? In a sense, the relationship between these two ideas can be traced from the time of Enrico Fermi. In 1950, Fermi, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, turned to Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, and asked: "Where is everyone?". The extended formulation of this question, known as the Fermi Paradox, is: The

Earth is an unremarkable planet orbiting an unremarkable star. Given the age of the Universe and the speed of our technical development, one would expect that some intelligent life form from another part of the galaxy would have reached the Earth. But such cases are unknown to us. So where are they?

Ten years later, a Harvard graduate, astronomer Frank Drake, thinking over a similar question, formulated the problem in numerical terms. The key variable in the Drake equation is how long a civilization capable of producing rockets and espresso makers for weightlessness can exist. If there are a lot of habitable planets, and life eventually creates a mind, and if intelligent beings from one planet can figure out how to communicate with beings on another, it means that we do not receive messages from them, says that such civilizations do not live long.

“Looking at our current technological level of development, one might think that something strange is happening to civilizations, in a bad sense of the word,” Musk said in an interview. “It may be that there are so many dead civilizations living on the same planet.” Of course, in a galaxy containing “a lot of dead civilizations that lived on one planet,” there may be dead civilizations that lived on two.

In 1965, NASA prepared to send a man to the moon and at the same time financed a study of what would happen to dogs placed in airless space. Experimental groups of three dogs were closed in the chambers from which the air was pumped out.

Dogs are adapted to the pressure existing at sea damage. The gases inside their body are in balance with external pressure. In a vacuum, this balance is disturbed. Experimental dogs in a vacuum swelled like balloons, or, as described in the report, as "inflated goat-skin bags." Interestingly, the eyeballs were not susceptible to such a swelling, although the soft tissues around them, as well as the tongues, strongly swelled.

The difference in pressure led to bad consequences for the gastrointestinal tract. The bloated dogs got out of the air and out of the intestines. This led to bowel movements, urination and vomiting. The condition of the dogs was like an epileptic seizure, and their tongues froze due to cooling due to rapid evaporation. A total of 126 dogs were tested in this chamber, at various time intervals. A third of those who spent two minutes in a vacuum died. The rest were blown away, and finally recovered. Of those who spent three minutes in a vacuum, two thirds died.

I came across the job “Testing animals for decompression in near-vacuum environment” while searching for materials on the Annual Mission. And I suddenly realized that, despite all my training and courage, Kelly was, in fact, another experimental mammal. Like dogs, it was closed in an airtight chamber to find out how much its body can withstand. And in both experiments, the results are pretty predictable.

Any creature we have encountered so far, from dogs, humans and mice to turtles, spiders and seahorses, is adapted by evolution to existence on such a cosmic accident as the planet Earth. The idea that we can take these beautiful and amazing life forms and throw them into space, and that this action will be our “best hope” is either too fantastic or too depressive.

As Impey mentioned, for 60 years now there is the possibility of blowing up all of humanity. And such a day may come. At the very least, we already destroy many different creatures. But the problem of considering Mars as a planet for retreat misses one obvious thing (except for the lack of oxygen, air pressure, food and liquid water). Wherever we go, we take with ourselves. Or we can deal with the threats associated with our rationality, or not. Perhaps we have not yet met any alien race because the surviving races do not belong to the races that are worn throughout the galaxy. Maybe they sit quietly in their homes and take care of the gardens.

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