Venus on Mars

Moving In On Mars

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on November 13, 2013

“Men went to the moon but everyone will be going to Mars,” NASA’s Colleen Hartman says.

The first foot to step onto the surface of Mars will be the greatest small-step/giant-leap event in space exploration since the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Here’s why that first footstep could, and perhaps should, be made by a female.

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Doing it in heels – but she brought her sneakers, too

The early years of space exploration had a distinct military mindset, emerging as it did from the cold war pursuit of global dominance and fueled by leftover WW2 missiles that could be repurposed for more peaceful pursuits, but make no mistake about it – the space race, the whole idea of sending the first humans into space, was to win and win big. The first space explorers had to be heroes: big, bold and brave.

A successful mission to Mars will require a different mindset. The goal is not to endure the hardships of space travel until we can get back to Earth for parades and medals, but to land on the red planet and stay there. Moving in is different than showing up to plant a flag, and creating a permanent community on a distant planet will require far more than a warrior mentality.

There’s no reason to go to Mars if we aren’t planning to stay.

“Unless we are able to commit to a permanent growing settlement, then I don’t think just going there with humans and coming back is worth doing,” says former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The enormity of the mission – the expense, the time it will take to travel there (and the toll this will take on human physiology), the mental challenges of extreme and prolonged isolation, and the widely spaced launch windows that must be timed when Mars and the Earth come close (about every two years), all add up to a mission that must be sure of its goals – to settle down, to set up camp and eventually to build self-sustaining communities.

The person who takes the first step onto the red surface of Mars will most certainly be noted and remembered, but this event is less likely to be preserved as an iconic moment than Buzz Aldrin’s boot on the moon – and the “selfie” he snapped:

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Aldrin’s “selfie” on the moon

Eventually the first native children will be born on Mars, second-generation Martians who have never known life on Earth. What their parents have built for them, and what they create for their descendants, will become the over-arching themes we will remember and value: Mars missions are for both men and women because building and sustaining communities requires the skills, knowledge and contributions of all.

More than four decades later, Aldrin’s footprint is still etched perfectly in the moon dust; with no atmosphere, there’s no wind, no rain to blur this imprint into obscurity.

On Mars the first footstep will soon be blurred by devilish winds so prevalent there, and, more importantly, permanently erased by the other footsteps that soon will follow – not just because we’re going to Mars, but because we plan to stay.

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“Madam Mars”

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on November 3, 2013

To the ancient Chinese, a sighting of Mars in the night sky signaled “bane, grief, war and murder”.

Because the Martian soil contains iron oxide (rust), the planet’s reddish hue inspired early observers to associate Mars with blood and bloodletting. The Babylonians called it the “star of death,” but the name that stuck was the one provided by the ancient Roman god of war: Mars (actually re-appropriated from the ancient Greek war-god Ares).

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Yeah, he’s trouble.

From that time forward, the planet Mars became synonymous with male aggression as personified by bloodthirsty Mars and his henchmen Phobos (fear) and Demios (panic) – the names given to the two Martian moons.

It’s worth wondering whether this “warrior” version of Mars would have taken hold had the ancient Hebrews’ take on the red hue and the name they assigned to the planet caught on – Ma’adim (מאדים) — “one who blushes.”

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Pleased to meet you!

“Naming a thing is man’s nearest approach to creating it,” wrote astronomer and Mars Maniac Percival Lowell (and what he created with the surface features he called “canals” can be cited as a prime example).

Would a more refined and less combative name for the red planet have meant no War of the Worlds, with Martians intent on invading and conquering the Earth? Would a kinder and gentler demeanor have allowed us to skip all the violent Edgar Rich Burroughs stories in which Earthly hero John Carter is just as intent on maiming and killing the Martians as they are him?

In the early years of the space race, would our all-out rush to get to Mars still have utilized penis-shaped rockets (probably so – they’re aerodynamic)? Would we have called the machines we designed to transverse enormous distances in space “probes” (if space is empty, as we then believed, then what were they probing)?

And once our hardware arrived and photographed the planet’s surface details, would we have still named one of the gigantic Martians canyons Ma’adim Valles (as if it were an enormous vagina – who wouldn’t blush upon seeing that)?

Would our stereotypical Martians be less gender-specific than the proverbial “little green men?”

Perhaps, finally, we have entered a less combative and more gender-neutral phase of Mars exploration, as we prepare to go there ourselves.

What it will take to get humans to mars is not single-minded aggression, but a more diverse set of tools designed and created to sustain us there; what food we will grow and consume, what shelters we will construct and inhabit, what exercise will keep us fit in low-gravity environment, what psychological support we will need as isolated colonists on a desolate and dangerous world, how and when we will decide to couple and generate offspring on Mars.

Ironically the color that suggested blood to long ago observers is not evidence of death on the red planet, but of life. Iron oxide (iron and oxygen combined as rust), was created long ago when the planet had more liquid water, and in its current form, the iron oxide so abundant on the Martian surface can be transformed into life-sustaining energy.

Accomplishing all of this will require contributions by men and women alike, humans not intent on conquering and claiming, but on building, supporting and nurturing.

“Madam Mars” most certainly would approve.