Returning to Mars

In October 2016 and again in October 2017 I wrote two blog-posts about our exploration and eventual colonization of the red planet Mars. To date the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and NASA have delivered a total of seven unmanned rovers to Mars. Currently there are proposals and plans for satellite orbits, landers, rovers, and eventually crews onto Mars by the U.S., the European Space Agency, China, and Russia between the mid-2030’s and 2060. The lone private enterprise so far is SpaceX. Telling and imagining these Martian efforts on television will return again this coming Monday evening, November 12th on the National Geographic Channel’s second season of “Mars.” Getting there after around 7-months of spaceflight and surviving the first SOLs/days (or seasons of the Martian calendar) are not the only serious challenges. Coexisting with each other will be another on a long, long list of challenges that never really end.

If you think coexisting is sometimes difficult here on Earth, even with family, where we have so many benefits and luxuries we take for granted daily, then talk to Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue about how in 1973 just 84-days together inside Skylab 4 turned out! The biggest major problem for those three astronauts? Workaholism. Excessive workaholism to be more accurate. But to be safe and survive way out there is workaholism what will be required of Martian travelers and colonists?

There are a number of plans from various governmental, scientific, and commercial entities already in progress to gradually move humans from “Earth-reliant” stations (currently the ISS), to “Cislunar space”  that is still Earth-reliant, and then beyond our Moon into deep space travel to another planned Mars orbiting habitat/station (a transfer station, if you will), and finally onto the surface of Mars. Many supplies, equipment, and some raw materials will be waiting, shipped there for them months, years earlier. However, before the latter stages of these plans can unfold, we must first confirm that some basic elements, like water, microbes, and geothermal hot-spots underneath Martian soil, are still present in light of those components having existed in higher amounts on Mars 3.8 – 3.5 billion years ago. Dr. Dava Newman, former Deputy Administrator of NASA, explains that so far the news of necessary life-building resources on Mars are very encouraging, however:

For such a voyage [of boots on Mars], measured in years, astronauts will have to become Earth-independent, devising ways to make fuel, water, oxygen and building materials with whatever resources the Red Planet offers. If that seems as fantastical as Matt Damon growing potatoes in The Martian, Newman shrugs: Astronauts have dined on lettuce and peppers grown aboard the space station.

All the same, these are nonhuman concerns. What are the serious and pressing psychosocial challenges for space and Mars habitation? Making it to the red planet requires obvious, daunting, precise space and extra-planetary science, preparation, and training, but it requires just as much human science. Given how deterred and unfavorably psychology, neurology, biology, philosophy, and sociology (to name only five areas) have battled in the U.S. for widespread legitimacy the last century, the Human sciences are perhaps less prepared to face a life far away from our perfectly suited green and blue planet.

Here’s another influencing factor: because expeditions to Mars will likely be international collaborations, those astronauts and Martian colonists must overcome cultural differences to survive and thrive while on Mars. Communication between Earth and Martian expeditionary craft take 20-minutes to be received — which means 40-mins could pass before an answer is received on a spacecraft or Mars colony. Are these factors insurmountable? No, but they do compound the mental and behavioral health of astronauts and Martian colonists.

Earth from Mars photo

Your home from 127-million miles from Mars; taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera in Nov 2016

ISS crew-members have always praised the emotional, inspirational, and transcendental effect staring back down at Earth gives to them. But that is nothing like the possible effect of barely seeing your home as a tiny dot 35 – 37 million miles away (see MRC photo). Living in micro-gravity and zero-gravity pose several challenges on the human physiology. Space radiation has significant threats to human DNA, tissue, and cells which impact our central nervous system altering the structure and functions of the brain. Kidney stones become more common in altered gravity environments, which also leads to urinary track infections, which undetected can lead to confusion or delirium, which can be mistaken for a psychiatric disorder. And then there are the social difficulties of prolonged weightlessness and confinement of a group or crew.

In 2010-2011 the Mars-500 project, directed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, tested and studied six male participants from several countries for 520-days in a small Mars-like module. The results of the project revealed some encouraging as well as potentially significant psychosocial concerns. These ranged from friendly constructive interactions to errors in experiments and daily routines caused by sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Some crew-members became more sedentary after just 2-3 months. Their activities continued to decline for the next year. Due to the stress and exhaustion of two participants and simulated problem-events, 85% of the perceived conflicts among crew members and with mission control involved these two crew-members. For a better informed understanding of these psychosocial challenges in epic space-travel, read Mission to Mars by the American Psychological Association.

mars500

All of these concerns, however, do have some solutions. Surprisingly, cultural differences and language difficulties did not bear any significant influence. This is likely due to the fact that crew-members were so involved in each other’s daily routines and such intimacy is conducive to quicker collaboration and problem-resolution as opposed to those who are complete strangers and continents apart.

We are certainly prepared and capable of manned spacecraft to Mars and its colonization from a scientific nonhuman perspective, but are we as ready and prepared for the journey and life in deep space and on the red planet from a human sciences perspective? Maybe National Geographic Channel’s season 2 of Mars will help determine that… at least in the public’s mind, maybe. Come this Monday I will be watching and learning.

————

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Martian Laws

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.

They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!

I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.

I blew myself up. Everything went great right up to the explosion.

∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼

Botanist Mark Watney is a fantastic character in the 2015 film “The Martian.” The movie is one of my all-time favorites. Those are just a few of the classic lines Watney stated while stranded, alone, on Mars, trying to survive for another 4-years, minimum. Complicated? Daunting? Yeah, to say the least. And that’s strictly concerning the human needs of Martian explorers and colonists, which by the way were not just Americans.

The Martian - base stationEarth-bound nations and their people have a long, long history of fighting each other and not getting along. What happens on Mars, or any celestial body, when Earthly independent nations with their own agendas start mixing with or conflicting with foreign foreign agendas? Watney indeed talked about those guidelines in the film, that applied back on Earth and Earth’s orbits, but what about on Mars?

In an October 2017 article on Smithsonian.com, writer Gbenga Oduntan probes into these issues with some questions regarding the governing of activity on and around Mars. I find it all intriguing because by 2022 and 2028 these manned Mars expeditions will become reality.

Psychological Factors

Mars is around 34.2 million miles away from Earth, which means it would take a manned spacecraft between 150-300 days — depending on the speed of the launch, the alignment of Earth and Mars, and the trajectory of the journey the spacecraft takes — to reach the red planet. The human physiological challenges of a year in spaceflight are numerous. If the trip doesn’t kill you or drive you insane, living on Mars might. The emotional stressors of being away from Earth are perhaps more numerous. Then consider living on an unforgiving, uncooperative alien planet and all sorts of further complexities compound manned expeditions.

[after Mindy has discovered that Watney may be alive]
“Can you imagine what he’s going through up there? I mean, he’s 50 million miles away from home. He thinks he’s totally alone. He thinks we gave up on him. What does that do to a man, psychologically? What the hell is he thinking right now?” — Vincent Kapoor, The Martian

Mars_Voyage_habitat

click here to enlarge

Experts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Planetary Science Institute say helping boost the astronaut’s morale on the journey and on the surface of Mars would be the need to have enough living-space and good food for them to garden. Crops from “green walls” could supplement their space-food diet. Of course loading up the spacecraft with these pseudo-Earth human comforts and needs means a heavier payload, more fuel, and more cost considerations. Humans on Earth and in most governed states are required to pass tests to be issued operator licenses for autos and machinery. What sort of licensing tests should there be for Mars? These are only a few of the material, legal, and psychological challenges of manned spaceflights to Mars.

Policing and Martian Rights

The appropriate and safe activity on Mars and her two moons Phobos and Deimos will be practically endless. How should it be governed and policed? What should be permitted for states and corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX? Certain manufacturing of drugs and materials requiring sterile atmospheres could be done in space stations. Space and Mars discoveries under present laws can be patented and commercialized. Hence, what should be the legitimacy of Martian mining?

As laws stand now, conducting expeditions for the sake of science and sustenance for Martian missions are granted. However, creating property rights over celestial resources are not. This means the commercial extraction of resources back to Earth is illegal until international space treaties are updated. Unfortunately, history has shown that cooperation between opposing nations has often been hit or miss to put it mildly. It is likely that new laws and treaties for property and resources 34-million miles away will be ignored by Martian workers and their employers. Just ask the Native Americans of the U.S. Like the California Gold Rush of 1848 and the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, the U.S. and Luxembourg have made attempts already to gain appropriation of natural resources in space. Essentially the two countries are preparing to issue Carte Blanche to private companies for winner-takes-all acquisitions.

The Intergovernmental Agreements of 1988 and 1999 drawn up for the Columbus Space Station Project then the current International Space Station offer civil and criminal jurisdiction for all nations participating in space exploration. Parties to these agreements set out to govern the conduct and ramifications of international operating environments, particularly concerning the ESA’s (European Space Agency) eleven independent member states. Yet, even the totality of these agreements and policies in several instances are not fully elaborated, they do provide a compass for a comprehensive legal framework that can serve as an example for international space law and a forward-looking view to new developments.

Watney-Space Pirate

“Mark Watney:  Space Pirate.”

Nonetheless, it has become tradition that astronauts, cosmonauts, etc, are almost always subordinate to the hierarchical authority of one commander from their native registered country. That commander’s authority is usually cut-and-dry; final. Like in the naval traditions of hierarchy the ship’s captain has full and ultimate command and it is his/her responsibility for the care and safety of crew and passengers or “space colonists.” These past command traditions and roles will need modernizing however, for space travel and celestial population and survival.

Current Space Station Laws

“I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars. There’s an international treaty saying that no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. By another treaty if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies. So Mars is international waters. Now, NASA is an American non-military organization, it owns the Hab. But the second I walk outside I’m in international waters. So Here’s the cool part. I’m about to leave for the Schiaparelli Crater where I’m going to commandeer the Ares IV lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m on board the Ares IV. So I’m going to be taking a craft over in international waters without permission, which by definition… makes me a pirate.

Mark Watney: Space Pirate.

As Watney illustrates, there are a plethora of complexities not only aboard a space station orbiting Earth or Mars, but just as many complexities surround stations on the surface of Mars that need to be spelled out. According to the Outer Space Treaty, Mars belongs to everybody back on Earth. Nobody can “own” a celestial body. Today private companies on Earth can go to Mars whenever they choose, construct permanent habs, and start new Martian societies, as long as they do so under the Outer Space Treaty’s laws and bylaws. For good or bad this also includes weaponry. Those operations are not allowed to interfere with operations of others on Mars or in space. As Watney correctly alluded, maritime laws, at least for now, are applicable examples. But as was also touched on, including other independent nations to Martian activities and things are not so clear-cut, yet.

Here in the U.S. if you want to put a satellite into orbit, you must first obtain permission from the federal government. Depending on what activity will be done in space you must get further permission or license to do such activity. However, move outside of Earth-orbit and there are no current licensing agencies to supervise legal ramifications of celestial colonization. Space tourism by private companies has been on the rise for several years so governments are going to have to sort out licensing protocols very soon.

colonizing Mars - NGM

click here to enlarge

Like any new, untouched, pristine area or park, opening them up to the general public means human trash and contamination. The Outer Space Treaty specifically states this activity or behavior by humans or business entities is prohibited and it includes our contaminating microbes. Yet, here’s the Catch-22. Private or government spacecraft, by order of the OST, are required to decontaminate their ships as best as possible before sending and/or arriving on foreign planets. But humans are near impossible to decontaminate because our health depends on these microbes. Places on Mars or on other celestial bodies that may contain water or forms of frozen water and liquids or once did must receive the highest protections and laws possible. Even the most thoroughly decontaminated vessels may need banning from specific areas. Let’s keep in mind though that these laws, their jurisdiction, and enforcement in the end fall only under the U.S. flag. International space cooperation and collaboration among nations and peoples will see unchartered territory in the coming decades. Can it be made easier or harder? How so and how not?

Once again, there will always be titans of commerce who scream about “bureaucratic red-tape” and their (unfounded?) feeling of repression toward “human progress and developement” while their greed lurks in the wings waiting to pounce. History is saturated with these exploitations of resources at the expense of the bio-eco systems and/or the lives of lower-class vulnerable humans. Why would space, Mars, and beyond be any different?

Like 15th century European Empires discovering the New World bringing with them their way of life, materials, waste, and weapons, space debris around Earth-orbits today is already well past a point of substantial risks of collisions. It is only a matter of time before damage to a space station, human injury or loss of life caused by congested operations, overcrowding, trash, and debris will lead to legal and/or political conflicts. How soon should Earth’s international space community hash-out these very real future events? Is it even possible? Will it be easy or hard?

 

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Explore & Learn Always

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