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Next Generation Will Journey to Mars

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
-- John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy declared that Americans would take on “the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history” and land a man on the moon within the decade. Since then, man has been to the moon and beyond. We have seen the furthest reaches of our galaxy, discovered a new planet and landed a rover on Mars.
To celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the launch of the Spacecraft Mariner 4, which produced the first close-up pictures of the Red Planet, we sat down with Tim Pate, NMSI’s Biology content specialist, to talk more about the next space frontier.
Mars is seen as the next great exploration for man. What are we doing to get to Mars?
NASA’s Journey to Mars has been in the making for decades. NASA and other space programs have been sending orbiters, landers and rovers to the Red Planet to gather information, with the end goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030’s.  The Curiosity rover gathered information to help us protect astronauts when they land.  The planned 2020 rover will study the availability of Mars resources, such as oxygen. 
It isn’t just governments that are fascinated with travel to Mars. Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, is designing a rocket to transport humans into space, then to the moon with the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars and back.  And the non-profit organization, Mars One, has a unique goal of starting a permanent colony on Mars by 2025.
 
Next-Gen-Will-Journey-to-Mars-(1).png Recently, American astronaut Scott Kelly arrived home from his year aboard the International Space Station - the most time ever spent in space. What does his time in zero gravity teach us about prolonged space travel and how does that relate to Mars?
Long-term space travel comes with several known issues, such as backaches, bone loss, lousy sleep, loss of balance, headaches, muscle atrophy, nausea, radiation exposure, and rashes. In microgravity, our body fluids float to the head and can impair vision to the point that astronauts become far-sighted after spending time in space.  One astronaut apparently was unable to read the “reentry checklist” as he prepared to return to Earth. 
Scott Kelly said that post-mission he has “never felt completely normal.” Scott’s twin brother, Mark, is also a retired astronaut and the brothers are subjects of NASA’s extensive study of the short- and long-term effects of microgravity. During the study, Mark will serve as the “control” for scientists to as they study Scott’s DNA, proteins, gut microbes, immune system and cognitive performance changes over the course of months and even years.  This comparison will give scientists a good data baseline for space travel. However, Scott was only in space for a little less than 18 months.  A trip to Mars could take twice that amount of time, or more. The trip to Mars will take about six months in addition to the 18 to 20 months that the astronauts are expected to stay on Mars waiting for the planets to align for the return trip.
The trip is not cheap either, the cost for sending a spaceship with passengers is estimated to cost between $20 - 40 billion. 
 
What sort of experiments are necessary to teach us about Mars?
The landers and rovers are the most important because they provide an up-close look at Mars and its terrain, resources and atmosphere. 
Additionally, if the goal is to establish a permanent colony on the Red Planet, we must be able to effectively recycle and most likely produce water, along with oxygen and carbon dioxide. All three of these are essential because the colony will have to produce its own food. Transporting those from Earth will be cost prohibitive. All of this will happen in a very inhospitable environment.  
 
In your opinion, is something like the Mars program a realistic goal? If so, how is it possible for humans to sustain the kind of life we’re used to?
Yes. As crazy as would sound to most people, I think it is a very realistic goal.  Humans are a pretty incredible species. When we put our collective minds together to achieve a common goal, we are more often than not able to see that goal come to fruition. The successes of humanity far outweighs the failures. 
I don’t think for one minute that life on Mars will be anything like the life we’re used to here on Earth, but it can be the new normal. If you think about it, if we succeed and have a colony that exists on Mars for years, then we’ll have families with babies and children that grow up there.  That will be “normal” to them, and maybe they would look at traveling to Earth like Americans would look at traveling to Europe or Australia. Maybe someday we’ll be able to visit that “far off” destination that we’ve always dreamed of. 
 
What are some of the way teachers can teach students about Mars in the classroom?
There are many ways for teachers to bring Mars into the classroom.  There are multiple websites with a myriad of materials and activities that teachers can utilize such as, NASA’s Mars for Educators toolkit and classroom activities, McREL International’s instruction program and Education World’s ideas for Mars lessons. Another way would be to simply watch movies such as The Martian, Interstellar, Gravity, or Gattaca and then use those as a jumpstart to a Socratic Circle, class discussions, or minor/major research projects. It will be the generation of kids we are teaching today who will be the ones to realize the dream of putting a human on Mars, so we need to begin stirring their interest and imaginations today.