The Science Channel has carved out quite a place on the TV dial, it is well known for exploring both the past and the future of the scientific world. Even better, they do it in a way that us mere mortals can understand. Mars Rising, which premiers tomorrow, October the 30th at 9pm takes a long hard look at just how hard it is going to be to land people on the planet Mars, and get them back! This is not science fiction, this is a serious inspection of the reality of making this task come to fruition. Few of us have not looked in awe at the pictures returned from those two small rovers Opportunity and Spirit that are still scuttling their way across the Martian landscape 3 years after their 90 day warranty expired! Only last week NASA announced another two year extension to the rover project. We may have mastered Mars from a robotic view, but nothing beats having a human on site, a robot cannot spot those interesting aspects that a human can.
In 2003 George Bush announced that NASA would be trying to conquer our closest planetary neighbor within our children’s life. Mars is 50,000 times farther from us than the Moon.

Episode one Journey to the Red Planet (Oct 30) sets the scene, and provides an overview of what we can expect in the upcoming shows. If you think getting to the Moon was tough for NASA’s Apollo initiative, getting to Mars is a whole lot worse. As Academy-Award winning filmmaker James Cameron (’Titanic’), and narrator William Shatner shows us, the Moon was a cake walk in comparison. In Journey to the Red Planet we get to appreciate some of the challenges.

The past record of robotic missions to this inhabitable neighbor has only chalked up a 30% success rate. If you are a Baseball fan a 300 average does not get you to the World Series!

Even worse though are the logistics of the mission, because of the huge distances involved, the best case scenario is a six month journey there, a six month journey back, and… a mind boggling 18 month stay. Why so long? I hear you ask. Well it’s the was our planetary system works, sometimes Mars is close to us (if you think that 56 million Kilometers is close), and for most of the time it is much further away than that. You obviously are not going to sending a craft like the Shuttle. The shuttle is an ultralight, what is needed is an Airbus 380!

NASA has some ideas on the drawing board. They will not be cheap, and they will stretch current technology to it’s limits, but it can be done. The actual craft will be built in space, the components assembled by humans and robots, the delivery system being a ‘next generation’ rocket system dubbed Aries and able to lift 130 metric tons of cargo.

The deadly environment of cosmic radiation, weightlessness, and even illness from natural causes, are all likely to result in death. All in all this is not a great situation!

Technology is not the only issue though, we humans tend to be cranky animals on occasions, how can you find a group of six people that are not going to want to kill each other after a 180 plus days in the equivalent of a small apartment?

Great series, get your TV’s tuned to it!

Simon Barrett

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