Was the human race created for adventure or did humans create adventure? Is the exploration of outer space a push from science to test the limits of human advancement and discover a better alternative to planet earth? Or is space exploration a manifestation of mankind’s insatiable desire for an adrenaline rush, now overflowing into the corridors of technology and science?
The renewed race to Mars and a brimming fascination with outer space is raising these issues and the overarching question of whether the major player in space exploration are science truth seekers or adrenaline thrill seekers.
Adrenaline creates an optimal version of our body by lowering some bodily functions in order to increase others. This triggers a sudden jump-start to the body’s system and the body experiences a euphoric jolt in energy, due to the increase of respiration and blood pressure, as well as the release of sugars into the bloodstream. The body is then able to operate at superhuman levels, especially in moments of danger. During an adrenaline rush, the body’s blood flow and digestion decrease while the pain threshold jumps up. After a rush of adrenaline and peak hormone flow, the body slowly reverts to normal.
While an adrenaline rush is often triggered by the body's instinctive self-defence mechanism, adventure seeking can also trigger similar feelings. While the painstaking scientific and technological steps being taken in the race to Mars are far beyond the quest for human thrills, the public reaction to the Mars mission supports the idea that humans are drawn to the dangerous exploration of outer space.
The next Mars spacecraft is due to be launched in 2020 and excitement and expectations are high. 30 potential landing sites for the $2.5 billion Mars Rover Spacecraft were initially shortlisted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The three sites finally chosen are: Jezero crater, the dry remains of an ancient lake; Northeast Syrtis, which used to host hot springs; and the Columbia Hills.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program to search for signs of life on Mars. It will include a robotic drill that will be able to collect rocks and soil samples from Mars for testing on earth and back to Mars again. The mission will also gain valuable insights on seeking technology to enable human survival when man will attempt to land on Mars in about 30 years’ time.
A reality check
The fact finding and sample gathering trip to Mars in 2020 will seem like a picnic on a cool summer day when compared to the expedition to Mars being planned around 2035. The trip is fraught with danger and not for the faint of heart.
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, and easily about the brightest object in the night sky. The Romans named Mars after Ares, the God of War, and its moons, Phobos and Deimos, after the sons of Ares. It is also nicknamed the 'Red Planet' because of its red soil containing iron oxide.
Alaska and cities around the Arctic Circle are amongst the coldest places on earth. But they do not come anywhere close to Mars where the average temperature is -81°F, falling to as low as -205°F in the extreme winter and rising to 72°F in the summer. The Mars atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide, and is so thin that water can only exist as ice or water vapour.
The pressure in Mars is so low that any human standing on Mars without protection will die instantly as the oxygen in their blood will turn into bubbles. The wind speed of the storms in Mars is usually over 125 mph. It can last for weeks and cover the entire planet, making it the most intense known dust storm in the universe. Mars is the second closest planet to earth, but it is still a staggering 34 million miles away. If you were driving 60 mph in a car, it would take 271 years and 221 days to arrive at Mars.
Dr. John Oakes, President of the Apologetics Research Society and Professor of Chemistry at Grossmont College, believes the exploration of Mars is a worthy endeavour, despite the initial obstacles. He says he is “confident that the expense of a mission to Mars cannot be justified on practical terms. It would cost many tens of billions of dollars and have no obvious return on investment to the government or private institutions that would pay for it. Nevertheless, … history tells us that focused spending of resources in a scientific endeavour, such as the race to the moon, does eventually reap benefits in the long term.”
Dr. Oakes further explained, “it is fairly likely that we will discover life did at one time exist on Mars. Life, once begun on one planet in a solar system, would probably eventually seed life on another planet there.”
The $500,000 ticket
Despite the dangers, Mars remains an alluring proposition to both science and business. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX is leading the possible commercialization of space travel. Elon has an ambitious plan to not only fly people to Mars, but to colonize Mars and build a new civilization there before the inevitable end to humankind on Earth.
Over 100,000 people have applied for a one-way trip to colonize Mars in 2022. The price tag is around $500,000!
Elon Musk estimates that the actual cost of buying a single ticket to Mars presently is around $10 billion. But this price tag could drop to $200,000 - 500,000 once his company’s SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System becomes fully operational and sustainable.
William L. Seavey is the former Director of the Greener Pastures Institute and author of AmeriCanada? Cross Border Connections and the Possibilities for “Our One Big Town.” He also wants to see life on Mars. “Mars appears to be a dead planet,” he says, “unless microbes are living deep below the surface. There is no atmosphere and little water.” He believes, “humans may one day destroy their ark as the technology of war continues to advance, and human population expands beyond sustainability...We could establish a small colony on Mars but it might only be to later ‘reseed’ a devastated planet earth, and not practical for anything but a temporary refuge.”
NASA estimates that the first Mars mission in 2035 would cost around $230 billion. Subsequent missions, happening at three-year intervals, would cost over $284 billion. The total cost of colonizing Mars could easily surpass $2 trillion.
Is Mars worth the price?
Is the expedition to Mars worth this huge price tag in a world with many seemingly bigger problems? Is the potential benefit worth the attention of the current Earth-residing humans?
Dr. Douglas Jacoby, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Lincoln Christian University and Principal Teacher at Athens Institute of Ministry supports the exploration of Mars. He states that “the Race to Mars will be expensive, but it is not the culprit some make it out to be. Poverty stems from bad government, not high expenditure in science.” Jacoby disagrees with the notion that money invested in space exploration should be used first to alleviate domestic issues.
Kevin Robbins, leader of the ICOC Toronto Church says, “the argument that resources could be better used on present, pressing global needs is logical, noble and perhaps proven as correct, but the drive to discover will ensure the ‘potential’ will supersede the practical.”
This “drive” may inspire the research that makes commercial inter-planet travel feasible, or even the human colonization of Mars. Nevertheless, the human desire to explore and discover will continue to propel space exploration, whether out of pure curiosity or dire necessity.