Welcome to the first of the on-going series that I will feature on datadrake.com!
Meditative Musings is going to be a bit of a catch-all for many of the topics I might cover that may not warrant a dedicated series of their own. But if you all like one of these posts enough, maybe a new series will come out of it as a happy accident. Either way, expect this series to be almost completely random and probably a reflection of what I am thinking about or what is going on the day that I write them. The name pretty much says it all. These posts will be "meditative" in a more philosophical sense; thought experiments based on my own experiences and interpretations of the world around me. They will also be "musings", a double-meaning which includes things I find amusing or which inspire greater reflection. Maybe even a mix of the two. Let's start off with a fun example
What would you be willing to do for a ticket to Mars?
Ok, ok. I know not everyone wants to go to Mars. As far as we know, it's a lifeless rock where humanity will never be able to survive. There is no breathable atmosphere. The temperature spends most of its time below freezing, certainly low enough to freeze to death very quickly during the night. Its dust storms are a constant threat, knocking around much heavier stones than just sand and annoying pebbles. Gravity on Mars is around a third of Earth's. This means significantly exercise to keep up muscle mass and bone density, and a good chance that a return trip to Earth will shorten you life. Children born on Mars may never be able to visit Earth and witness the wonders of its lush vegetation and vast oceans. This would certainly not be a trip for the faint of heart. So why go?
I can think of a couple of reasons that most of the people who want to go to Mars will probably share. First, Mars is the closest planet we could travel to that might be able to support carbon-based life. That might not be much more than microbes or the odd lichen, but the chance to prove that life exists outside of the safety of Earth's protective atmosphere and bountiful resources is something few biologists would ever turn up. Second, will be the boring (pun intended) mining types. They see Mars as a cornucopia of new mineral resources for industry here on Earth, ripe for the taking. Without fear of damaging a local ecosystem or generating greenhouse gases, they will be able to heavily exploit Mars' natural resources, free of consequences and legal limitations. Third will be the adventure-seekers. These individuals crave the opportunity to explore and chart a brand-new world, one that Earthlings have never set foot on. And they will get to enjoy the exhilaration of running faster, jumping higher, and climbing higher than anyone alive today. But I also think there's one more category of very important people who will seek out Mars: colonists. For them, Mars represents the opportunity to start over again, away from all of the past failures of the human race. They will draw upon all of the experience and knowledge of Earth and attempt to build a better world than we ever could. The challenge this presents motivates them to keep working together towards something greater than any single one of them could ever achieve in a lifetime. I think I might fall into this group.
Oh, but the question wasn't "Why would you go to Mars?" it was more "What will you do to get there?". I think there are two ways to get to Mars: become an astronaut or get lucky. Becoming an astronaut is an insanely difficult process. After passing the preliminary requirements of multiple years of professional experience and a Bachelor's in science, math, or engineering, you will need to pass a physical examination. You may also pursue a higher degree to become a more qualified applicant. If you manage to be selected for the astronaut program, this was all just the beginning as a candidate.
Next, you will spend years in basic training, a mix of the traditional military physical and survival training, additional physical conditioning to become accustomed to a space-like environment, and actual courses on how to be an astronaut. Classes will cover things like spaceflight, equipment training, and technical training for vehicles. After all of that, it may be years before you get assigned to a flight. You will spend that time continue to train in simulations, provide ground-support for missions, and train to fly a T-38 aircraft. If you are eventually assigned to a mission, you will then train for your specific role in that mission through more classes and simulations. Even then, there's still a chance that you may not be the one assigned to that role for the actual mission.
Which brings us to option number two: luck. It is safe to assume that as commercial spaceflight continues to become more cost-effective and save, there will come a day when anyone can be an astronaut. You will still train for a specific role on a mission, based on your technical skills, experience, and degrees. What wil change, is the selection process. You should expect that there will be both formal selections for critical missions as well as lottery-based assignments. This will ensure that everyone gets a fair opportunity to apply for a mission.
In both cases, it is fair to say that training will be long and rigorous and that you will need to be fully committed your goal of getting to Mars. It will not be easy. It will be dangerous. It will probably be harder than anything you have ever done in your life. Only you know just how far you are willing to push yourself to get there. I am not even sure that I am capable myself. But I would sure like to try.
Let's see who gets there first!