Insights · August 4th, 2008
As a child of the original space age, I’ve been hoping that a human mission to Mars will happen within my lifetime. While this is still a long shot, two recent developments suggest that the possibility is improving.
First, the several successful NASA missions to Mars have culminated with the confirmation of water ice by the current Mars explorer Phoenix. This craft used an on-board lab to confirm that a soil sample contained water vapor when heated. Obviously the existence of water on Mars makes it much more feasible to imagine human missions, even settlements on the red planet, because the water makes it possible to manufacture both hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for life support. It was really a forgone conclusion that water would be present, as we have noted before in 2000, but this observation by Phoenix is the first-ever physical confirmation.
Over the weekend the blogs were full of speculation that NASA is about to announce further test results that suggest either life or the possibility of life on Mars. However, NASA sought to dampen this speculation yesterday.
The second development that suggests a prospect for human mission to Mars was actually the failed launch of the Falcon 1 by the private space launch company, SpaceX on Saturday. This was the third test flight for the Falcon 1. After a perfect launch and first stage separation, the second stage failed to separate from the third, preventing the craft from achieving low earth orbit. At the same time, Elon Musk, company founder noted that a new booster engine performed perfectly, and the entire effort represented progress. Musk created SpaceX after selling PayPal, and has assembled the best private space launch team in the business. The plan is to develop heavy launch capabilities, and eventually manned craft. The company has snagged contracts with NASA, and I’ve heard Musk confidently describe a pathway to eventual trips to Mars in the decade of the 2020’s. SpaceX is discovering how hard space flight really is, but their progress suggests that a private company can be part of the answer as to how we get to Mars.
I believe that it is vital to the long term human future that we continue to develop our ability to be a space-faring civilization.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.