Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Space, the final frontier.

@Mars500Project @NASA #NASA #Mars500

With the space shuttle Atlantis due to touch down in the early hours of Thursday morning, it marks the end of NASA's reign of the space above our heads, calling Atlantis NASA's last manned space flight. In light of the tremendous advances in technology, why send people into the danger of space when you can send a droid?

although, despite all of this, i think it would be more accurate to say that NASA is on an indefinite hiatus as a result of the US Government cutting it's funding. Although, this sparked a lot of peoples interest in the matter and it resulted in the recent release of some staggering statistics which reveal the tremendously disproportionate annual budgets of the US Military compared to NASAs financial slice of the pie (eg, NASAs annual budget was US$18.69 billion - the US military spends more than this each year on air-conditioning its tents in Iraq)  - maybe once America stops fighting wars and pays back that 15 trillion odd dollars that it owes - it might be in a somewhat more stable position to once again gaze upon the stars and not just ponder what could be out there, but actually go and find out.

But is everyone forgetting that Russia has a space program too?
Is everyone forgetting about the Mars 500 project? Have you even heard about the Mars 500 project? Funnily enough, most people haven't.

Mars 500 actually began back in November 2007, a project designed to simulate a manned voyage to Mars and back to observe the medical implications of spending an extended period of time in space

This is where the Mars 500 Project calls home. The mock facility is the same size as the International Space Station and is located at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, Russia.

NASA, struggling to put food on it's own table, had no hand in this experiment at any point, although they had apparently expressed an interest it the results.

Broken down into 3 key stages, the first stage that ran for just over two weeks - was specifically designed to iron out any major flaws in the mock space-craft's technology and operating procedures.
The second stage started in late March 2009 and involved six volunteers living in the mock facility for 105 days.
The third and final stage is the longest and most intense leg of the experiment. A simulated voyage from Earth to Mars and then back again, a 520 day round trip. Stage three commenced on the 3rd of June 2010.
20 minute trasmission delays, pressurised atmosphere, confined space and very limited supplies - the simulation is designed to confront it's participants with some of the more mentally and physically challenging problems that they're likely to encounter.

The Crew currently residing within the Stage Three Experiment are:

Romain Charles, 31-year-old French Engineer
Sukhrob Rustamovich Kamolov, Russian Surgeon
Alexey Sergevich Sitev, Russian Engineer (and Commander of the mission)
Alexandr Egorovich Smoleevskiy, Russian Physiologist
Diego Urbina, 27-year-old Italian-Colombian Engineer
Wang Yue, 27-year-old Chinese Instructor at the China Astronaut Research & Training Center
Mikhail Sinelnikov, 37-year-old Russian Engineer

It's easy to get lost in the sheer size of the numbers when talking about how many kilometres or miles things are away from each other in space. So here's an easy comparison.
If the Earth was the size of your average classroom globe;
The International Space Station would be less than an inch off the surface of the globe.
The Moon would be floating 12 meters away
& Mars would be over a mile away.

A little known fact is that upon an astronauts arrival back on earth after a visit to the moon or the ISS, there is an extensive rehabilitation process. After having been in zero gravity, confined spaces and a pressurised atmosphere for an extended period of time (usually upwards of two weeks) it can take a further two weeks for the astronauts to be able to function properly (walk) on earth due to the damages caused by living in space.

So the problem arises. We send a spaceship full of people to Mars, they arrive on the planet but can't do anything. Can't walk, cant collect samples or even plant a flag. Then they come back to Earth again. what a waste of time.

These are the issues that the Mars 500 Project is attempting to address.
One of the more feasible options to overcome this problem is to treat the astronauts that are to step foot on the martian surface as though they had a disability and provide them with a space-buggy / awesome off-road wheel chair to help them manoeuvre across the alien terrain.

Of course, Christopher Columbus didn't swim his way to America, he needed a boat. In the same way that you need a vessel that is capable of making the journey to Mars and back again.
in 2008 NASA announced project MAVEN, an unmanned reconnaissance mission due to depart in 2013 - to orbit Mars for one year and send the data home (may or may not still be going ahead)
But an unmanned voyage is one thing, a space ship with people on it is another.

Will we see a real mission to Mars in the wake of the Mars 500 Project?
The short answer is, at the moment, we don't have the technology to send people to Mars and bring them home again (and keep them alive). And NASA who has been at the forefront of driving improvements in this kind of technology is now nothing but a gutted government department.
I would absolutely love to see a real life mission to Mars, but I'm doubtful I'll see it in my lifetime.

le sigh.

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