Journey to the Red Planet
Dr. James Garvin, lead scientist for Mars and Lunar Exploration at NASA, and Dr. Paul Delaney, Professor Physics and Astronomy at Toronto's York University, outline the extraordinary challenges and obstacles faced by the international space community in sending a manned mission to Mars ... and bringing it back.
The spacecraft that will take a crew to Mars will be assembled—in space. Up to 10 rockets will be required to carry equipment and the astronauts to the mothership. The 56-million-kilometer journey to and from the Red Planet could take up to three years. Will the fuel be thermo-nuclear or super-heated charged particles? Engineers must get it right the first time—or the astronauts will die.
Preparing and protecting the human body in deep space may be a greater challenge than all the technological factors in planning a mission to Mars. Living together in a confined environment for up to three years, the six astronauts will become each others' caregivers. They will face zero gravity with its debilitating effect on muscle and bone mass; solar storms; and cosmic radiation—microscopic particles piercing the skin of the spacecraft and penetrating the bodies of those inside can cause brain damage and cancer.
The Human Factor
The human spirit may be the Achilles' heel of the Mars Mission. Mental breakdown, sexual tension, near-suicide and mutiny have already taken place on shorter space missions. The crew knows there is a 50 percent failure rate in Mars landings.
Six Minutes of Terror
The last six minutes of the flight to Mars are the most terrifying. Only an inflatable aeroshell will protect the capsule as it enters Mars atmosphere at a temperature of 4,000 degrees C and a speed of 16,000 km/hr. After the capsule's speed has been slowed, the astronauts have 90 seconds to pinpoint a safe place to land.
Search for Life
Is there life on Mars? Scientists in North America are combing the most barren places on Earth to search out bacteria, amino acids or carbonates that might offer clues. What if Mars has its own independently created life forms which are deadly to humans? Researchers on the Arctic's frigid Devon Island, British Columbia's Pavilion Lake, Chile's Atacama Desert and caves in New Mexico offer compelling chronicles.