National Geographic : 2016 Nov
mars 59 that SpaceX wants to send an unoccupied Dragon capsule to Mars as early as 2018. To do that, he’d need NASA’s technical support, in particular its huge radio antennas, which allow spacecraft to communicate with Earth. To send people to Mars, SpaceX would need far more help—those $500,000 tickets won’t cov- er much of the costs, and it will take NASA know- how to keep the travelers alive. NASA, on the other hand, could benefit from SpaceX’s rockets, capsules, and enthusiasm. The two will likely go to Mars together if they go at all. (Musk himself has suggested as much.) When will they go? If it’s a partnership, it seems more likely to follow NASA’s more cautious schedule. What will they do when they get there? It’s a lot easier to imagine a few scientists spending a year or two at a small Martian research station, like the ones in Ant- arctica, than it is to imagine thousands of people emigrating permanently to a Martian metropolis. “ Those people who think they want to live on Mars—I would encourage them to spend a sum- mer, or better yet a year, on South Pole station,” says Chris McKay, a NASA scientist and Mars ex- pert who has worked in Antarctica. Suggesting that humans might find refuge on Mars after messing up Earth is “ethically and technically absurd,” says McKay. “I think we need to take the view that fail- ure is not an option. The notion of Mars as a life- boat makes the Titanic look like a happy ending.” Mikhail Kornienko recommends a long stay on the space station as a way to winnow out the enthusiasts who think they’d like to go on a one- way journey to Mars. Soon after he came back from space this year, he recalled the moment the ground crew opened the hatch on the Soyuz cap- sule. “ The air of the steppe comes into the cabin after all the bustle of descent, and you under- stand that everything is over,” he said. “And you can’t get enough of this air. It’s possible to cut it with a knife and spread it on bread.” j Since 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been looking for chemical evidence that Mars might once have supported life. “The most sophisticated robot ever sent to another planet,” according to former chief scientist John Grotzinger, it needs no food or water and never gets lonely. It even takes selfies. PHOTO: NASA/JPL/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS; COMPOSITE OF 58 PHOTOS n To learn more about colonizing the red planet, tune in to National Geographic’s six-part series, MARS, on November 14 at 9/8c.