Not just a line of Buzz Lightyear, but a dream for the United States since the beginning of the Space Race. With a changing climate, species becoming extinct and the melting of the ice caps, I think it is about time for a back up plan. Have we not learned anything from movies? They are not all pointless drivel as some of the aspects of our favorite sci-fi movies have come to fruition. Stephen Hawking, a man who spent his career decoding the universe has spoken out and urged the continuation of space exploration for humanity’s sake, while others have taken it upon themselves to continue the mission such as the Inspiration Mars Foundation.
The 71 year old British cosmologist said Tuesday, he believes that humans could not survive another 1,000 years “without escaping beyond our fragile planet” the Associated Press reports. He was speaking to an audience of doctors, nurses, and employees at Cedars Sinai Medical Center where he toured a stem cell lab focused on Lou Gehrig’s disease. Diagnosed with the neurological disorder 50 years ago, Hawking commented, “if you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way.” His Tuesday hour long talk entitled “A Brief History of Mine” was full of nuggets of advice such as look up at the stars not at your feet and be curious. Hawking even said, “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”Hawking has survived with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS which attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles longer than most receiving around the clock care, communicating through twitches and relying on a computer mounted to his wheelchair to convey his thoughts. Hawking has remained active in 2007 he experienced weightlessness by making parabolic dives in an aircraft. Dr. Robert Baloh, director of Cedars Sinai’s ALS programs who invited the cosmologist has no explanation how the physicist has survived for 50 years with the disease where few survive past ten years.
Speaking at the National Space Symposium, members of the Inspiration Mars Foundation described the challenges in launching two people on a 501 day flyby journey to the Red Planet and back in January of 2018 yet remain optimistic. The plan for the luck two will consist of living in an RV sized space for more than a year, breathe recycled air, eat dehydrated food, drink purified urine and if they die they will be freeze dried in body bags. Even with all of this, application have been rolling in according to Huff Post yet according to Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corp., no show stopping applications yet.
The project is the brain child of Dennis Tito, the first space tourist in 2001, unveiling the plan called “Mission for American” in February. The hope is to send a man and a women possibly a married couple on the journey in January 2018 the ideal time as Earth and Mars are positioned for a quick trip and the next opportunity not until 2031. The date also falls on the 11 year solar minimum where the crew will deal with less solar radiation than other launch windows according to officials. Tito will bank roll the project for the first two years with private donations covering the rest. The ultimate goal of the mission is to inspire Congress to recommit to long distance space travel Tito explained at the National Space Symposium.
The 501 day mission will not touch down on Mars as that requires addition propulsion equipment and science experiments will be kept to a minimum on board, but will prove that humans can explore deep space. The crew on board will collect biological samples from their own bodies so researchers can study the effects of long term space travel and cosmic radiation exposure. Keeping the crew alive is a whole other challenges according to Taber MacCallum, Inspiration Mars’ chief technology officer, as the two voyagers must be mechanically inclined to fix problems that arise during the mission but will require no spacewalks as everything is fixable from the inside. Psychology of the couple will be important as well as Poynter points out that they must be stable as possible in order to avoid the pitfalls of long term space travel like depression, mood swings and hallucinations.