If you followed the news lately, then you’ve probably heard that humans are going back in space. According to credible sources, we’ll fly back to the Moon in 10 years or so and set foot on Mars in 20 years.
Landing a couple of astronauts on the lunar surface is the easy part. History is on our side. In the past century we successfully managed to send a dozen men to the Moon, all Americans. With more powerful technology in the 2020s, a trip to the Moon seems destined for success. Our less than friendly satellite rock has gotten used to humans by now.
Flying astronauts to the Red Planet is much more complex. Mars is far, very far. To put it into perspective for my neighbors, if Frederick is planet Earth and Urbana is the Moon, then Mars would be as far as Florida (when closest to Earth). However, we are keeping up hope, and with some minor tweaks (the big NASA brains are still working to cut exposure to cosmic radiation), there’s a good chance that a manned trip to Mars will happen in my lifetime. When that moment comes, who will be the brave souls, ambassadors of Earth to the Red Planet? Well, I can tell you for sure, not me!
Here are a few things that would keep me grounded on my home planet, with no interest of flying to Mars:
- First of all, the voyagers will constantly be exposed to cosmic rays. Our atmosphere is a shield that filters most of radiation from space. During the roughly three-year trip to Mars, humans will receive radiation equivalent to decades of living on Earth. Excessive cosmic radiation will significantly increase cancer risk. As of 2019, there is no realistic fix for this issue.
- Second, I like fresh food. As a Mexican food aficionado, I want a burrito prepared as my heart desires, complemented by a cold soda. Forget tasty food in space, even if NASA comes a long way flavoring their dry crackers. Note: Twenty years ago, Pizza Hut made headlines with a delivery to the International Space Station. I’m pretty sure they don’t cover Mars yet.
- I like to run in the morning, and I mean true jogging, not being attached to a handful of strings to a treadmill. I can barely run a mile non-stop, but I truly enjoy the intense experience: the green grass under my feet, the hanging myrtle trees in the crisp morning air. Mars is boring by our standards: It would be like walking on an infinite copper-colored sandy beach, without any hope of reaching the ocean.
- I like my bedroom warm and cozy, especially during the winter. Planet Mars is rather chilly daytime, and it gets very cold at night. To save energy, a spaceship will have to keep the inside temperature low, all the time. Be prepared to live ‘al fresco’ for a couple of years.
- Entertainment will be very limited. Today’s iPads can store an impressive amount of digital information, and one can certainly have music and a small library of movies as companions. However, forget about staying fully connected to the human race—there’s no Internet in space!
- On a spaceship, every drop of water is precious, and it’s being recycled … and recycled … and recycled. If you are like me and need a good morning shower, oh well—you’ll have to make a big sacrifice. On a three-year long voyage to Mars, one can only hope to have a weekly sponge bath.
- Lastly, all communication to our home planet will be delayed, so no FaceTime. Most likely one would have to use boring, yet practical texting. Expect a frustrating delay in response of 10 minutes or more.
While I applaud the men and women already in training to conquer the cold darkness of the outer space, I personally embrace my minor role as this planet’s cheerleader. Going to space? No thanks! I’m too much of a die-hard fan of Mother Nature.
Editor’s note: Mike Hilohi is a radiation physicist with the government.