Thursday, April 2, 2015
Crow contemplates space
Mars is very far away. While Crow and I sipped brandy and nibbled on pieces of the fine antique fruitcake saved for his homecoming, our conversation turned to an enterprise that's been widely reported this past year or two, namely, the all volunteer mission planned to colonize the planet that's even further from the sun than this one - Mars One. The general idea behind the plan is that it will be a televised reality show whose ultimate goal is to see how four human beings will react during a 7-9 month flight to Mars where (all being well) they will land near some habitat buildings sent separately. Considering the fact it's to be a one way journey the televised program will then see how they get by - the ultimate Lost program.
It sounds pretty silly to us for many reasons, but we wonder just how ill informed these volunteers must be. Do you suppose they've received all their information about space travel from reading the novels of Jules Verne? Just a brief look at the Wikipedia article titled 'Effect of space flight on the human body' is enough to curl one's hair - or feathers as the case may be. Without taking into account the dangers of vacuum on the human body, there are aspects of travel inside current space vehicles that should make any sensible person realize that base jumping off Mt. Fuji or street luging are far safer activities. Here are a couple of examples starting with what their ship has to dodge on its way out of Earth orbit:
There are spent rocket stages, defunct satellites, explosion fragments and even needles, bolts and paint chips up there, reminding us that we are very good at littering. Imagine how a bolt traveling at 17k mph could ruin your travel plans.
Increased radiation levels: Without the protection of Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere astronauts are exposed to high levels of radiation. Crew living on the ISS are partially protected by the magnetosphere. Radiation can result in immune system damage, cancers, and cataracts. In 2013, NASA scientists reported that a possible manned mission to Mars may involve a great radiation risk based on the amount of energetic particle radiation outside Earth's perimeter.
Weightlessness: Zero gravity has a nasty effect on the human body; over the course of a trip to Mars, it could result in a loss of 20% of muscle mass total and the loss of 1.5% bone density per month. When gravity is taken away or reduced during space exploration, the blood tends to collect in the upper body instead, resulting in facial edema and other unwelcome side effects such as increased intracranial pressure. This appears to increase pressure on the backs of the eyeballs, affecting their shape and slightly crushing the optic nerve. Great. You probably don't want to know about the toilets.
Motion sickness: 45% of astronauts suffer from this but generally for no longer than 72 hours.
Rest: Sleep patterns are badly disturbed by space travel, and more than half of astronauts on long-haul missions take sedatives to help them sleep. Fatigue and lethargy result in impaired cognitive functions and an increase in critical errors, which is why astronauts only have 6.5 “fit” work hours per day.
No human being (other than my friend, Andrew Scott) has left low-Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and the effect of long-term space travel is not a major topic in the annals of scientific medical literature.
Supposing our intrepid amateur astronauts arrive at their destination (there have been 43 unmanned missions to Mars so far - 21 have failed), they will learn for themselves:
Mars is freezing, minus 62 degrees Celsius on average.
It is barren, nothing much to see but reddish rocks.
Mars has almost no atmosphere, burned off over billions of years by solar winds, leaving the surface exposed to deadly amounts of radiation. Roughly every five years, the planet is blanketed in a dust storm that blocks the sun for months at a time.
Gravity on Mars is only 38% that of Earth’s. Effects on people are unknown.
Sunlight on Mars is very weak. Vitamin D deficiency can cause loss of muscle and bone density, can suppress immune strength, and at its most severe causes blindness.
A lack of energy can be exacerbated by the limited diet astronauts must subsist on. Once their initial supplies run out, Mars colonists would eat only food they could grow themselves - whatever that might be.
Depression, anxiety, listlessness, hallucinations, and chronic stress have all been reported in live missions and training simulations. As have communication breakdowns and conflict among crews and between mission command. Lastly, there is no way to know how a human mind will encounter passing the threshold of no return, when the Earth recedes from sight, and the pitch black enormity of deep space and the impossibility of ever turning back sinks in.
So I drew a picture of Crow with one of his friends standing outside a Mars colony base. Is it inhabited or did 2024 arrive and they'd all found something better to do?
All this may be moot since a young professor of Crow's acquaintance, Dr. Joseph Roche, who has PhD's in physics and astrophysics left the program after discovering Mars One is very likely a scam. Who could have guessed?