President Obama is kicking off his last 100 days in office by laying out a vision for the next two decades in space. He wants manned expeditions to Mars by 2030s and eventually a Mars colony. The man is tired of the 2016 election and wants to escape. Hawaii is closer Mr. President, but every science fan is giving you a round of applause.
In a CNN op-ed, he talks about his earliest memories of sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders and waving to returning astronauts to Hawaii. It’s those memories which led to his continued fascination with our final frontier and how we tackle it.
“Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station,” Obama wrote.
He continued, “The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.”
President Obama is reaching for a few red rocks.
Space Travel and Long-term Health Effects
Probably a bad day for the UCI study on long-term space travel to hit. Published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the research found Mars-bound astronauts face an increased risk of chronic dementia from the bombardment of cosmic rays and radiation.
“This is not positive news for astronauts deployed on a two-to-three-year round trip to Mars,” said the professor of radiation oncology at UCI’s School of Medicine. “The space environment poses unique hazards to astronauts. Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life.”
There is good news. President Obama has us on a two-decade timeline. The study authors are already developing partial solutions to increase shielding around the crew areas in any Mars-bound spacecraft.
Shielding isn’t a complete fix as the highly energized particles will find their way into the spacecraft. The answer lies with pharmacology. The team behind the study is already prepping work on preventive pharmacological compounds to protect neurotransmission and rid the body of free radicals.
One of the many bonuses in a newfound space race is it isn’t just planting a flag. The technology developed for the mission will improve the lives of everyone. Medical advancements. Computers. Something other than potatoes for the Mark Watney of our generation. The list is endless.
Space Race Starts With the ISS
Much of the President Obama’s op-ed is reiterating previous commitments from his administration. The change is how the International Space Station fits into the mission to Mars. 2020 will see ISS’s formal mission end, but its place in history is just beginning.
NASA and the White House will provide private and commercial space companies with the opportunity to develop and add modules and capabilities to the ISS. An idea that has been floated is private space companies will use it as a jump-off point for future stations in Low Earth Orbit.
The announcement was borne out of a recent request from NASA on how private companies would use the available docking port on the ISS.
“The private sector responded enthusiastically, and those responses indicated a strong desire by U.S. companies to attach a commercial module to the ISS that could meet the needs of NASA as well as those of private entrepreneurs.”
Is the two-decade timeline optimistic? Maybe, but the United States government has dared billionaires to get us there. SpaceX. Blue Origin. Boeing. An endless list of innovative companies and ones yet to be started. Can you imagine what the next decade will bring in technological advancements as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos race to be first?
Competition breeds innovation. And we get a front row seat to watch.
It may be Obama’s final 100 days in office, but it isn’t a partisan issue to look to the stars and reach for better tomorrows.