November 23, 2014

Why is the space program tackled? How far is Mars?

As you may know, I'm not talking about physical distance. First because Earth and Mars have different orbits around the sun, so this distance changes in their own planetary year (one spin around the sun); and second because I'm talking about technological distance. 

We've bought this abstract idea that we're already space explorers. Not even close, dear reader. We're barely scratching the sky. Did we go to the Moon? That's not the point of this deliver. But what's actual proof is that we don't have the proper means. Even as we can predict many of the issues we'd face, and even to program a robot to do that trip, we're quite far from accomplishing it. And I'll explain why in simple terms.

What difficulties will we have to overcome?

1) Logistic and energy problems: 

  • Food: In Mars we can't grow food naturally. We'd need to do it indoors, which means we'd have to have farmable land (natural growing) or substrate (hydroponics). Cans will only keep people alive for a limited time, and as you know, the first trips will be one way only. In short terms: If you go, you'll die in Mars.
  • Materials: What if something gets destroyed along the way... or in Mars surface? What if it just wastes itself because of usage? The questions answers themselves right now. Yes we can even 3dprint things now, and that's a huge help for space travelling, but not quite developed yet, because we'd also need an incredible ability to reprocess broken tools into materials, and then reuse them as "fuel" to 3dprint back what's been destroyed. If you can imagine it, that's achievable, just not yet.
  • Oxygen: They'd need to have plants, trees, enough to get the CO2 from the air and turn it into oxygen (O2). But that's not enough. It has to be perfectly balanced, so it means to add more processes, and even if there is will to overcome this study, those who're doing that aren't getting enough money and time to deal with it. We're chained by our own economic system.
  • Energy: Sun is different in Mars, it means wavelength/frequency, wind (outdoors maintenance needed), dust storms will difficult this. There will be accidents too. And there is not good enough "hospitals" we can build up in no time with limited resources and people.

2) Psychological:

  • Individual: We are naturally social oriented. It means we prefer to be around others, to talk, to listen to others. Only a few would struggle on this successfully, but it's difficult to determine who without hesitation. Everything could blow up if we don't pick the right persons.
  • Collective: Differences may emerge, or even explode between many, creating a suffocating environment to work, to live, and... there is nowhere to hide, run, to isolate others, or even help to deal with it. We could send a psychologist, that'd be better, but again that multiplies the resources needed to survive, and we'll be short on them at first point. So in order to start this, that's out of the equation.
3) Technological issues:

  • Radiation: That will be the second worse enemy out there, or the third one, because it won't kill you instantly, but it will definitely kill you at the end. Imagine a lot of tiny particles messing around your cells, your DNA, hitting it and turning it, and making cell division unstable, even hitting some cores (there is a chance). Well, you can absorb some amount of radiation, but that's on Earth, where you are naturally protected but the atmosphere and the magnetosphere. But during the trip (from 100 to almost 365 depending on speed you can be launched to, and the distance between the two "rocks"). We'll need to develop isolation materials if we want to survive the trip.
  • Efficiency: Right now we're really ... insufficient when it comes to efficiency. The common solar panels goes from 6% to 14%. Yes we have some that are above 40%, but the materials, the cost to produce them, and the possibility (or not) to repair, rebuild, and reprocess them makes them not good enough to space exploration. We'll need to wait for graphene investigations that are currently on.
There are many more issues, but this will serve as a heads up for those who wonder just why aren't we going through the vacuum yet.

And if you want to know how far we are from Mars, I'll answer that simple question: It varies from around 54.6 million km to 401 million km. So the timing will be as important as developing radiation shielding materials or devices. 

What about programmers?

What role will the programmers have in space travelling? If you don't know the answer to that question, you are not a programmer. For those who want to know where we'll be, just ask how many tasks your brain have to follow to just get a pencil from a table. Now think about what you do in a full minute in front of a computer, or at work. Think as a robot, try to write it down... And multiply that for 1000 (hours awake, rounding up). That's around a single common, usual, day for earth. You are programmed too by your parents, school, "yourself", ... And so, programmers will be one of the keys that opens space travelling, but not the only one. Specially the ones who develop better and faster algorithms. Even the astronauts know how to program. What are you waiting for?

Thanks for reading!

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