By Nicoletta Pappas
NASA shocked the world last week by announcing that satellite images show what could be flowing water on Mars. Dark streaks on craters and slopes increase or decrease size seasonally. Referred to as “recurring slope lines (RSLs),” these dark streaks are the first observable evidence that indicates non-frozen water on the below freezing surface of Mars. If the RSLs truly are flowing water, it not only opens the door to the existence of extraterrestrial life, but also for plans of human exploration. This is a terrible idea considering that the temperature on Mars is equivalent to Antarctica and there is no oxygen present in the atmosphere. Human exploration should be cautiously considered and scientific discoveries should be critically looked at before we start sending our men and women millions of miles away.
I think it’s dangerous for humans to explore or colonize on Mars. Taking a look at our history, humans tend to locate and claim every new territory, usually ruining the natural resources in the attempts to create an empire. It may not be our intention to destroy; yet it seems to be the inevitable aftermath of our expansion efforts. Take a look at Earth. The once luscious Native-American inhabited North America is now industrialized from coast to coast, dispensing clouds of pollution into the atmosphere. China’s air quality is so damaging it is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, according to a new study done by Berkeley Earth. If this is what humans have manufactured Earth into, imagine what we would “accomplish” on Mars?
Apart from the well being of the planet, traveling to Mars would be a perilous quest in itself. It would take about half a year to just orbit the red planet, depending on the orbit pattern. Scientists would have to build a spacecraft with enough fuel to reach Mars, as well as enough supplies and fuel to sustain humans for the duration of the trip. This would be an incredible amount of supplies, costing an incredible amount of money. Astronauts would have to be trained for a mission where they do not know what to expect. Only 18 out of 43 probe missions to Mars have been historically successful, according to NASA. That is less than a 50 percent success rate. If I were an astronaut, I would want more briefing on the expedition and more successful explorations done before I embarked.
Scientists based their “new discovery” off of dark lines that extend on the edges of cliffs during the summer time. They have no empirical evidence that these lines are water apart from soil samples, atmospheric testing, and aerial photographs, yet have the means to gain empirical evidence. Scientists have theorized that because of the salt on the slopes and higher temperatures during the summer months, ice found in the soil melts and flows down. They also theorized that there could be an underwater source where the flowing water stems from. NASA’s hope is the discovery of flowing water will allow human missions in the 2030s to produce drinking water and oxygen. If NASA is wrong about the flowing water and sends astronauts out there, they could be attempting to live off of flowing rock slides instead of water.
Even if we were to attempt to test the water, rovers on Mars are unable to approach the RSLs due to the United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty. Signed in 1967, this treaty states that countries exploring planets like Mars “shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.” What this means is that rovers from Earth have the potential to contaminate RSLs if they prove to be water. Exploring any further than scientists have already will tiptoe on the edge of violating the treaty. Landing humans on Mars significantly heightens the chance of contamination, especially if they must live of the land to survive. Although scientists think they have located water, there are no way of safely verifying it without breaking the treaty and facing anger from the United Nations.
At the present moment, more government funding and focus should be put on the violent issues on Earth instead of a planet we may never land on. It is interesting and exciting, but much more successful research should be done before we rush into sending humans on Mars. Until progress is made to lessen economic turmoil and world violence, NASA and the Mars exploration need to take a backseat.