The next step in human spaceflight: Is it possible to live on Mars?

Tiger sniffing note: On July 4, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, after about 7 hours of exiting activities, the Shenzhou 12 astronaut crew worked closely together and successfully completed all the scheduled tasks during the exiting activities. The astronauts The safe return of Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo to the core module of Tianhe marked the complete success of the first astronaut out of the space station in my country.

Our exploration of space has never stopped, but this vast universe, which we must take away next, is still under intense discussion. This article is from the WeChat public account: China News Weekly (ID: chinanewsweekly) , author: Cao Ran, original title: “The next step in human spaceflight: Is it to settle in space or scientific travel, can it live on Mars? 》

The next step in human spaceflight: Is it possible to live on Mars?

NASA astronauts maintain a solar array on the International Space Station. Figure/IC

“Are China and the United States engaged in a space race?”

“Yes.” Bill Nelson replied without hesitation.

On June 23, local time, the new director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accepted the House of Representatives question for the first time, trying to obtain congressional budget support by emphasizing the “China threat.”

In the previous week, China successfully launched the Shenzhou 12 manned spacecraft, sending three astronauts into the Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station. According to the plan, the Wentian experimental module and the Mengtian experimental module will be launched next year to further expand the space station.

Although Nielsen congratulated the successful launch of the Shenzhou 12 manned spacecraft, he also advocated that China should be permanently excluded from participating in the international space station cooperating with the United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan, and that the United States should “return to the moon” as soon as possible to achieve manned space. The long-term goal of landing on Mars, maintaining space superiority.

For the past 20 years, after completing projects such as the Apollo Project, the space shuttle, the low-Earth orbit space station, and the Hubble Telescope, NASA has been planning the goals mentioned by Nielsen. The Bush administration plans to “return to the moon” before 2020, while the Obama administration proposes to land on Mars directly in 2030 without going through the moon. The Trump administration’s “Artemis” plan returns to Bush’s plan, but the deadline is postponed to In 2024.

After the Biden administration took office, it submitted a new NASA budget of more than $20 billion to Congress, an increase of 6.6%. But Nelson knew that this was an almost impossible task. Some members of the House of Representatives warned Nielsen that even if he emphasized that there is a “space race” with China and a new president supports it, it is still “very difficult” for NASA to obtain an additional budget of tens of billions of dollars for manned spaceflight.

“NASA has been moving towards low-Earth orbit and space exploration beyond the moon, but this will be a long-term problem.” Senior aerospace expert and professor at the University of Central Florida Roger Handberg told China News Weekly, “The danger of space has led to a series of difficulties in current research. Factors such as radiation and microgravity make long-distance space travel extremely dangerous, but humans have no solution yet.”

NASA Administrator Bolden under the Obama administration pointed out that most people are now aware that the United States has no chance of achieving the moon landing plan as scheduled. He predicted to China News Weekly that, if all goes well, NASA will take decades to allow humans to return to the moon and then land on Mars, but “cannot set an exact deadline.”

Space station and moon landing project “choose one”

According to Nielsen, the $10 billion new budget will all be used to continue the moon landing plan during the Trump administration, with a view to achieving “manned moon landings every year” in the next ten years. But in Handberg’s view, Nielsen just wants to ensure that NASA’s regular budget will not be further cut, rather than really increasing capital investment. The fundamental reason is that after the Cold War, “Except for Mars, Congress will not provide additional funding for NASA’s traditional space projects, especially low-Earth orbit and moon projects.”

Both low-Earth orbit and lunar projects began during the Cold War. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite; less than half a year, then US President Eisenhower formed NASA. In April 1961, the Soviet astronaut Gagarin entered space; a month later, the then US President Kennedy promised in Congress that he “will land on the moon within ten years.” From then on until the end of the 1980s, every major U.S. space policy document made “maintaining space leadership” its primary goal.

The next step in human spaceflight: Is it possible to live on Mars?

Russia’s “Mir” space station. Figure/IC

NASA initially only planned to send humans to the lunar orbit out of low-Earth orbit, but under Kennedy’s instructions, the goal was set to “land the moon.” The next task of the original plan is to establish a low-Earth orbit space station and a lunar base, and connect the earth and space through a reusable space shuttle to ensure that astronauts can stay in outer space for a long time and travel to more distant planets.

Although the goal is ambitious, the budget and cycle are ambiguous. When Kennedy announced its commitment to the moon, NASA had not yet formulated a plan for the moon. When the Nixon administration decided to start the space shuttle program, it also did not give a clear plan. The relatively late launch of the low-Earth orbit space station project gave a cost estimate of 8 billion U.S. dollars. Later, Congress realized that it neither considered launch costs nor the annual operating cost of over 3 billion U.S. dollars.

After the space race eased, NASA’s budget was chopped again and again. In 1966, NASA’s budget accounted for 4.5% of the federal budget. By 1975, it had fallen to 1%, and in recent years it had fallen to 0.5%. However, NASA insists on retaining near-Earth orbit missions represented by space stations and lunar missions represented by moon landings. As Bolden said, once research and development is suspended, not only will it be surpassed by latecomers, but it will also be difficult to achieve the goal of the Mars mission based on this. But since this century, NASA can only “choose one” between the low-Earth orbit space station and the moon landing mission.

NASA has been trying to give a series of reasons to prove that low-Earth orbit and moon exploration have practical value to American society. Dan Golding, who served as NASA director in the 1990s, was hailed by his successors as “one of NASA’s greatest managers”. He first emphasized that the space station project can help American scientific research, especially “solving osteoporosis and other human aging problems.” “. Another important field of scientific research is materials science. NASA once declared that the space station is a potential production site for solar cells.

By the end of 2020, astronauts from various countries have carried out more than 3,000 experiments on the International Space Station, but the aforementioned two goals have not been achieved in the end, and the spacecraft may not be a suitable experimental site. Experts point out that the advantage of space experiments is to conduct research that requires a zero-gravity environment, but zero-gravity does not exist. Any object in the earth’s orbit has the lowest microgravity position inside its structure. Those spacecraft designed for the space race cannot be tested in the lowest microgravity position.

The next step in human spaceflight: Is it possible to live on Mars?

On April 24, 2021, astronauts carrying the manned “Dragon” spacecraft of the US Space Exploration Technology Corporation arrived at the International Space Station. Figure / Reuters

In addition, even in the space station, the space for human activities is very small. Whether it is astronauts or the system equipment needed to maintain the lives of astronauts, they will create vibrations that destroy precision experiments. The transformation of the space station to isolate the experiment from humans and interfering equipment requires an expensive cost. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), which searches for dark matter particles, was originally designed at a cost of 33 million U.S. dollars. When NASA decided to install it outside the space station, its final cost exceeded 2 billion U.S. dollars.

From 2019 to 2020, because of the damage to the cooler of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, three astronauts performed four spacewalks outside the space station for a total of 25 hours to complete “the most complex restoration project since the Hubble Telescope.” “.

Bolden recalled to China News Weekly that his greatest scientific achievement during his tenure came from the promotion of space flight technology. “Today, many aeroengine technologies are the results of NASA research. I believe this will be useful to the United States and all over the world. The commercial aviation industry will make a huge contribution.” But it was during his tenure that the US space shuttle was retired in 2011, and the US astronauts have since carried the Russian space shuttle to the space station.

In addition to cost, suspending the operation of the domestic space shuttle also has political considerations. NASA once proposed that a U.S. commercial company would carry Russian astronauts to the space station at a single cost of about $20 million, while the U.S. government still purchases space shuttle services from Russia at a price of $50 million each time.

This is the continuation of another mission that Golding found for NASA’s cause: to cooperate with the Russian space agency and become the ballast stone for the cooperation of the world’s two major military powers. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia inherited 90% of its aerospace industry assets, but most of its supporting factories in other republics closed down or restructured. The key Soviet projects, including the space shuttle Blizzard, were forced to suspend operations and severe loss of personnel. By 1994, the number of employees in the Russian aerospace industry had been reduced by 35%, of which 50% of experts had been lost.

In 1992, the United States and Russia signed a space exploration cooperation agreement, and astronauts of both sides were allowed to be admitted as members of each other’s space shuttle and space station. In 1994, the two sides decided to jointly build the International Space Station. Since it was put into use in 1998, the space station has hosted more than 200 astronauts and researchers from 19 countries.

Bolden recalled that the greatest significance of US-Russian space cooperation was to prove the effectiveness of the “dual track system”, that is, the space agencies of both sides can maintain close scientific research cooperation while the two governments are dealing with diplomatic problems. However, the US Congress believes that the “dual-track system” means that space cooperation does not promote the improvement of bilateral relations, but instead allows Russia to maintain a strong space influence.

In 2003, China became the third country capable of sending astronauts to space on its own. Since then, China has repeatedly expressed its wish to participate in the International Space Station. In 2011, China’s first pilot experimental space station Tiangong-1 was successfully launched. In the same year, the US Congress passed the “Wolf Clause”, which comprehensively restricted the exchanges between NASA and Chinese institutions and personnel, and excluded China from the International Space Station. On June 23, 2021, Nielsen stated that he supports making the clause permanent.

Compared with the “gulf” between China and the United States, China’s space cooperation with other countries has become increasingly close. The China Manned Space Engineering Office maintains close contact with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and invites other countries to use the Chinese space station to carry out experiments. The first batch of selected projects are from Switzerland, Poland, Germany, Italy, Norway, France, Spain, the Netherlands, India, 23 institutions in 16 countries including Russia, Belgium, Kenya, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Peru. Simonetta DiPibo, director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, said that China’s measures have strongly promoted international cooperation in manned spaceflight, giving more countries the opportunity to participate in manned space technology research.

The next step in human spaceflight: Is it possible to live on Mars?

The International Space Station involves space agencies in Europe, Russia, and Japan. The various commercial participation models designed by NASA have not received unanimous support from other parties. Figure/IC

What will happen after Mars?

Mars, the most similar celestial body in the solar system to the earth, has a daily duration almost the same as that of the earth. It has four seasons similar to the earth and also has liquid water. Since the 1960s, human probes have continuously approached Mars across more than 50 million kilometers, but two-thirds of the observation missions in the first decade ended in failure. In 1971, the Soviet Union Mars 3 (Mars 3) successfully made a soft landing and lost contact after sending out a signal for 14.5 seconds on the surface of Mars. In 1976, US Pirate One became the first probe to land on Mars and send photos back to Earth. On May 15, 2021, Zhurong landed on Mars, and China became the second country to operate a Mars rover on Mars.

NASA claims that the United States’ Mars exploration has gone from “searching for water sources” and “exploring habitability” at the beginning of this century to “searching for signs of life”, but it has not yet achieved human landing on Mars. More than half a century ago, in the plan to land on Mars drawn up by the American space pioneer von Braun, the lunar base and the relay space station were an indispensable part. Handberg pointed out that science and politics are both excuses for NASA to find funding. The real purpose of maintaining a low-Earth orbit project or lunar mission is to pave the way for Mars exploration.

Bolden also admitted that the most important scientific achievement of using the space station is to accumulate data for Mars travel. How some specific systems work and interact in space cannot currently be simulated on Earth. Understanding why and how the astronaut’s immune system is suppressed in low-Earth orbit can help scientists develop better drugs on Earth to deal with health problems that may arise during their journey to Mars.

Although the Biden administration emphasizes that NASA should be more involved in climate change scientific research, and related funds are allocated separately to not crowd out the original mission, Nielsen is trying to focus NASA’s limited funding on the Mars project, including plans to end an advection in astrophysics. The layer observation project saves US$85 million annually. The Venus Exploration Project, which had previously lost many bids to the Near-Earth Asteroid Observation Project, was also recognized for the first time. NASA will send a probe to orbit Venus and land on it to explore the planet’s climate change and ocean evolution, and whether the inspection period More “livable” than Mars.

Both Russia and European space agencies regard the exploration of Mars as their ultimate goal. The UAE Space Agency, which has just been established for 7 years, launched the Nozomi probe to reach Mars orbit this year, and listed the construction of the “Mars Science City” as one of the two key tasks to study how to work, live and grow vegetables on Mars.

In June 2021, Wang Xiaojun, Dean of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, stated at the Global Space Exploration Conference that the first step of China’s Mars exploration mission is robot Mars exploration, including sampling, base site selection, and in-situ resource utilization; The second step is the primary manned exploration, the purpose is to manned Mars landing and base construction; the last step is the flight detection, and the establishment of the Earth-Mars economic circle. Among them, the planned departure time of the first primary manned exploration mission is 2033.

However, few organizations explain to the public “what will happen after landing on Mars”, especially three specific questions: What is the purpose of human exploration of space? Do you want to settle in space or do research trips? Why do humans settle in space? When the US Congress revised the NASA authorization bill in 1988, NASA was required to submit a report every two years to illustrate new progress in “promoting the long-term survival of mankind in outer space,” but the report was actually only compiled once and never updated.

Although humans have been flying in space for decades, “human beings are far more ignorant of the impact of space on humans than they are known.” Humans know that the gravity of Mars is about one-third of that of the earth. We also know that human physiological functions will degenerate under microgravity and the calcium in the bones will be lost, but they don’t know how to eliminate, reduce or even change this effect. I don’t know how much gravity is enough to solve this problem.

Bolden told China News Weekly that NASA’s current solution is to develop a “faster and more powerful” heavy-duty launch vehicle such as SLS to ensure that astronauts can be sent from the earth to Mars with high enough efficiency, so that humans Exposure to space radiation and microgravity will be much shorter.

Wang Xiaojun revealed that in the robot Mars detection stage, China uses large or heavy carrier rockets to directly launch the detector to the ground fire transfer orbit; however, in the initial manned detection stage, it uses nuclear power and nuclear heat propulsion and separate transportation of people and goods, first near the ground. Assemble the detector in the orbit and start from the highly elliptical orbit. The long-term plan is to adopt the integrated nuclear power transportation mode, starting from the geo-space station and other bases, selecting the ground-fire circulation orbit, and deploying the transfer aircraft on the ground-fire circulation orbit, and the propellant of the transfer aircraft is from the ground or the space refueling station. supply.

If NASA can achieve the technological breakthrough mentioned by Bolden, it means that the low-Earth orbit space station and the lunar base will no longer have the role of “relay station”. At a recent commercial space summit, Faraneta, the vice president of the orbital flight program of the “Space Adventure” company, pointed out that this means that humans may not go to Mars via the space station in the future. Robert Zubrin, chairman of the Mars Association and president of Pioneer Aerospace, emphasized that NASA should focus on this direct approach to Mars, instead of doing “ordinary work” such as building a space station in low earth orbit or on the moon.

When Armstrong landed on the moon that year, as long as he “landed on the moon before the Soviets,” he would even fulfill NASA’s promise to the American society and Congress. But the value problem after sending humans to Mars cannot be solved by technology. From this, Robert Walker, chairman of the Space Committee during the Bush administration and former U.S. Rep., asked: “Does humans really have a future in space?”

Walker pointed out that humans should consider many different situations: Can they live on Mars? Can “self-sufficiency” be achieved on Mars? Do you always want to return to Earth? If humans cannot live on Mars, then Mars is “like an Everest”, a symbol of adventure, but lacks practical value.

If humans can live on Mars but cannot be self-sufficient, then Mars is suitable as a scientific research base. The problem is that the unmanned probes of China and the United States have landed on Mars, the spacecraft of five countries are orbiting Mars, and NASA engineers have begun to study the possibility of “unmanned space stations.” The work of finding and collecting fossils can be done by robots, and it is not necessary for humans to risk landing. And if humans can live self-sufficiently on Mars, but always return to Earth, then Mars will become a resource base. Only when the aforementioned three questions are answered in the affirmative, Mars will become a “colony” and achieve the goal of long-term human survival in space. But for a long time to come, no one can give three affirmative answers. The only certainty is that Mars is not “livable”.

Analysts pointed out that the key issue facing NASA and the U.S. aerospace industry is that every possible direction in the exploration of low-Earth orbit and space beyond the moon will consume almost all the funds, energy and time of future generations of astronauts. , But there is no task that has the rationality or urgency to convince the public.

Although Nielsen still confidently said recently that “Biden, like most Americans, is very fascinated by space flight,” Bolden told China News Weekly that he was not sure whether most Americans really still strongly support it. NASA further explores space.

A survey conducted by Nature magazine in 2009 showed that the younger generation of respondents are far less supportive of NASA than the previous generation. Nearly 80% of the respondents over the age of 45 believed that they were inspired by the “Apollo” project, but less than 40% of the respondents under the age of 34 expressed the same feelings.

“At present, anyone who seeks the public’s overwhelming support for outer space exploration will have to wait a long time.” Bolden said. Handberg said with emotion, “Starting a project in the aerospace field, and then delays in progress, cost overruns, and then continues. Such a good day is long gone unless the solar system suddenly appears’little green men’ (alien invasion). “

In 2020, NASA applied for a $150 million budget for the advancement of the commercial space station project, only one-tenth of it was approved. In 2021, NASA is still applying for 150 million U.S. dollars, and Congress only allocates 17 million U.S. dollars. NASA Deputy Director Gerstenmeier expressed concern about this, thinking that it is very likely that there will be a “wrong choice” of commercial organizations that have not yet completed the space station, and NASA will first withdraw from the International Space Station in order to free up funds. That would mean that only one space station from China will remain in low-Earth orbit in the short term.

This article comes from WeChat public account: China News Weekly (ID: chinanewsweekly) , author: Cao Ran

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