The Quest to Inhabit Mars

As a species, we need multiple paths to survival. One of which is living in space. With this in mind, companies like SpaceX have plans to colonize Mars. But why Mars? It is the next most habitable planet after Earth. It contains water, temperatures that are not too hot nor too cold, enough sunlight, ability to adapt to its gravity, an atmosphere, and similar day/night rhythm’s to Earth.

A potential Mars city, envisioned by SpaceX

Elon Musk wants to make a reality, starting by sending humans to Mars in 2024. Musk first plans by testing “planet hops” to refuel rockets in 2019. In 2020, SpaceX’s Starship testing will begin and eventually reach Mars in 2022 without humans. Assuming all goes well, Musk plans on sending humans to Mars in 2024 (with two unmanned cargo ships) the next time Earth and Mars are aligned. The very next year in 2025, Mars’s first human colony could appear, which would eventually expand into towns and eventually cities, offering habitats, greenhouses, life support, etc. By 2050, Musk is aiming for an entire city. By 2117, The United Arab Emirates wants to see a city of 600,000 people.

If this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Electric Propulsion

A propulsion method I was unaware of is electric propulsion (EP). An EP system consists of thruster components, propellant components, power components, and an optional pointing mechanism. Essentially, electric and magnetic fields react to charged particles in the rocket’s exhaust which accelerates charged particles that make up propellant.

Electric Propulsion System

This requires less energy than chemical rockets due to higher exhaust speeds, however, thrust is much weaker due to limited electric power. Therefore, electric propulsion is not currently used for rocket launches; instead, electric propulsion systems are used for station keeping, orbit raising, and primary propulsion in satellites.

Future Exoplanet Research

The future of exoplanet research means not just the discovery of more exoplanets, but characterizing them. To do so, the European Space Agency (ESA) is launching the Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite (CHEOPS), the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars mission (PLATO), and the Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey mission (ARIEL).

European Space Agency (ESA) Exoplanet Mission Timeline

CHEOPS will observe bright stars with known exoplanets, in search for transits. The goal is to measure precise sizes of smaller planets and determine their densities (using mass data from other observatories). PLATO, however, will discover new planets with an emphasis on habitable planets where liquid water can exist on the surface. Additionally, it will analyze host stars to further our understanding of the extrasolar system’s evolution. Lastly, ARIEL will analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets. Altogether, the hope is to discover new life in the Universe.

Electric Cars and Climate Change

Climate change is the change in global climate patterns due to an increase in fossil fuels. A solution to mitigate these emissions released by fossil fuels is converting automobiles to use only electric energy. However, the electricity used by electric vehicles also generates harmful emissions due to power plants that use fossil fuels to generate electricity. Despite these pollutants emitted into the atmosphere to produce electricity, electric vehicles still seem to be a viable solution to reduce harmful emissions produced by gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Electric Vehicles Charging at a Charging Station in
Hennepin County, Minn

Considering average emissions nationwide, vehicles running on gasoline produce 381 grams of CO2e (CO2 equivalent) per mile. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles produce 196 grams of CO2e per mile, approximately 50% less than that of a gasoline vehicles, which includes the fossil fuels required to produce the electricity to power these hybrids. Solely electric vehicles produce only 129 grams of CO2e per mile, which is only 34% that of gasoline vehicles. Of course, battery waste is still an issue, and companies like Nissan are finding solutions to recycle old electric vehicle batteries, such as using them to power street lights after use in an electric vehicle. Once these issues are solved and the world’s power grid continues to become cleaner, more electric vehicles will replace standard gasoline and diesel vehicles, reducing the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and hopefully reducing the issues experienced by man made climate change.