After the American "perseverance" and China's "Zhurong" rover landed on Mars, Mars exploration ushered in a new wave of enthusiasm. But while Mars exploration is still in the era of probes, when will humans get there? Billionaire Elon Musk is aiming to send humans to Mars as soon as 2026. Bloomberg reported that this could be the most dangerous mission of human exploration to date, a near-death experience.
In 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong took what he called "one giant leap for mankind" when he became the first astronaut to set foot on the moon. More than half a century later, another space race is heating up. This time, the new frontier that nurtured Earthlings' hopes was Mars.
On February 19, 2021, NASA's Permission landed in Jezello Crater on Mars, becoming the fifth rover to successfully land on the Red Planet. Nearly three months later, on May 15, China's Tianxen-1 Mars probe, carrying its Zhurong rover, successfully landed on Utopang Plain, making it the first successful Mars landing mission and the second country after the United States to successfully land on Mars.
The question is, when will humans catch up with the rovers and land on Mars? Unmanned missions to Mars over the past few decades have sent back a wealth of information, including the presence of water ice, adding to the belief that a human landing on Mars is a possibility. But how fast? Are we ready?
Musk wants to land on Mars in 2026
NASA plans to send humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s. The United Arab Emirates, whose Kibo rover is currently orbiting Mars, is promoting its plan to colonize the planet in 100 years. While China says sending humans to Mars is its long-term goal, those eager to experience life on the planet can head to a Mars simulation base in the Gobi Desert for a sneak peek.
Of all the plans to go to Mars, the most ambitious is likely to be billionaire Musk. The SpaceX founder wants to send humans to Mars this decade (between 2020 and 2029). In an interview last year, Musk said he was confident of a manned mission to Mars in 2026. However, many scientists warn that deep space trekking faces many unknowns. Mr Musk acknowledged the risk, saying it was "hard to sledding over there".
"Becoming a multiplanetary species is one of the best filters out there," Musk said last weekend in response to online comments about the Great Filter. Only now, 4.5 billion years after the birth of the Earth, is that possible. How long this window for landing on Mars will last is uncertain. It may or may not be long. In case it is the latter, we should act now." The Great Filter theory holds that the more advanced a civilisation, the more likely it is to self-destruct.
"To be honest, there might be a bunch of people dying at first." "Musk said in an interview with Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize Foundation.
Apollo astronauts could reach the moon in a few days, but it would take six to nine months to get to Mars.
Because Earth and Mars travel in elliptical orbits, the distances between them vary, ranging from 35 million miles to 249 million miles. The best time for space travel is when Mars is aligned with Earth, but that window is small, which makes landing a mission trickier.
Alice Gorman, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia and a member of the Space Industry Association's advisory board, said there was always the possibility of rescue and supplies from Earth or a relay station in lunar exploration, "but not on Mars."
Deadly solar flares
Meanwhile, the long trek can expose humans to solar flares, one of the scariest phenomena of space travel. Solar flares are the most powerful type of explosion in the solar system, with a blast equivalent to 100 million hydrogen bombs exploding. Earth's magnetic field can protect astronauts in orbit, but deep-space travelers won't survive more than a few days after encountering such radiation.
"It's a terrible way to die." Astrobiology expert Lewis Lewis Dartnell, a professor at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Westminster in London, who works on research related to life on Mars.