The guide to 'Colonizing the Red Planet'
A manned mission to Mars would be the greatest adventure in the history of the human race. And one man knows how to make it a reality. In fact, he just wrote the book on it -- literally.
Joel Levine, senior research scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center and co-chair of NASA's Human Exploration of Mars Science Analysis Group, just published "The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet." The book reads like a who's who of Mars mission science, featuring senators, astronauts, astrophysicists, geologists and more on getting to Mars, studying its atmosphere and climate, the psychological and medical effects on the crew and other details.
There's even a section detailing the science of sex on Mars, should NASA attempt to create a permanent colony there.
"For the last three years, I've been co-chairing a panel of about 30 U.S. and Canadian scientists, coming up with a blueprint, purely from a scientific perspective, of humanity's role on Mars," Levine told FoxNews.com. He was asked to put together a special edition of the Journal of Cosmology exploring the topic, which was just published as the new book.
"The United States of America is the only country that can do this successfully right now," he said. And to remain the technological leader of the world, he argued, we need to do this. And it's quite possible, the book notes; after all, a trip to Mars isn't even a lengthy one.
"The trip to Mars would take on the order of 220 days using today’s chemical propulsion technology," writes Steven A. Hawley, a former astronaut now with the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, in a chapter on the challenges and sacrifices of the trip to Mars. He suggests either a short duration or longer duration stay before the return trip. "The longer surface mission would enable significant science, but also expose the crew to greater risk if systems don’t function as planned."
But regardless of whether a colony is initially established, Levine is passionate -- and poetic -- about a trip to Mars. "When we do this, the human species will be a two-planet species for the first time ever," he said. A trip to Mars would open up countless revelations and possibly answer one of the greatest questions science today seeks to answer: is there life elsewhere in the universe?
"The search for life outside the Earth is one of the key questions in all of science," he told FoxNews.com, "and of all the objects in the Solar System, Mars is the most likely."
Many scientists speculate that life may exist on the red planet today in the form of microorganisms, and the book concludes that a manned mission could very well answer that question for once and all. "All of the articles here conclude that yes, it's possible that when we go to Mars we will find microorganism at the surface or below the surface."
Another question Levine believes the mission will answer deals with the strange history of Mars -- which he called the most intriguing, and the most confusing planet in the solar system. Today Mars has no liquid water and a very, very thin atmosphere -- it's like the Earth's atmosphere at 100,000 feet, he said. Yet we have very, very strong evidence that its surface used to be covered with water. What happened to it all?
"What catastrophic event led to Mars going from an Earth-like planet to a very inhospitable planet today?" he asked. The Mars mission would send humans there to study that, and see if there's a lesson in the planet for the future of Earth.
Levine has a general timeline in mind for the mission, which he hopes to launch by 2040. He believes we could launch the missions far sooner, however -- if we could afford to. Tragically, the major problem for getting humans to Mars isn't building new spacecraft, furthering science, or inventing new technologies, he says.
The only hold-up is the budget. "NASA's budget is 18 billion a year, and I don't think we can seriously plan a launch until 2040" given those funds, he said. "If NASA's budget went up 3 billion a year, or 5 billion a year, we could do it in half the time."
But Levine presents a solution for that problem in his book as well, something unprecedented for NASA: advertising. "The suggestion is marketing to different corporations and professional sports leagues for advertising, which is something NASA never does -- it's a whole new economic plan for financing what has to be the greatest adventure in the history of the human race."
Author: Jeremy A. Kaplan | Source: Fox News [December 30, 2010]