Dr Adriana Marais is a theoretical physicist and an ambitious astronaut. She is excited to be one of the first persons intending to recreate earth-life on Mars. In this piece, Olubayo Abiodun who had an encounter with her in Lagos, Nigeria, delves into the behind the logic details that makes humans’ multi-planetary ambition an exciting voyage for Adriana.
THE inspiration and motivation is somewhat bizarre to discerning minds. But to Adriana Marais, what if human activity or natural disaster(s) inevitably wipes human life from the surface of the earth. Adriana had at the back of her mind the extinction of Dinosaurs from the face of the earth in coming up with such apostate view point when I asked her about the motivation to be part of the mission to Mars. In her intrinsic ambition to safe the human species from extinction, she is joining the Mars One project to create the right ambience in Mars for safe human ecosystem.
The chance encounter with Adriana was at The George Hotel, Luggard Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 at the launch of Sage X3. Perhaps, the serene and exclusive venue is the fitting location to discuss such subject matter of relocation to Mars by this proud African ambassador who is passionate and fascinated with doing research in the field of quantum biology. Adriana is not perturbed that she was embarking on a one-way trip. It is a journey of no return as it were because Mars One project has been conceived as a one-way voyage. Perhaps, the consolation for Adriana and other members of the select team that will be heading to Mars will be that “In 1000 years, everyone on Earth will still remember who the first humans on Mars were!”
Adriana does not think it is right to describe herself as a Guinea-pig for the project. To her, someone must make the move to prepare the ground for human life on Mars. After all, the Apollo astronauts did the same in their time and the world is better informed today because of their exploits in the Moon. Mars One promoters also continue to justify the adventure. To them, why did Columbus travel west? Why did Marco Polo head east? Because it is that pull, that unknown, that prospect of adventure that compels humans to seek new frontiers to explore. Those who observed Neil Armstrong land on the Moon all those years ago still remember every detail – where they were, who they were with and how they felt. The moment the first astronauts land on Mars will be our moment to remember.
The explorers that sailed with Columbus across the Atlantic in 1492 would not have achieved the milestones recorded in their names if they had been indifferent at the time. Adriana is consciously ingrained with that and acknowledged that sending humans to Mars is not a tea party. She is aware that the mission to Mars is a phenomenal undertaking by all standards and presents very real risks and challenges. She is not unwary that “establishing a permanent settlement is very complex, but it is far less complex and requires much fewer infrastructures sent to Mars than return missions.”
Curiously, Adriana’s family and friends, except for one of her friends, have given her the nod. If her families and friends are excited about the mission of no return, the statistics about the mission to Mars are not particularly exciting too. Mars One promoters explained why it is a one way trip. “Compared to a return Mars mission, a one-way mission to Mars greatly reduces the infrastructure needed. The absence of a return mission means that there is no need for a return vehicle, return propellant or systems to produce the propellant locally, all of which would require a significantly larger amount of resources and technology development.”
Mars One is not making any pretence that the voyage to Mars will be fun-filled. It says that the Mars habitat will be a modular environment made up of multiple inflatable units, and will comprise about 1000 m3 of total living space, which equates to 250 m3 per inhabitant for a team of four. According to the promoters of the mission, “The trip to Mars will be tough. Mars One is proposing a mission of true exploration, not luxurious living in space. However, the astronauts are living their dream – they are going to Mars!” The organisers of Mars One are also conscious that the “astronauts will be settling on Mars indefinitely. It’s not feasible to send water, oxygen and food from Earth to the astronauts: they will produce those on Mars.” The astronauts will be staying on Mars for a long time, and they will need as much comfort as possible there. What is also certain is that these pioneer voyagers to Mars would naturally perish there and when that happens, the dead would be given necessary burial rites and cremated.
From the time of launch of the capsule, the trip will take about seven months to get to Mars. Expert have also explained that Spaceflight missions of extended duration result in astronaut deconditioning, including a decrease in muscle mass and performance, reduced aerobic capacity, and losses in bone density, in addition to a host of other physiological changes. However, well-structured countermeasures systems, including exercise and nutrition, help to mitigate these losses. Mars One assured that astronauts will be well prepared with a scientifically valid countermeasures program that will keep them healthy, not only for the mission to Mars, but also as they become adjusted to life under gravity on the Mars surface.
The mission will be in batches of four crews in every two years. Six batches will eventually make it to Mars from the 100 people already selected from across the world. There are four South Africans and one Nigerian among the prospects. Adriana has strong expectation that the Africans have a very strong probability of making the final list. After the first four people arrive on Mars, they will be joined by four more every two years. Together they will form a small but growing community of individuals that cover a range of specialties and functions. All activities will continue and developments will be able to continue in the case of a death or illness within the group. Human crew will travel through space for around seven months. The transit vehicle will consist of two propellant stages– a landing module and transit habitat. On reaching Mars the crew in their Marsuits will descend to the Mars surface in the landing module, leaving their living quarters behind, which is too heavy to land.
The arrival of the first four Mars inhabitants is just the beginning of this great adventure. The astronauts will be followed by more groups, spaced every two years, which will eventually lead to the base becoming a small village. At first, expansion will be limited due to provisions, oxygen and water. Other landings will provide everything they might need to expand the colony: solar panels, new living quarters and plastic components. The settlement will develop as those inhabiting it become architects of their own environment.
What will the astronauts be doing in Mars? Adriana is excited that the astronauts will be the architect of their own survival on Mars by engaging in construction, maintenance and research. Outside these three activities, the astronauts will also have time to relax. Adriana said that the astronauts will endeavour to ensure that the human activities do not pollute the Mars surface and environment and that the astronauts would be properly equipped to ensure that the Mars environment does not infect the astronauts too.
Construction involves working on the settlement. The first crew in particular will need to devote a lot of time to the settlement, to make their new home into a comfortable place to live. They will install the corridors between the landers, they will deploy extra solar panels, and they will install equipment, such as greenhouses, inside the habitat. They will spend time on the crops and food preparation. They will also prepare the hardware for the second crew: the second crew hardware will be delivered with the first crew astronauts.
The astronauts would be supplied with methodologies to produce habitable volume from mostly Martian materials, in order to significantly expand the settlement. The construction by the astronauts will be a spacious environment in which to live, where they can also grow trees. Such a large living volume will make Mars a much nicer place to live.
Before departing earth, Adriana said that the astronauts would have been equipped with the requisite skill sets for maintaining their new habitat. Maintenance will be crucial to ensure long-term functionality of all systems. The astronauts’ lives depend on the technology present in the settlement. All these systems need to be checked and maintained regularly.
Being someone is already passionate about research, Adriana is excited that Research is a core component of her living-style on Mars. The astronauts will do their own research, but will also collect data for other researchers, and transmit it to Earth.
Leisure and personal time
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Life on Mars will not be all dry and drab. Adriana said that when it is time to relax, astronauts can also engage in most of the indoor activities that people can do on Earth: read, play games, write, paint, work out in the gym, watch TV, use the Internet, contact friends at home and so on.
Mars One promoters stated that there will be some communication and media limitations, due to the distance between Earth and Mars, resulting in time delays: they will have to request the movies or news broadcasts they want to see in advance. If an astronaut would like to watch the Super Bowl, he or she can request it, and it would be uploaded to the server on Mars. There will always be a time delay of at least three minutes, so the people on Mars will know who won a few minutes after the people on Earth.
Easy Internet access will be limited to their preferred sites that are constantly updated on the local Mars web server. Other websites will take between 6 and 45 minutes to appear on their screen – first 3-22 minutes for your click to reach Earth, and then another 3-22 minutes for the website data to reach Mars. Contacting friends at home is possible by video, voice or text message (e-mail, WhatsApp, sms), but real time dialogue is not possible, because of the time delay.