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What will flight to Mars reveal?

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Thu Oct 9, 2008 10:38 am
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MOSCOW. (Andrei Kislyakov for RIA Novosti) – Deep space exploration is becoming an ever bigger part of national space programs. Currently, missions to the Moon and Mars are considered feasible.

The U.S. has announced preparation for another space probe launch to collect data from the Martian atmosphere, scheduled for 2013.

In Russia, Martian exploration is confined to ground tests so far. The project Mars-500, aimed at determining the effect of a multi-month space flight of the crew, will be launched soon under the aegis of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP).

Meanwhile, despite active preparation for long interplanetary voyages, the necessity of using manned vehicles for these expensive and dangerous enterprises is still undecided. Scientists and many other people have doubts.

Apparently, the basic argument for manning long space flights is man himself, as life and society in general have evolved due to man’s experiments and exploration which in turn reflect the processes of space exploration. Today there is no need to prove that the secrets of most life’s basic building blocks are related to space. Revealing these secrets would enable us to simulate basic life processes, therefore granting us the key to the essence of birth, evolvement and death. Obviously, it is impossible to gain this knowledge without sending a human to space for long periods.

Moreover, there are pragmatic reasons for manned interplanetary flights. All the Earth’s resources have been calculated, enabling us to determine how long they will last. According to recent calculations, hydrocarbons will last for no more than 80 to 140 years. The idea of using Uranium as an extensive source of energy is also not very encouraging, as it will be quarried within a few decades.

It’s clear that soon we will have to leave Earth in search of other places to live.

Manned missions to the Earth’s closest neighbors, currently in preparation, shouldn’t be regarded as purely scientific experiments. Such flights are part of a search for a way to provide life support in extraterrestrial space.

This is the principle which guides Russian scientists, approaching the task of creating a new Life Support System (LSS) for interplanetary missions, including lunar and Martian bases. Participants of the international conference Life Support Systems as a Means of Human Exploration of Outer Space, held in late September at the Russian Academy of Sciences, mentioned the necessity of developing a conceptually new closed-cycle LSS for long-range space flights.

Yury Sinyak, head of a department at the IMBP, says: “The primary task for interplanetary mission preparation is increasing the circularity of the LSS”. This system will differ radically from the one installed on the ISS, which provides no complete substance cycle.

Scientists say the development of an LSS capable of ensuring full regeneration of basic vital life elements will take at least 10 years. The main challenge is to ensure a continuous supply of oxygen, water and food, and bio-waste disposal.

Development of a closed-cycle system, however, is only part of the major problem of life support in space. “A further development of manned space flight technology will require a full-featured living environment involving employment of planetary resources and including biological elements as part of an LSS,” a report by Energia Corporation scientists says.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Copyright 2008 RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

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