It’s not hard to see why at least two of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have turned their attention to the heavens and the conquest of space. After all when massive estates, million dollar artworks and gargantuan yachts no longer appeal where else is there to blow your billions? The colonisation of Mars certainly captures the imagination but is it all just an absurd folly?
News footage this week generated by NASA’s Perseverance Rover on its barren landscape has again sparked interest in the possible landing of humans on the red planet in the next 10 or 20 years. Throughout the world, and including Australia, numerous research projects are underway to ascertain just how a bunch of cosmic explorers might survive in an environment infinitely more hostile than anything found on earth.
We have all heard about the freezing temperatures, the almost complete lack of oxygen and the massive radiation, meaning that any colony will be basically confined indoors to a bubble or similar structure. A simple stroll outdoors will involve kitting up in a hugely cumbersome space suit and it’s unlikely any human hand will ever run their fingers through Mars’ red dusty soil. It’s a bit like going to Coober Pedy and spending all your entire visit in an underground dug out.
What intrigues me is just how a bunch of intrepid astronauts landing on Mars will sustain themselves for any length of time. There is only so much food they can haul with them and don’t forget that it takes at least seven months to get there. Given that they may carry enough dehydrated goodies for the initial trip, spend a few months there and then make the journey home, the problem arises for any long term stay.
Here it’s suggested, that conditional on water being available, the Mars settlers will grow enough food to feed themselves and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Surely that will mean living on a fairly basic diet, devoid of any of the niceties of life like tea, coffee, chocolate, biscuits, ice cream and chicken wings – to name only a few. Just how this will affect the psyche when the gang in the bubble are told it’s mung beans again for the sixth night in a row!
Astronauts on the International Space Station, who spend on average less than seventh months orbiting the earth, have the luxury of regular restocking missions from earth which in the past have been completed in around two days. They even get to use real toilet paper after an encounter with one of those high tech space toilets. Putting it bluntly there will be no dunny paper on Mars and no trip to the local supermarket to hoard a six pack or two.
Once the novelty of the trip there and a few weeks in the bubble dissipates, my feeling is that even the most psychologically prepared crew will pine for a Whopper, a latte, a Cornetto – or anything that might alleviate their profound sense of social isolation. The lack of food will be equally matched by the paucity of intellectual and cultural stimulation. Maybe Netflix can be beamed to them from earth but chances are the nightly entertainment on Mars will be confined to a game of Scrabble, Cluedo or Twister.
Let’s face it, by all accounts Mars is a shit hole and it’s a massive waste of money and human resources even attempting to start a colony there. Forget the commonly advanced argument that it’s our duty to mankind to explore the solar system and expand our physical boundaries. Surely it’s more important to clean up the horrible mess we have made here on earth as regards poverty, climate change and the destruction of the environment.
Those that spruik the heroic and virtuous qualities of space exploration like Richard Branson and Elon Musk, and profit handsomely by doing so, seem less preoccupied with the present than their glorious vision of the future. The moon landing was over a half century ago and despite the hoo ha at the time, nobody has since bothered to return to its unwelcoming landscape. Admittedly the Chinese are planning to put a man up there and there have been various suggestions of some kind of lunar tourism – albeit for very rich folks.
If a manned mission finally does reach Mars, perhaps the planet will suffer the same fate as the moon landing. The word back to earth will be that there’s f*&@ all out here, bar a big bunch of rock and that the whole billion dollar exercise was just a complete waste of dosh.