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?


Should Fish More said...

So I'm guessing you're not getting in line?

It may well be a scam, though those involved, from the interviews I've heard on NPR, are aware that it's not in the near future, and they are going to be too old by the time (if the time) comes when it happens.

Man, I dunno. At 30, nah, I'd not go. At 70, sure. In a new york minute. Becoming a mummy on the surface of Mars, and causing explorers 100 years from now consternation? I'm all over that.

Crow and the intrepid girl look right out of a 50's Sci Fi magazine.

marja-leena said...

I'm reminded of the film "Space Odyssey" which left me at the end in a state of pertrified horror. I had nightmares from it! You won't see me in line for a trip to Mars. I love this Earth too much.

Lovely drawing. Bet you'd have a hard time doing that in a spaceship :-)

susan said...

Not me. No. Never. But I see your point.

Meanwhile, Mars One has set space science back at least a decade by perpetuating stupidity about how space travel works.

Some of those old mags had great artwork :)

susan said...

Oh, Marja-Leena, I saw that movie a number of times and discussed its meaning with friends many times more. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark were both very brilliant and far thinking men. I'm so sorry to learn it frightened you and hope you'll read the interpretation we eventually agreed upon all those years ago.

the first monolith found by apes 4bn years ago
man evolves to become a master of tool use
he has built spaceships
the master of Earth is a child in space
the second monolith is a challenge
man builds another ship run by a computer
Hal sees men as maintenance staff
men must breathe - weak
battle between man and his tools
old ape ingenious and courageous
man kills computer
ending his evolutionary use of tools
faces unknown supernatural mystery
finds a room in another dimension
where the last challenge is death
glass broken wine still there
body spirit
you let your tech almost destroy you
the light does not die
man is ready for the next step
body cast aside - the Starchild is born

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
It’s a long, long way to planet mars, but I’m sure Crow could find a wormhole shortcut to get there fast. But I think he worked it out long ago it’s all going to be a big fizzer as one would be confined to a ghastly little hovel of a home and you need to take everything with you and rely totally on future supplies from planet earth.
I understand he has withdrawn support for the scheduled Crow crowd funding event, but note he is still willing to pose for photos in the originally designed space outfit, which you have so artfully portrayed.
Best wishes

Ol'Buzzard said...

I love nerd science facts; thanks - I enjoyed this post..
It is hard to type with a cat in my lap grabbing my hands
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

Hi Lindsay
Oh I'm quite sure you're right that Crow could go there if he wanted, but he tends to only travel to places where he has friends, or possible friends. If ever there was anyone on Mars to talk to they've long since moved on.
Crow's ongoing efforts continue in the vein of helping creatures here. I'm glad you like the picture of his outfit - he was most proud of it.
All the best

susan said...

I'm happy you liked it, OB. My favorite is learning new things too.
Sounds like your cat has been stuck in the house too long.

Andrew R. Scott said...

Well now, thanks for the mention and a few points: Have you considered the effects of life on Earth on the human body? That doesn't make great reading either. That space-suit worn by Crow needs a little more thought. The Mars volunteers may be tempted by the possibility of a return becoming possible one day (enough to give some sufficient hope, as does the temptation of preparing for an afterlife after life on Earth - and about as likely). Thanks for believing me too, as most other people seem to think I just make it all up.

Andrew R. Scott said... little friend Aileen says take care.... wormholes are full of worms. Speak nicely to me and to her and she may take you, but she may take samples from you too. I know.

susan said...

While life on Earth is inevitably fatal, at least there are some compensations along the way.

As an almost entirely whimsical being, Crow wears a suitably fanciful spacesuit. It pleases him to join in the fun. Perhaps all the volunteers are doing the same.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Now that we are agreed that Crow could go to mars at the drop of a feather, and that he tends to only travel to places where he has friends, or possible friends, you might like to ask him to check out underneath the red surface of mars, as there are sightings of methane gas.
This would support some form of life existence even if it is conceivably only early single cell life organisms.
But Mars could be a stop off point to set off in a much faster worm hole to discover the secrets of outer space, say within a light year radius of mars. He could take a few pictures whilst surveying a cluster of the 200-300 billion stars in the region and their respective planetary systems, which one would think by virtue of the sheer numbers involved , many must replicate life evolution similar to our solar system.

The reason why we don’t see any signs of life presently, but only planetary outlines, is because our telescopes are blinded but the intensity of the star light but if Crow armed himself with a star shield mounted on a telescope, similar or superior to what Naser is developing, he could bring some pictures back of his new found friends.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Crow is quite determined not to seek out life in other solar systems so long as he feels his friends on this planet to be in danger from mankind's greed and ignorance. He seems quite certain we wouldn't treat alien creatures with any more respect.
All the best