Actually, we have already heard quite a bit of what Colin Stuart had to say before – specifically from Libby Jackson in March last year. Nevertheless it was helpful to revisit the problems we face in sending humans to Mars. This was a well-delivered and well-illustrated presentation, and drawing upon relevant information from other scientific endeavours, such as the Antarctic Concordia Research Station, and space missions such as Voyager, the Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, and the International Space Station.
Getting off our own planet remains a big deal, though the cost of lifting one kilogram has fallen from $20,000 to $3,000 since the launch of Falcon Heavy by SpaceX. The physiological problems facing astronauts remain a formidable problem; for example osteoporosis through weightlessness and DNA damage from solar coronal mass ejections. Much is made of the psychological effects on astronauts being so far from Earth and Mars; but surely this is over-stated? – did not early explorers like Columbus experience exactly the same challenges on their voyages across the Atlantic? – and at that time they didn’t know whether they were halfway there or indeed if there was “another side” at all!
Colin gave us some insight to what it will be like living on Mars. For example where would humans colonise first? Noctis Labyrinthus might be suitable, being equatorial in location (good for power generation) and providing natural shelter (in sub-surface tunnels). Astronauts will have to grow their own food, too – there have been early efforts at this in the International Space Station, and now by the Chinese on the far side of the Moon.
So when is all this going to happen? It could be as early as the 2020’s or 2030’s. More realistically, Colin speculated, the 2050’s – well in time, then, for the Transit of Earth which will be seen from Mars in 2084 – dust storms permitting!