Man has always looked to the stars. Whether the reason be the secrets they hold for the scientific mind, the potential they have for harboring extraterrestrial life, or merely because of their astounding beauty, the stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies "out there" have held an unending fascination for humankind.
On July 4, 1997, we discovered once again just how much people are excited by outer space. On that day Mars Pathfinder successfully landed on the planet Mars, kicking off a new phase of NASA's mission to learn more about the red planet. America--and beyond, perhaps?--followed a little rover named Sojourner putt around the surface of Mars, examining interesting rocks along the way.
As we find out more about the other planets in our solar system, we are also learning more about our own. Because of the recent worldwide climate-change summit in Kyoto, Japan, held to set limits on emissions of so-called "greenhouse gases," global warming has been pushed to the forefront of the public consciousness. With growing concern about the future of our planet, scientists are pressed to come up with new, innovative solutions to the problem of global warming. Some damage has already been done, and no one is certain of when time will run out.
The rapid-fire pace at which technology advances today may help in finding an answer to our environmental problems. Already, progress is being made. Scrubbers take some of the toxic chemicals out of industrial emissions. The integration of the fuel cell into automobiles will lead to a means of much cleaner and more efficient transportation. Smaller innovations like lamp-sized fluorescent light bulbs can also contribute to energy conservation. But what happens when the pollution we do release builds up over time? What if thick smog covers the entire planet, or even more gaping holes form in the atmosphere?
Our planet is only so big. It can only sustain a given amount of life before we start to fall over the edges, so to speak. Overcrowding is a rising problem in many places throughout the world. Medical science is allowing us to live longer. Today, nearly six billion humans populate our planet. That figure is expected to reach well over nine billion by the year 2050. Is it possible for our planet to hold the burgeoning masses?
There is a solution to these problems that bears suggestion. It is a plan that sounds like it was taken out of a science-fiction novel, but recently it has begun to look more plausible. What is this solution? Colonization of a new world--and not the Americas this time. A world we have never visited ourselves, but to which we have sent a few scouting robots to check out. A world that held our attention for a little while last summer. A world called Mars.
Mars? What kind of crazy idea is this? But it is not as silly as some might think. Perhaps as early as 2011, NASA may send a manned mission the the red planet, and maybe soon afterward, a permanent base will be in place. All, then, that is necessary is a few pioneering souls willing to brave the dangers and start the process of terraforming and colonizing Mars.
It will be a challenge. With present technology it would take about six months to fly to Mars. The requirements and costs of a mission to Mars are daunting: supplies like food for the crew, a new spaceship, fuel to power it, scientific equipment, special spacesuits--the list is long. Mars has a very hostile environment, with no food or water available and fierce dust storms. Much time and money will need to be invested in the project for it to be accomplished.
But accomplished it will be. I am confident of that. This planet, once thought dead, will become very alive.
To colonize Mars, we will have to change the planet. The process of making another planet habitable for humans is called terraforming. To do this, scientists have theorized that we would basically need to run Earth's evolutionary process over again at a very fast pace. Oxygen and nitrogen will be introduced into Mars's carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. Bacteria and other life-forms will gradually be introduced onto the planet. The process could take at least 300 years to complete, but the benefits, such as a place for population overflow, an untainted environment, and a new source of natural resources, would be worth the relatively short wait.
Mars is in many ways like our own planet: it has a similar size, length of day, and temperature range. There is also water present, at least in the ice caps. Scientists are also beginning to believe that water exists beneath the surface. It is even possible that life may have existed there billions of years ago. Mars is an ideal candidate for terraforming. Also, taming the god of war may be the easiest stepping stone to terraforming even harsher planets.
We are already on our way to colonizing Mars. NASA has launched Mars Pathfinder and Global Surveyor to learn more about the red planet. This year they plan to launch Mars Surveyor '98, which will land on the ice-covered south pole. Eventually, Martian rocks and soil samples will be brought back to Earth for scientists to examine. The more we learn about Mars, the better prepared we will be when we finally send astronauts there.
Someday, there will be a vital, thriving colony on the planet Mars. Our dreams of reaching beyond our home planet to what we see in the night sky will be realized in grand style. It is a dream of mine to someday break away from the bounds of the earth and discover a new world beyond. I can only hope I live to see my dream realized.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002