About The Author
D. R. Prescott has written a novel, a collection of short stories, a nonfiction book, a collection of essays, planetarium show/display scripts, two family histories, technical articles and business plans as well as written for and edited several newsletters.
Awards and published work include Writers' Journal, Long Story Short, Taj Mahal Review literary journal, The Orange County Register, Writer's Digest, and Writing.com and four books among other challenges.
As a former aerospace executive and planetarium program director, Prescott currently writes and explores life in Orange, California.
"Sentience can be annoying."-DRP Abt. 1990
Since 2008, Prescott has been a regular contributor of
essays and short stories to
The Taj Mahal Review Literary Journal
Alpha Centauri and Beyond Radio Interview of Prescott
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O R D E R T O D A Y !
Mars: Our Next Step?
by D. R. Prescott
Should Mars be next on humans’ spacefaring agenda?
An Associated Press article given to me recently by a neighbor struck a contradictory chord in me. Nicholas K. Geranios reports in his article that it has been suggested by two scientists, Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies that to get 'Mars exploration moving,' the first settlers (people around 60 years of age) be sent there on a one-way trip knowing that they must make it or else. Why that age? Dirk Schulze-Makuch reasons that since radiation on Mars “could damage reproductive organs, so sending people of childbearing age is not a good idea.” Another advantage of sending us “mature” types is that we have less life span ahead of us and not having the Earth’s medical facilities on Mars to sustain us, health issues will arise which is nearly a foregone conclusion. Sort of puts new meaning into the term Golden Years!
Not only might one-way trips be less expensive than round-trip options, they could eventually lead to a gene pool off the Earth “as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth.” Except that the first people will die on Mars working to pave the way for future colonists. Perhaps, some would look at it as noble gesture by the 60 year old pioneers.
Is that a good or practical approach?
My answer: No!
Here’s why in a slightly modified excerpt from my book (IS THERE TIME? See links at http://donprescott.inkspot.com
Before we go any further (and as much as I admire Paul Davies’ writing having read most of his books for lay consumption), the idea of living permanently off the Earth needs a little more thought. Scientists are studying the effects of low or micro gravity on human beings. So far, the results are not necessarily positive. As enormous as the opportunities are for shedding the clutches of gravity, a person living in less than one Earth gravity (one-g) is on a path to being a different person physically given enough time. Astronauts have a difficult time in weightlessness keeping their bodies fit. Muscles and bones tend to atrophy when weight is nullified by free-fall in orbit. There is a point of no return or at least a point where returning to a one-g environment would be extremely difficult. So, to ensure that people can migrate at will while living in space requires that they live the majority of their time in one-g.
Plans to live on the Moon or Mars add another variable to the equation. The Moon has one-sixth the gravity that Earth has; Mars has a little over a third. Consequently, once a human body gets accustomed to those environments, returning to good old Earth or even to a one-g habitat would likely be debilitating requiring a long recuperation and/or adaptation. (As I discussed a while back in my blog, Is Gravity Important? See http://www.inkspot.com/main/view_item/item_id/1702843-Is-Gravity-Important
On Mars, you would weigh a little over one-third what you do on Earth. Would that affect your physiology? I suspect that permanent inhabitants of Mars would eventually become taller, less muscular and unable, or struggle painfully, to adapt to a one-g environment within a very few generations. So, is going to Mars with the idea of colonizing a fool’s errand. No, if we go into it with our eyes open recognizing that it won’t be long when there might be a sub-species of Homo sapiens created in the process—separated by their bodies’ ability to function in differing gravity. We still have no idea what other effects will be brought about with the changes that low gravity will surely induce.
So, does that mean we can never permanently colonize the Moon, Mars or any other body in the Solar System without a one-g environment? Colonizing the Moon and Mars will mean that the human physiology will change for permanent inhabitants and their descendants. Going to a lower gravity environment and adapting is easier than going the other way, to higher gravity.
Is colonizing planets and moons the best use of resources? The answer is unequivocally no for two reasons. First, I will suggest that the human physiological issue is likely not worth it for a lot of people. Second, the carrying capacity of the surface of these worlds is only a fraction of the land area required to handle potential human population growth. (See my blog, Too Many People, at http://www.inkspot.com/main/view_item/item_id/1620045-Too-Many-People
. Planets, moons, asteroids, and comets will still be a vital source of raw materials for habitat construction.
That is what makes Gerard O’Neill’s study of habitats so engaging. The habitats that he describes have the advantage of offering variable gravity environments for a space faring civilization with a virtually inexhaustible energy supply, the Sun. They permit a practically endless supply of new land area for human population growth which the paltry planetary and moon surface areas don’t.
So, I suspect that orbiting the Moon and Mars in space habitats is more likely and practical than huge numbers of people boring out large habitats beneath the Moon’s surface or constructing elaborate structures on Mars. Of course, Mars and the moons may offer a social movement that taller and lankier is better and a certain number of people may want to become permanent Lunarians (Is that coining a word?) or Martians, inexorably altered by lower gravity. Both choices are available.
Along with the shielding from solar and extra-solar radiation bursts and maneuvering to avoid cosmic collisions, gravitational impact on human physiology is a persistent concern. Economics and human mobility will likely settle the gravity issue. Keeping our bodies fit for one-g occupancy makes sense to me and seems to provide the optimum flexibility. I don’t think we can rely on devoted exercise to fill the bill. Even on Earth, there are only a small number of people who exercise regularly. It would appear that a permanent Moon base would most conveniently be staffed in rotating shifts so that workers could return to one-g often enough and long enough to passively keep them healthy and one-g worthy. That might mean building the first large-scale habitat in lunar orbit so that commuting to the surface and back “home” would be a relatively simple and timely process, perhaps even less annoying than many peoples’ commutes to and from work on Earth.
The alternative would be a major life decision which some may opt for especially if they find one-g debilitating and less gravity offers productive opportunities. Once we work out the human physical and psychological issues of living on the Moon, Mars or in habitats, the lucrative resources available in space will drive the Solar System economy.
That brings us to building the first Lunar Orbit Lagrange Point facilities and habitats. I don’t intend to delve into the details that have already been handled wonderfully elsewhere by O’Neill, Zubrin, et al. However, for clarity, thirty years from now, we will only be on the cusp of becoming a space faring species with emerging technologies that may surprise us. Gerard O’Neill’s concept for Lunar Orbit Lagrange facilities relies on raw materials launched from the Moon and the Earth.
Building construction shacks in orbit and development of ore processing operations to produce the structural components of the first habitat are likely the first large scale operations to be undertaken. Once the first, large-scale habitat is built, 7000-8000 people (a fair sized gene pool) will have a place to live, work and play off the Earth. O’Neill envisioned production of satellite solar power stations as a major driver for orbiting habitats to begin paying their way. Others see free-fall as excellent production environments for manufacturing crystals, medicines, and even tourist business. Will you or your children someday vacation at the first space hotel or commute down to the Moon from your home habitat for your shift mining Helium-3?
Energy-related work in LO makes a lot of sense. Energy is currently our weakness and ultimately our future strength. We want it. We need it. We have to have it to avoid a reckoning that will ultimately threaten our civilization and perhaps our species. We also have to preserve the Earth while we generate more energy.
In the same AP article, Apollo 14 astronaut, Ed Mitchell, is quoted. He says, “This is premature,” and continues with “We aren’t ready for this.”
I agree and not because I am an old guy. We have a lot to learn about living permanently off the Earth. I feel that we should stay relatively close to home in lunar orbit and develop the ability to live off the Earth safely (like protecting humans from solar radiation) and comfortably before committing people to a one-way or even a roundtrips to Mars. Once we know that we can adapt to low gravity (if we ever can) or learn to live in artificial habitats safely and successfully, colonizing Mars would likely be more practical and even beneficial to the species as a whole.
Colonizing Mars is not like settlers leaving England and landing at Plymouth in a make it or break it one-way trip. When the first colonists landed on North American shores, there was air to breathe, game for food, trees to make shelter, and water to drink. On Mars, there is only water and rusty dirt.
In this lay person’s opinion, just as babies usually crawl before they walk, humans need to learn to live off the Earth before we make human one-way or roundtrips to Mars; send robots to Mars until we are ready to go there and able to get serious about colonization.
© Copyright 2011 D. R. Prescott (donprescott at Writing.Com).
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