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Mars is not the place to raise your children



  Planetary scientist Steve Squires, who heads NASA's rowing team of scientists
Planetary scientist Steve Squires, who heads NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rowing team and now serves as Blue Origin's lead scientist, demonstrating how the rovers are parked on sloping slopes to govern the Martian winter. GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle

STATE COLLEGE, Pat. – For 15 years, the life of the planet Steve Squires has revolved around Mars, for good reason. He was the principal investigator of one of NASA's longest-running missions on the surface of another world, accomplished by the Spirit and Opportunity twin rovers.

If anyone had an idea of ​​the place on Earth on the Red Planet, I would be Squires. So what does he think of the idea of ​​creating permanent cities on Mars?

"My take on this is not, I do not think so," Squires said today at Penn University during the ScienceWriters 2019 conference.

He is not against sending humans to Mars. Far from it. "Human Research Base? Absolutely, as soon as possible, ”Squires said. Even super-rich tourists may want to travel to Mars and back, he said.

But based on the problems faced by Spirit and Opportunity during the longer-than-expected life of the Red Planet, plus Squyres & # 39; experience as a researcher in Antarctica and the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard, he is not convinced that Mars can ever be a place for raising a family.

"Antarctica is an international territory," he said. "If you want to build a home, if you want to go home, create a store, build a community, build a city, nobody will stop you. … Yet no one does. Why? Antarctica is a terrible place, it really is. And Mars is just a lot worse. "

He pointed out that although the surface temperatures of Mars may reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the equilibrium temperature is about 80 below zero. The carbon dioxide atmosphere is less than 1% denser than Earth's, and the dusty rust-red dust is everywhere.

"I guarantee you when the first astronauts come back from Mars and people say, 'What was that like? "- the first thing they will say is" I hated the dust. "

The dust finally reached Opportunity just over a year ago, when a global dust storm shut off solar robot lights. The spirit had frozen for years earlier – and after months of unsuccessful attempts to restore contact with Opportunity, Squyres and his colleagues announced the end of the marathon mission in February.

After opportunity; Squires hoped to win NASA support for a comet sampling mission. But his proposal was lost in June at Titan's Dragonfly Mission, one of Saturn's moons. Then another opportunity came up: Just last month, he quit his longtime post at Cornell University to become a principal scientist at Blue Origin, the space venture of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

"I am very happy to be in the job that I am at the moment," Squires said. "Blue Origin started with rocket engines and small space vehicles, but we are heading for the first flight of New Glen as we are heading for the Blue Moon, as we are heading for the landing system as part of the Artemis Program, and as we begin to fly any payloads even in New Shepard, what we find in Blue Origin is that what we do begins to intersect with science in many, many different ways. "[19659004] All these intersections provide opportunities for a chief scientist. For example, the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft can be used to prepare the way for lunar missions. "We can rotate the capsule," said Skires. we simulate lunar gravity – 11 rpm and you get one sixth G. "

It just so happens that Squyres 's views overlap with Bezos' views when it comes to the moon against sending Mars migrants. "My friends who say they want to move to Mars or something like that … I say, 'Why don't you live in Antarctica first because it's a garden paradise compared to Mars,'" Bezos says in 2017.

means that Squyres' perspective contradicts SpaceX founder Elon Musk's view that a million settlers can be transported to Martian cities, beginning well before NASA's current mid-30s target date for Mars crew crews and its moons.

Squyres made no mention of Musk or SpaceX, but noted that private companies tend to have more leeway than government-run space programs.

"I think it is very likely that sooner or later we will have a clash of events where some organization will have both the means and the will to put people on the surface [Martian] to go and stay," he said. "And given the vast diversity of human opinions and life experiences outside, I don't think it will be difficult for them to find not only willing people, but people who are healthy and capable and good crew members who will do the job as far as they can. ”

These crew members can set up research bases or tourist stops that Squires has in mind.

"But I truly believe that when you start talking about real settlement, real colonization, which requires sending a wide cross section of people, including ages from birth to old age," he said. "Trying to support such people and it actually made them want to be there in that environment … I just don't see it. "

How about terraforming Mars to make it more Earth-like?

" Terraforming assumes you own as technology and wisdom to adapt the climate and the whole planet to your liking, "Squires said." One thing we are learning on Earth right now is that climate systems are incredibly complex things. For me, I don't see any evidence that anyone knows what the technology for terraforming Mars is "I see no evidence that we have the wisdom to change the climate of the planet to our liking. If we do, at some point in the future, I would like to build the Earth."

Although he is a master of robotic space missions, Squires believes in humans they will be essential to the exploration of Mars. He said the first job would be to drill hundreds of meters to look for liquid water and maybe even life. The difficulties encountered by NASA's Mars InSight lander, trying to get a heat probe just a few feet into the ground, shows how difficult such a job can be for remote control robots. "Drilling is difficult," Squires said.

  • The experience of Squires as an aquaman in NASA's underwater training missions convinced him that the concept of a controlled Earth mission would have to "change" substantially to accommodate communication delays associated with Mars crew. He noted that he "died" during a medical simulation conducted at the Aquarius submarine habitat due to simulated signal delays, as well as the absence of a submarine doctor.

  • One of Squyres' other interests is Europa, the icy covered moon of Jupiter. Where can evidence of life, Europe or Mars, be found first? "A reasonable but possibly wrong answer to your question would be that Europe is more likely, but Mars is the easier place to look," he said. NASA's Europa Clipper flight mission to be launched in the mid-2020s will help characterize the ice cover of the moon and the ocean of liquid water thought to lie beneath. "The Europa Clipper will go a long way in this," Squires said.

  • Alan Boyle at GeekWire is the president of the Science Writing Development Council, one of the organizers of the annual ScienceWriters conference.

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