The red planet Mars is dangerously dusty. So much so that scientists have created a pseudo world of Mars to work on overcoming the problems of dust, which is stopping astronauts from living there and hindering machines while they are collecting data. This is not the first time scientists have used a vacuum chamber to work with environments they have not yet visited. The planet Venus was created to test the toxicity of the surface, another test of Mars was built to see how meteorites would explode on the surface, and Martian soil was also tested to see if bacteria could survive in that environment.
To ensure that this simulation of Mars is accurate, scientists have recreated the exact physical environment such as temperature, gas composition, radiation levels, and dust levels. The dust creates a problem when it gathers on solar panels or creates a coating on the rovers, as it did with Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers, who are roaming around the surface and directly interacting with the dust, may be hindered from sending back important data to scientists on Earth. It takes 10 minutes for light to travel between the Earth and Mars, so the rovers cannot be handled in real-time. This makes it incredibly important for them to be able to navigate by themselves; self clean, and avoid becoming stranded forever on Mars.
Mars dust is not only a problem for machines collecting data, but it also is a problem that is stopping astronauts from living there long-term. If the red dust comes in contact with an astronaut’s skin, it can react as bleach would, burning or drying out the skin. The dust is extremely poisonous as it is filled with enough radiation to cause cancer. The dust also contains hexavalent chromium, which is used in paint or dyes, and can be used to coat metal objects.
Scientists are working to work out the dust obstacles before Mars One sends a crew of astronauts to Mars in 2025. Mars One is determined to send humans to Mars on a one-way mission. A facility will be built and be used to train the willing astronauts for the dusty conditions of the red planet. Chile has been selected as a location for the first new facility, as they are already housing many other systems and equipment destined for Mars. Project manager Kristian von Bengtson said that he was looking forward to taking the next step of the mission and get started on building the outpost. Volunteers for the mission have been reduced from over 200,000 people to just 1,058. When the mission is ready to launch, only 20-40 of those will actually be going to finish up their lives on Mars.
Before the selected group of astronauts can go and begin living on Mars, scientists must find a way of stopping the dust from becoming a dangerous issue to them while they are up there. They must also find a way to protect the rover and the equipment from the harsh environment.
By Sara Petersen
International Business Times