Entrepreneur Elon Musk announces plans to send manned flights to Mars by 2024


Billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX owner Elon Musk has today announced his ambitious plans to put humans on Mars by 2024.

The plans call for two cargo craft to be dispatched to the Red Planet by 2022. These ships would ferry power units, mining rigs, and life support systems to be used by Mars pioneers arriving later in manned flights.

Musk’s visionary plan involves the development and construction of a brand new rocket, dubbed the BFR. Officially, BFR stands for Big Falcon Rocket, though SpaceX staff knows it by a more colourful name.

The BFR craft would carry one hundred passengers accomodated across 40 private cabins all the way to Mars. Ideally, the BFR would be a reusable craft, to reduce costs.

Thus Musk spoke at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, though his words, while brave and inspirational, must perhaps be taken with a certain degree of skepticism.

SpaceX’s track record is peppered with both great successes and well publicized failures, and Musk himself is known for issuing ambitious deadlines that have come and gone without delivering on their intentions.

Nevertheless, the race to the Red Planet is well and truly underway.

Speaking at the same event was a representative from Lockheed Martin, who said that the company is working on a ‘Mars Base Camp’, a sort of mini space colony being developed for NASA. The components for the camp may be developed in the new Deep Space Gateway, the brand new spaceport intended to be put into the Moon’s orbit in the near future.

Mars’ surface is covered in UV-activated chemicals that inhibit the development of living organisms -Exomars rover will target subsoil in search for extraterrestrial life

Terraforming Mars may have to wait yet a while longer.

The Martian surface is covered in UV-activated chemicals that inhibit the development of any lifeforms, as recent tests of the topsoil have shown.

ESA’s Exomars rover will now begin digging under Mars’ toxic surface, searching for any proof of current or past life on the planet.

Recent tests conducted on Martial soil have confirmed that oxidant compounds known as perchlorates permeate the the Red Planet’s surface.

Perchlorates are highly oxidized forms of chlorine, a chemical commonly used in household cleaning products and also as a disinfectant in swimming pools. The downside of it is that at high concentrations, chlorine is extremely toxic. It was weaponised and used as a chemical warfare agent during the First World War, for example.

Perchlorates were first thought to be present on the Martian soil as far back as 1976, when the Viking probes landed there. The compounds were detected again by the Curiosity rover, which is still marauding around Mars today.

The bad news is that when perchlorates are hit by UV radiation, which occurs on Mars pretty much all the time, the compounds become activated and turn into a particularly effective bactericide, killing off most microbial life.

This effect is a double edge sword. While the chemicals present on the Martial soil will destroy any microbe brought from Earth, thus preventing the contamination of Mars with exogenous bacteria, it also means that life on the surface is all but impossible at this point in time.

Scientists will now have to dig deep into the Martian subsoil to try and find any trace of life, past or present.

Expanding Earth’s horizons: NASA scientists propose the launch of a planet-wide magnetic field to restore Mars’ atmosphere and make the Red Planet habitable


The colonization of the Red Planet may be one step closer to reality today, after NASA scientists proposed the creation of a magnetic field around Mars that could potentially make the planet habitable for future human generations.

Today, Mars is a barren wasteland. No life has existed there for billions of years.

But it wasn’t always like that. Scientists believe that the planet once held vast and deep oceans teeming with living creatures.

All this paradise-like conditions ended when Mars lost its magnetic field, between 3.7 and 4.2 billions of years ago. This allowed high-energy particles to gradually strip away its protective atmosphere. Once the atmosphere became thin enough, all life on Mars’ surface became extinct.

But wayward NASA people now believe that Mars’ once thick atmosphere could be restored by ‘coating’ the planet with a gigantic magnetic field. This artificial magnetosphere would shield Mars from the damaging effects of solar winds and other high-energy particles, much like Earth’s own magnetosphere does.

Once protected, Mars’ natural processes would begin restoring the planet’s atmosphere over time. As the atmosphere thickened, surface temperatures would rise enough so that carbon dioxide ice from Mars’ northern polar cap would begin to melt. In turn, this would trigger a greenhouse effect and cause the planet’s now frozen water wastes to thaw. In just a few generations, Mars might just have flowing rivers and vast oceans once again.

Should all these things happen as predicted, the exploration and colonization of Mars may become a reality within a few hundred years.

The research team that postulated all this did admit that the concepts and ideas are purely hypothetical at this point in time, but that has not deterred them from following their vision of turning the Red Planet into an Earth-like Blue Planet.

Life finds a way: Ancient fossils dating back 4.2bn years prove that life thrived on Earth much earlier than previously thought, and may also hint at living organisms in Mars’ distant past


Life finds a way, mathematician Ian Malcolm utters in Jurassic Park.

Though a scientific fantasy, the film -based on a bestselling novel by Michael Crichton- did postulate on the dangers of genetic tinkering, and how such transgression may endanger our very survival.

But life does indeed find a way, no matter how adverse the environmental conditions might be, as recently found fossils seem to prove.

The fossils, dating back 4.2 billion years, are the oldest ever found on Planet Earth, and show that life thrived even back then, when our planet was little more than a swirling cauldron of magma.

These fossilized organisms were found inside rock formations in Quebec, Canada, and have shocked scientists as they date back hundreds of millions of years earlier than the lifeforms known thus far.

A research team from University College London, partly funded by NASA, made the fascinating discovery.

They released a statement saying “Early Mars and early Earth are very similar places, so we may expect to find life on both planets at this time”.

“We know that life managed to get a foothold and evolve rapidly on Earth. So if we have life evolving in hydrothermal vent systems maybe even 4.2 billion years ago when both planets had liquid water on their surface, then we would expect both planets to develop early life.

“If we do future sample returns from Mars and look at similarly old rocks and we don’t find evidence of life then this certainly may point to the fact that Earth might have been a very special exception, and life may just have arisen on Earth.”

The evidence seems to point out that these organisms may prove that life once existed on Mars. Though a dead planet now, it is thought that Mars once had an atmosphere and contained vast oceans, both conditions favorable for life to thrive.

The next step would be to search for similar fossils around Mars, to prove beyond doubt that alien life does -or at least, did- exist in the distant past. Such endeavor however, may prove a challenging undertaking.

But if such evidence were to be found, it would potentially suggest that life on Earth actually originated in Mars, or elsewhere in the Universe, and that the building blocks were deposited here by comets or other celestial bodies.

We may all be from Mars, after all.

Mars road trip: NASA’s Curiosity rover vehicle beams new pictures of Mars down to Earth, and they look amazing


In yet another display of great human ingenuity, NASA’s Curiosity vehicle has beamed down some amazing new pictures of the Red Planet, taken in the Murray Buttes mesa.

The Martian buttes and mesas rise above the planet’s surface. They are the eroded remnants of ancient sandstone formations that were created by sand deposited by winds.

Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. The landing site, a plain between the northern wall of Gale Crater and the northern slopes of Aeolis Mons, was named Bradbury Landing after well known sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, who had passed away shortly before Curiosity’s touchdown on Mars.

The vehicle, which is equipped with a plethora of cameras, sensors, and other scientific equipment, has been driving around the planet ever since. Its primary mission is to research the Martian climate and geology, and to ascertain whether conditions around the Gale Crater were ever able to sustain microbial or other type of life.

Gale is an impace crater estimated to be 3.5-3.8bn years old, so Curiosity will be able to pick up samples that will provide great insight into Martian ancient history.

Mars: The ultimate frontier


The Red Planet has been wetting mankind’s thirst for knowledge and exploration for several long decades now. The shiny red star in the night heavens has been the subject of countless movies, books, and other media throughout time.

Technical limitations have hitherto prevented man from travelling to Mars, but lately there has been somewhat of a rennaissance of the pioneering trip to Mars idea.

NASA is said to be researching possible landing sites ahead of a planned launch in the late 2030s. Scientists will meet in Houston next October to give serious discussion and thought to the issue of “exploration zones”. These are areas on the planet’s surface, about 62 miles-wide, which are deemed to offer enough resources (such as subssurface water ice) to support prospecting astronauts. Over the next few years, the space agency will utilise the Mars Odyssey and the Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter crafts to probe these selected areas to ascertain their suitability for landing and support human life.

Every two years or thereabouts, Mars and Earth’s orbit create optimal conditions for a launch. When the two planets are aligned, about 55 millions km separate mankind from its ultimate frontier. Though that may sound like a lot, in terms of cosmic distances, it’s a mere stone throw away.

Still, using currently available propulsion and space exploration technology, it would take a manned spaceship about nine long months to reach Mars’ surface, assuming all went according to plan. And that’s just a one way trip. The first crew to reach Mars will likely be forced to stay there, there’d be no coming back.

Space travel is inherently dangerous, of that there is little doubt. Disasters like the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia are a sad testament to mankind’s space faring endeavors.

And going to Mars would pose a completely new set of challenges. Putting aside the huge financial cost of a mission to Mars, there is the issue of the sheer distance between us and the Red Planet. Nine months, give or take, is a very long time to be locked inside a spaceship hurtling through space with a bunch of fellow men and women. A lot of psychological issues may arise.

Another danger would be the amount of radiation that the crew would be exposed to on their way over. Cosmic rays would constantly bombard the spacecraft, and the effects may cause deadly cancers in the long run. The crew may be dead, or dying, by the time they got to Mars. And that’s just cancer. Solar storms also pose a huge risk to the human heart and central nervous system. Subatomic particles from solar radiation can kill a person in a matter of hours.

So how to avoid dying in the name of science and exploration? Appropriate shielding of the craft would be an idea, but again, currently available technology hampers the prospect. Traditional lead shielding actually creates secondary radiation when hit by cosmic rays. A better proposition is water, but a water shield would need to be several meters thick to be effective. Again, not currently workable.

And then there’s the issue of what to do, once the ship arrived in Mars?

Mars is a hostile environment to humans. The planet has a very thin atmosphere, about one percent of the thickness of Earth’s own atmosphere. It consists of about 96% carbon dioxide and less than 0.2% oxygen, ergo not breathable. If a manned mission did make it to Mars, they would need to somehow manufacture their own oxygen to sustain life in the long term. To remedy this, NASA will carry out the Mars Oxygen in Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) in its planned 2020 mission.

Also, huge dust storms sweep across Mars’ surface regularly, and these can last for a month at a time.

A lot remains to be solved, no less in the fiend of the potentially devastating psychological effects of a Mars stay.  Space missions in the past have had to be terminated early due to crew squabbles and disagreements. And who knows what the human mind may experience when faced with the sheer distance and isolation from one’s home planet.

So the challenges are huge, and so are the costs associated with all this. For now, the Red Planet remains tantalizingly just out of mankind’s reach, but the next couple of decades might see a successful mission land on the Red Planet’s surface, thus marking a historic milestone on human evolution.