Elon Musk’s plan to put 1 million people on Mars by 2050 is feasible or pure delusion?
The grand success of Chandrayaan-3 has brought space exploration in focus. Apart from study of the Moon and the Sun, a key planet of interest for human beings remains our neighbour Mars. Whether it can ever support life is the million dollar question. One person who seems certain that Mars can be colonized is Elon Musk.
Elon Musk has made his plans of sending 1 million people to Mars by 2050 public. He plans to do this by launching 3 Starship rockets every day. He promised creating ‘a lot of jobs’ in the city he hopes to establish on the red planet. Musk claimed that his company is planning to build a fleet of 1000 Starships and launch three of these every day. Starship is SpaceX’s 387 foot rocketship meant for deep-space travel. Musk had provided these details through a series of tweets last year. He basically aims to provide the opportunity of Mars trip to everybody.
Musk also has plans drawn out to take advantage of the brief windows of time when orbits of Mars and earth align. After every 26 month such brief window of 30 days presents itself. Musk said he would take full advantage of that opening by “loading the Mars fleet into Earth orbit,” then sending all 1,000 ships on a Mars-bound trajectory during the said 30-day window every 26 months.
Musk may be optimistic about colonizing mars but there are severe challenges to overcome before a human can be put on Mars. NASA scientist Doctor Michelle Thaller says that sending humans to Mars with the existing technology is impossible as of now. Among the key challenges to reach Mars, first and foremost remains the distance itself – the 34 million-mile trip. This poses a colossal challenge to the survival of the crew and their safe return. Presently, NASA’s Perseverance rover is collecting carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the planet’s thin atmosphere and converting it into oxygen for use by astronauts, but there are any other threats to survival as well.
Other key challenges
NASA said even if we succeed in overcoming the distance while ensuring a safe, functional life support system for the astronauts for such an extended period of time, upon reaching Mars, the radiation will kill them. “…With the current technology, protecting astronauts travelling to Mars will be difficult because of the radiation from the solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) that will kill human beings long before they reach,” Thaller said.
The surface of Mars is tremendously hostile. Unlike the Earth, Mars has a very thin atmosphere and lacks magnetic field to deflect energetic particles, so we would require technology to protect the astronauts from two sources of radiation, sun and the galactic cosmic rays from stars. “Some of these energetic particles can knock apart atoms in the material they strike, such as in the astronaut, the metal walls of a spacecraft, habitat…,” the space agency said.
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