Monday, 28 May 2012

The future of space tourism: Are human colonies possible on Mars and Moon?

By Syed Akbar


With space tourism being dubbed as the most lucrative travel industry of
the future, space scientists, astrophysicists and astrobiologists are now
busy exploring the ways and means of colonising the moon and the earth's
neighbouring planet, Mars.


Though establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars may take at least
three to four decades, travel to the outer space has already become a
reality. The next 10 years is going to witness a major boom in space
tourism, which of course is restricted to holidaying in the outer space.
The moon and the Mars mission will, however, continue to be out of the
reach of man till the next generation. But studies are already underway
and this is soon going to be a reality.


Space experts from across the globe including the USA's National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Union's European Space
Agency and India's Indian National Space Research Organisation, have been
deliberating theoretically what steps they should take to ensure a
comfortable space tourism project. They are also discussing the
feasibility of establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars.
Space scientists are enthusiastic about the space tourism to outer space
but are divided over the human tour packages to natural satellites and
planets.


This is because scientists do not know the short term or long term effects
of atmosphere of the moon and Mars on human beings. Sub-orbital vehicles
and orbital cities are being planned to boost space tourism to outer space
by 2020. Space tourism, though a recent phenomenon, is fast catching up
among private individuals who could afford the journey. The  cost is
highly prohibitive, about 30 million US dollars for a week long stay in outer
space.



Astronomers are also thinking of measures to bring down the space tourism price so that more and more people could avail of the facility. Some scientists foresee a reduction in the over all fares
by at least 10 per cent in the next two decades.



Presently, only the Russian Space Agency is offering space tourism packages
for the general public. Russia takes the enthusiast space tourists to the
international space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. It is the thrilling
experience that has attracted at least half a dozen civilians to venture
into this new tourism package.


Since the space tourism package is limited to Russian space agency, one has
to wait for at least two years after purchasing the "ticket" to enjoy the
beauty of the earth and its atmosphere, from outside while circulating the
globe in outer space. Space tourism flights are already reserved for the
next two years.


"Tickets" are now available for 2010 journeys.To ensure that
the nascent space tourism project clicks well, "spaceports" are being
planned at various locations including the United Arab Emirates, Sweden,
Singapore and at a few cities in the USA including California, Alaska and
Florida.


So far only five individuals have availed of the space tourism facility.
They are Americans Dennis Tito, Gregory Olsen and Charles Simonyi, South
African Mark Shuttleworth and American of Iranian descent Anousheh Ansari.
The latest space tourist is Charles who returned to the earth on April 21
this year after spending a fortnight in space. Russian richie rich Vladimir
Gurzdev is the next space tourist scheduled to take the space 2008 package.
Our own Indian Santosh George Kulangara, from Kerala, will fly on board the
Virgin Galactic's space ship next year.


While private space travel firms are busy devising strategies to woo space
tourists by building the required infrastructure, NASA and ESA have
launched a research on the atmospheric effects of Mars on human health.
NASA has already developed an advanced life support programme. It uses
plants to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen in closed chambers.


"To live safely on Mars, which has 95 per cent carbon dioxide in its
atmosphere, we'll have to create a lot of technology tricks like that to
survive," explains NASA scientist Douglas Ming. Explorers visiting Mars
will have to live in habitats where the oxygen is regenerated, wear
spacesuits with oxygen masks, drive radiation-proof vehicles, and grow
food by adding nutrients to the "topsoil" that currently seems unable to
nourish plants.


But before space tourists can do all of these activities on Mars, robots
need to teach humans where and how to land, where to build, and how to
survive in the harsh martian environment.


NASA is also studying the chemical composition of the soil on Mars to find
out what chemicals might be detrimental to humans if they inhale the dust.
For example, trace metals could be toxic to lungs, and dust could also
affect electronic devices like computers and vehicles that humans will need
on Mars.


NASA administrator Michael Griffin points out that it wants to build a
space civilisation on the Mars. "We have a long-term plan to put man on
Mars by 2037, Griffin says adding that Nasa is looking beyond the moon and
Mars into the inter-planetary system.

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