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What would the first human on Mars say?  The words chosen will echo through history in the same way that Neil Armstrong’s famous line has.  That’s a lot of pressure for whomever is chosen to be the first person on the planet.  They’d better pick something profound!

The BBC has been asking people to contribute on Twitter, using the hashtag #BBCMARS, and in the comments of this article.  Here are some of the best (serious and otherwise):

hum “Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst (@oz_penguin)

It was once said ‘a small step for man’ but today we make that giant leap 4 mankind (@welsh_steve25)

once again my dear friends we take a step into the unknown (@SirPhil1983)

‘Well, for this night we will repose us here: /To-morrow toward London back again’ Shakespeare 2H6 II.i. (@Shakes_Today)

Where’s the Mars bar? (@JohnnyReaction)

‘we step beyond the capability of man kind, yet again.’ (@caitlin_ent)

“It’s land, Jim, but not as we know it.” (@eridanus)

Here are my suggestions.  Bonus points for people who recognise the source of inspiration for the first few.

“Quick!  Get the Easy Listening music!”

“Dark is the suede that mows like the harvest.”

“Yesterday, the moon.  Today, Mars.  Tomorrow, the universe!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!”

“Hey, what are all these dead cats doing here?”

And, more seriously,

“That’s just one more step in mankind’s journey to the stars.”

What would you like the first person on Mars to say?  What would you say if it were you?

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How hard is it to mine an asteroid?

Planetary Resources is a company that intends to try, and this article at the New Scientist asks some questions about how they might go about it and what problems they might encounter.

Problem 1: The technology for most of this hasn’t been invented yet.

Solution: Lots of money, lots of time, and lots of people working on the problem.

Problem 2: Bringing the asteroid closer to Earth to make it more economically feasible.  Problems with this include overcoming the Sun’s gravitational control, getting the parking trajectory right (assuming they’re going to park it around the Earth), not hitting anything with it.

Solution: Er… lots of money, lots of time, and lots of people working on the problem?

Problem 3: Not floating off into space when you try to dig your shovel into the asteroid.  A problem due to very low gravity and lots of spinning!

Solution: Bolt everything down.  Including the people.  And find a way to mine an entire asteroid from one location.  This sounds like it’s going to involve, you guessed it, lots of money, time, and people working on the problem.

It’s going to take some time to be in a position where we can actively mine asteroids, I think.  It’s also going to involve an awful lot of very intelligent people.  Far from the “space grunt” image that many science fiction novels portray for asteroid miners.

Wow, these guys are insane.  Brave, but insane.

They’re attempting to beat the record for highest free fall – currently standing at a staggering 24.5 kilometres.  The mind boggles.

Repeated attempts to jump from ridiculous heights have taught us a lot about how to survive it – don’t open the parachute straight away (you’ll take too long and freeze to death), and use a smaller “drogue” chute to stabilise you so you don’t spin too much, to name just two.

What really caught me about the article, though, was the story about a previous attempt, in 1966 by Nick Piantanida.  It was his third attempt, with mechanical problems on each of the previous ones preventing him completing the mission, and unfortunately this time was no better.

Everything was going according to plan, with the gondola at 17.5 kilometres on the way up, when the ground crew heard a sudden whoosh on the radio, followed by Piantanida’s startled voice: “Emergen…”

He never completed the word.

Not to make light of the tragedy, but I’m wondering; the crew came to the conclusion that there was a mechanical failure, but what if he’d seen something that startled him?  Could there have been some aliens flying by, or something more sinister?

 

So some little white mice have returned from their holidays.  They were on the ISS, orbiting around the Earth, and they’ve been there for 91 days.

It’s the longest space travel of any mammal apart from us, and scientists are keen to see what they can learn from them.  So far, they’ve got this:

1) Thyroids with equally sized follicles and higher activity in old age.  The lack of thyroid activity can cause impaired cognition and weight gain, so if we can replicate this on Earth it could be useful.

2) Radiation protection could be better understood soon, thanks to the increased “TBARS” in the mice’s cells.  I’m not going to pretend to understand the science behind that one.

3) The poor boy mice had sperm counts 90% lower than normal.  They’re not sure if it was radiation or micro-gravity that did it.

4) Loss of muscle mass is a well-known problem of zero gravity environments.  It’s mentioned in practically every novel involving space flight that doesn’t have artificial gravity.  But studies on the mice show that it might stabilise after a while – these ones had lost the same amount of muscle as mice on shorter missions.

5) Some of the mice were genetically modified to produce an extra protein, and these mice didn’t lose much bone density – 3% compared to 40% for the non-modified mice.  Mind you, I don’t see astronauts agreeing to be genetically modified for a long time!

Final Thoughts

While I don’t agree with experimenting on animals, these are some interesting findings.  Some of them even have applications outside of space travel, which means that more than 6 people might benefit from them in the next hundred years.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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