History is in the making

October 07, 2016

Scientists have found flowing water on Mars.

We have all been eyewitnesses to history without realising it.

This time last year NASA announced, after 30 years of looking, it had found flowing water on Mars.

This was an amazing discovery and a game changer in the way we look at Mars as a future home.

We have located the water and this new discovery will almost certainly kickstart a new drive by governments and private consortia to go there, eventually establishing a base where humans will live and work for extended periods of time.

Just how close to reality is a manned mission to Mars? We are actually far better prepared for Mars now than at any time in history. If we put our mind to it we could be on Mars in 10 years.

Science fiction? Maybe, but what wasn’t once?

Would you go to Mars if you could never come back to Earth? Private foundation Mars One plans to send a crew of four to colonise the red planet by 2025. It has enlisted dozens of Mars enthusiasts willing to mount a one-way colonisation of the red planet by the 2030s.

But there is another way.

I was fortunate enough to be alive when United States President John F. Kennedy announced putting a man on the moon in 1961. I heard a similar thing this week from another visionary, Elon Musk, who wants to put humans on Mars within a decade.

Elon Musk is the co-founder of PayPal. He also owns the electric car company Tesla Motors and has his own space company, SpaceX.

In another time this man could have been Orville Wright, Alexander Graham Bell or even Thomas Edison ... or all three! Elon Musk is known for many things. Thinking small isn’t one of them.

In a nationally-televised speech earlier this week he talked about his plan for transporting people to other planets. He said his goal was to create a reality where ordinary folk could visit Mars within our lifetime.

Can he do it? You bet! Will it happen in your lifetime? Yes, I think it will.

Assuming you actually manage to land safely, the next challenge is to explore your new world. With only one-third of the gravity of Earth, winter temperatures of -60°C and an atmosphere made mainly of carbon dioxide, Mars presents challenges humans are just now becoming prepared for.

Oh, and if you think a trip to Mars is all ‘pie in the sky’, consider this: the first person to set foot on Mars has already been born; and the first people to colonise the planet are being born now!

David Reneke is a writer for Australasian Science magazine.

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