A Mars Update for 2017

Jason Schwartz ’17, Staff Writer 

This year, wealthy individuals and nationally sponsored space organizations from around the world are making plans to visit the Red Planet.  Some of these space organizations are new while others are decades into their investment and planning for exploring Mars.  They are doing everything from mock missions to actual test rocket launches and unmanned orbit missions.  

On January 19th, NASA launched its fifth mock Mars mission in the Hawaii Space and Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii.  In this program, six scientists live in “a small, isolated” dome for eight months.  The astronauts in training will follow a NASA-made itinerary with a set of tasks to complete each day.  Some of their tasks will include geological field work and life-system management.  The “astronauts” are required to wear their astronaut outfits at all times and eat shelf stable meals.  In order to simulate a real Mars mission, communication between the participants and mission control will have a 20-minute delay.  The mission will test human self-sufficiency and behavior with others (i.e. team-building) over a long period of time in a closed environment like astronauts would experience on Mars.

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors Co. and SpaceX, declared his 2022 Mars Colonization plan in September 2016.  Musk is actively advocating for his plan and has met with President Donald Trump numerous times over the last couple of weeks.  When he met with Trump at Trump Tower on January 23rd, Musk talked about SpaceX, Mars, and public/private partnerships.  Musk also attended a business council meeting with Trump, stating his goals, namely “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization.” 

China’s advanced space program is busy with its own Mars plans.  The program is working on its Mars mission that is scheduled to launch in 2020 using an unmanned spacecraft.  The naming of the mission has drawn a great deal of public interest.  A jury chose these possible eight names for the mission from more than 35,900 proposals submitted worldwide: ‘Fenghuang’ (phoenix), ‘Tianwen’ (questions for heaven), ‘Huoxing’ (Mars), ‘Tenglong’ (soaring dragon), ‘Qilin’ (Kylin), ‘Zhuque’ (rose finch), ‘Zhuimeng’ (chasing dreams) and ‘Fengxiang’ (flying phoenix).  The final decision will be announced in April.

Meanwhile in the United Arab Emirates, its space program recently received a July 2020 launch date for its Mars mission.  Its unmanned probe, ‘Hope,’ will launch in Japan because the U.A.E. is partners with Japan’s space program, JAXA.  “We are delighted to launch the UAE’s Mars explorer by the Japanese launch vehicle H-IIA from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan in 2020.  We are confident that we will accomplish our responsibility, together with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,” said Yuichi Yamaura, Vice President of JAXA.  The U.A.E. will become the first Arab nation to launch a Mars mission.

With the advancement of space technology and the help of world-class space organizations, the idea of humans colonizing Mars is becoming more and more realistic.  Entrepreneurs, nationally sponsored space programs, and scientists are all working to reactivate and continue the space race to Mars.  These individuals and national space organizations from around the world are making strides to advance their space programs, and have more interest than ever to take the next “giant leap for mankind.”


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