lecture_30 - Notes from Lecture#30 Human Journey to Mars...

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-1 Notes from Lecture #30: Human Journey to Mars
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After the phenomenal success of the Apollo manned missions to the Moon and the Viking unmanned landers on Mars, many people in the space exploration community assumed that the next step would be to send human astronauts to Mars. But then for various political and budgetary reasons, we got sidetracked by the space shuttle and the International Space Station. The discovery of possible fossils of ancient Martian microbial life in the meteorite ALH84001 once again swung public opinion back in favor of manned trips to Mars. The two most exciting possibilities offered by Mars are the opportunity to look firsthand for signs of native living organisms, and to begin establishing human colonies on the planet’s surface. Could the polar regions of Mars contain some “life residue” within the water ice there? All Mars meteorites that have been found on Earth are igneous - that is, they solidified directly from molten lava. On Earth, no organisms are ever found in igneous rock. This tells us that if we are going to have any likelihood of success, we need to look for other types of rock on the Martian surface, particularly sedimentary rocks that form when sand and silt precipitate out of liquid water to form layers. In looking for evidence of Martian life, there is no substitute for on-site human intuition. But a manned trip to Mars is just too prohibitively expensive with today’s conventional chemical rocket technology. So scientists are looking into non-chemical rockets that might bring the trip within the realm of feasibility. Both ion and fusion propulsion systems have been considered. One of the most promising fuels for a fusion-powered spacecraft is helium-3 ( 3 He), or light helium, which is found in great abundance on the Moon (as discovered by the Apollo missions). Initially the plan is to test this possibility out on a small unmanned spacecraft, eventually scaling up to big rockets capable of matching the power output of current chemical rockets. If 3 He proves to be as good a power source as we hope, then perhaps we will establish a 3 He mining colony on the Moon. The 3 He mined there could be used not just to fuel Mars-bound spaceships, but also to power fusion reactors back on Earth to supply electrical power to the entire world. As an added benefit, when you extract 3 He you produce hydrogen and water as natural byproducts, to be used for fuel, oxygen, and drinking.
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