Tuesday, March 11, 2008

History Channel: Universe: Colonizing Space (Mars)

On March 11, 2008 The History Channel presented “Colonizing Space” in its Universe series. The focus was, of course on Mars, and the general impression is that it might be possible to have a very small human settlement near the Martian equator by about 2040, and that the planet could be terraformed in about a century with the introduction of greenhouse gases and cultivation of photosynthetic plants.

Apparently computer models show that a warmer Mars with an atmosphere would be about half-covered with water, and would have green plants at least along the “coasts” or beaches. It is surprising that a planet with lower gravity and half the sunlight would be warm enough even with an atmosphere, but apparently there would be relatively little cloud cover, allowing daytime sun warming to earthlike temperatures, at least near the equator.

However it remains to be seen if humans could live indefinitely at 38% Earth’s gravity. Possibly a new “species” would be genetically engineered to do so, and to be able to live outside in solar radiation and very low atmospheric pressure. But that poses profound moral and “political” problems, as often explored in science fiction.

However, it would take many years to a few decades to get a colony established. The minimum crew for the six month one way voyage is four, and they would have to live in extremely close quarters (the stay is eighteen months) on only three gallons of water a day. There would be problems of gravity (possibly a rotating spaceship), and there would be problems of the social relationships in a crew in such a confined space, problems known by the US military and capable of creating political controversy (such as now with the controversy over gays).

There is a parallel between Mars and the Moon as destinations for “Man in Space” and “the New World” and Greenland for the colonists in the last millennium.

Visitors might enjoy the “Dan Fry” Understanding “Man in Space” Symposium in Tonopah, Arizona in 1978 (the pamphlet says 1966, but I attended the event in 1978), link.

Picture: Lunar Eclipse in Feb 2008. Saturn is nearby. It takes light 20 minutes to get to Mars at closest approach, about 70 minutes to Saturn (and Titan).

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