Could We Live on Mars?

Zephyr Lipman-Wulf, Arts & Entertainment

The idea that there might be life on planets other than Earth is not new. From television shows and movies such as Star Trek to books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is clear that humans have long wondered about outer space. Are there other life forms out there? If we destroy the Earth, or use up all our resources, might humans be able to relocate on other planets? What conditions are needed to sustain life on another planet?

This past week, NASA took a huge step toward answering some of these questions. On July 30, 2020, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 Rocket launched into space, carrying NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity. According to NASA’s website, which is about the Mars Exploration Program, its mission is to “search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars.” The Ingenuity’s mission specifically is to test if powered flight is possible in the Martian air. If so, small powered aircraft like the Ingenuity could be used in the future to explore hard to reach areas and provide mission support in general.  

After 7 months of traveling about 300 million miles at approximately 24,600 miles per hour, the Rover reached Mars right on schedule on February 18, 2021. With video footage available, people all over the world were able to witness the Rover’s descent and landing on the surface. Although there have been previous fly-bys and landings on Mars, none of the earlier spacecrafts before had cameras that could capture video. Instead, their cameras could take a series of pictures that would later be pieced together to create animations, or video-like sequences. None of them were like those currently being sent, which are high resolution videos.  

Today, not only can you see what it is like to land on the Red Planet (which is actually terra cotta), but there are also recordings of wind that give an idea of what it would actually be like to be on Mars. All of these are very revolutionary, exciting developments and some scientists involved in the project are suggesting that all data in the future should be labeled, since there is apparently a huge difference between the earlier photo or animation montages and the footage available now.  In The New York Times article, “Watch Video from NASA’s Perseverance Rover Landing on Mars,” a scientist involved was quoted as saying, ‘“I think we should label them going forward…. Now that we have this kind of video, we should be clear about what’s real.”’

Some of the main goals of exploration on Mars include searching for signs of ancient life, collecting rock and soil samples, and storing any samples collected in hopes that a future mission could retrieve them and bring them back to Earth at some point. According to the NASA website, two other major projects are to test “a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere,” and “identifying other resources that …could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.”