NASA has received the limelight quite often recently, even if through the actions of someone or something else. SpaceX has been partnering up with NASA to use their facilities as well as collaborate to build reusable rockets for future missions. Purdue students even pitched a moon colonization plan to NASA administrators in mid-April this year. NASA has been very eager to bring their goals to fruition, especially in regards to colonizing Mars with humans. This week, NASA has been the focus of budding financial plans for future research, and the company has been simply plugging away with their plans for bringing humans to Mars and beyond.
As the next step in being able to populate Mars with human life, NASA is planning to build a small greenhouse on Mars within the next seven years. A rover that will be launched in 2020 will be very similar in scope and structure to the Curiosity, which landed on Mars in August of 2012. The Curiosity rover brought data back to Earth that illuminated more clearly that microbial life is possible on the Red Planet.
The oncoming project has been dubbed the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), and is designed to reach fruition within 15 days or less of the rover landing on Mars. A “CubeSat” box, the container for the rover’s satellite, would be affixed to the rover and would also contain Earth air and Arabidopsis seeds. The seeds grow a type of flower often selected by scientists for regular studies and experimentation. While the surface level of such an experiment may not appear to yield much, the core of the prospect holds greater potential for making larger steps in the future. For humans to be able to live on planets like Mars and those beyond it one day, NASA must continue plugging away with their plans in baby steps, just like MPX.
The success or failure of MPX will reveal whether or not next steps can be taken that are immediately in line with Mars colonization. The power of gravity on Mars is equivalent to about 40 percent of Earth’s, and the planet also has higher radiation levels than Earth. Both of these factors could affect human life detrimentally. While a collection of flowers might do well for a few weeks on a different planet without much damage to show, more complex organisms such as small animals could be faced with drastic circumstances.
Along with planting the Arabidopsis seeds, the rover set to launch in 2020 will bring back samples of soil and rocks that can be studied at length, in order to unravel more information about the fertility of Mars’ composition. This will allow scientists to gauge the likelihood of Mars’ ability to support full plant life within its own bounds.
As far as being able to fund these comprehensive space voyages, NASA may be coming into a bit of a windfall very soon. On Thursday, a $17.9 billion funding plan was recommended from the House Appropriations Committee towards NASA for planetary science programs, a broad enough description to allow for the money to be spent within a variety of ventures. If the plan were approved, the committee would endorse the development of NASA’s Space Launch System, a high-powered rocket being constructed towards the goal of Mars colonization.
With companies like SpaceX collaborating with NASA to achieve greater goals through combined resources and mental capacity, and further funding being discussed by the U.S. government, probability of completion of NASA’s space colonization goals is growing higher every day. In order to one day achieve a level of speed and efficiency for transporting humans to and from Mars, NASA will have to simply keep plugging away with their plans in the foreseeable future, and approach Mars and beyond as each consecutive mission is successfully completed.
By Brad Johnson