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Mars rover Perseverance Capturing Rock and Other Samples Photo: NASA
By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer
Experts are finally uncovering the secrets of Mars; new spacecraft, research, and data are helping NASA and other space agencies fill in gaps in knowledge about the potential for life on the red planet. But while some are celebrating new evidence that Mars contains water and may have at one point been habitable for microbial life, others worry that humans are recklessly moving to colonize Mars with serious repercussions.
Why This Matters: For decades, scientists have explored the idea of placing humans on Mars for research not only on the planet itself but on its potential to sustain human life. NASA already announced plans to send the first manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said he dreams of sending humans to live on Mars — he argues humans must become “spacefaring” and “multiplanetary.”Even as scientists uncover more about the big red marble, the consequences of colonizing and terraforming Mars could have similar consequences to colonizing earth where we take what we can use and leave our trash such as discarded parachutes,cast off heat shields and other debris behind on the surface. If you want to see what this could end up looking like, check out the giant garbage patches on the high seas here on the blue planet.
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Purdue University planetary scientist Briony Horgan told Axios, “there are a lot of basic things we still don’t know, like how warm or how wet was ancient Mars? Was it a cold, icy barren world or was it this warmer, wetter … warm desert planet?” Researchers hope to find the origin of unique Martian rock formations the likes of which are unseen anywhere on earth. The layered stones may have been formed through erosion, wind, water, and ice and don’t appear on earth because of destructive plate tectonics, which isn’t present on Mars.
Scientists also know that Mars once had lakes and rivers, and a new study has shown that water on Mars may have been absorbed into the ground rather than evaporated into the atmosphere like scientists originally thought. This is allowing scientists to begin squaring the planet’s geology with the loss of its atmosphere over time, tracing the history of how the planet’s biome became what it is today. The Perseverance rover, the first rover dedicated to researching life on Mars, is expected to collect samples that will allow scientists to analyze them for evidence of past life.
Experts say that putting humans on Mars could revolutionize future research, but it could also threaten any future discoveries by contaminating the planet with other life from the earth.
By bringing humans to earth, we risk “planetary contamination”, a fancy term for bringing invasive species along for the ride. Bacteria, sickness, fleas, and any life, however minor, could contaminate or even kill any amount of life on mars, or be mistaken for new life on the planet, ruining decades of research. “Even if Mars is devoid of past or present life, however…We ourselves might become the ‘life on Mars’ should humans choose to travel there one day,” reads the NASA website. Rover landings on Mars have managed to alleviate concerns of biological contamination, but every rover deposits waste onto the surface of Mars. Discarded parachutes and abandoned rovers are only the beginning of human leftovers on the red planet.
Meanwhile, colonization is being sold to the people of earth as the ultimate solution to population growth and climate disasters. While Musk and other “spacefarers” envision domed cities with self-sustaining economies, critics say that it’s time to apply the caution that early explorers chose to forego. Christopher Schaberg, an author and professor at Loyola University New Orleans said, “even if it seems like no lives are at stake, no violence being committed there now, we should pause to seriously consider what we take with us, when we continue colonizing places.”
This op/ed was originally featured in SpaceNews on March 30th and has been reprinted with their and the author’s permission. By Nancy Colleton Small businesses and large multinational corporations face incredible challenges and uncertainty in today’s world. Whether an uncertain economy, continuing impact of a pandemic, or the rapidly changing natural environment of water scarcity, ecosystem […]
NASA has named 27 asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter after Black, Hispanic, and Native American astronauts to recognize their contributions and inspire a new generation of potential space explorers. Among those honored include Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham, Ed Dwight Jr., José Hernández, and John Herrington.
Why this Matters: NASA, like many American industries, has struggled with diversity — only 18 Black astronauts have gone to space.
Pentagon scientists have successfully tested a small solar panel that, when launched into space, can collect solar power and beam it to any place on earth. The special panel is called a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) and was launched last May attached to a drone that circles the earth once every 90 minutes. If scaled up, scientists say that these orbital solar panels could work 24/7 and collect more sunlight than those on earth, and provide power to remote areas of the globe and major power grids alike.
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