Set to launch in 2013 the MAVEN which standards for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN will be an exploratory satellite that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars and will attempt to determine its interaction with the Sun and solar winds.
What must be understood is that there are currently various theories which make assumptions regarding the previous state of Mars several million years ago. It is theorized that Mars used to be a planet with a stable oxygen based atmosphere and flowing water but due to some event lost its ability to sustain an atmosphere conducive to life.
Taking this into consideration, NASA along with a science team from the University of Colorado will attempt to examine the atmosphere for not only traces of an oxygen based atmosphere in the past but also of the current state of the Martian atmosphere. It is actually quite interesting to note that based on the work of Updike (2008) examining the current state of Mars can actually be considered a way of looking at the future of the planet Earth (Updike, 86).
There will eventually come a time wherein the Earth will be unable to sustain its own atmosphere and will slowly transform into a Mars like planet. By examining the current state of the Martian atmosphere as well as the degree of interaction it undergoes with the Sun and solar wind it can actually be determined whether people on Earth could possible live on Mars like environment should worse come to worse.
Examining the Purpose of the MAVEN
The instruments onboard the MAVEN consist of magnetometer, a Solar Wind Ion Analyzer, Solar Energetic Particle Analyzer an Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer and other similar instruments used to examine the condition of a planets upper atmosphere.
One of the goals of the project, as indicated by various press releases and posts from NASA, is to assess the potential for future colonization on the planet and to determine whether life could exist on the Martian surface depending on what is currently know about the ability or organisms to survive in adverse conditions. What must be understood is that the atmosphere of a planet and its interaction with the Sun and Solar Wind largely dictates the ability of life to form.
A planet such as Mars which has a relatively thin level of protection due to a compromised atmosphere has a surface that is exposed to direct solar rays and solar radiation as direct effect of this. While it is true that sunlight was one of the initial factors that helped life to thrive on Earth the fact still remains that excessive quantities of sunlight and solar radiation can have a sterilizing effect on a planet’s surface in effect wiping out all traces of life.
If the MAVEN is able to determine that the Martian atmosphere has indeed this level of deterioration that means that for future searches for possible life on Mars the surface may not be the most ideal location to check. Thus future exploration of the Mars for signs of life may involve digging into caves, fissures or other locations not directly affected by solar rays or radiation and as such may yield more positive results for the search of life outside Earth.
Sustaining Human Life on Mars
Another effect of the MAVEN mission is to judge the ability of Mars to sustain human life in the future and what would be necessary in order to ensure that a human colony would be sustainable. Just as solar radiation affects the ability of life to sustain itself on the Martian surface this also severely limits the ability of humans to effectively live on its surface.
Factors related to the degree of radiation, the temperature of the planet, the level of ion dispersion within the atmosphere and the ability of solar wind to affect the Martian surface are all factors that need to be taken into consideration when examining the possible establishment of a colony.
Readings from the MAVEN mission would help to determine what sort of protection would be needed on the first manned mission to Mars, what should buildings be composed of should a colony be established on the planets surface and what sort of filters would e necessary in order to establishment a sufficient agricultural center on the planet.
Furthermore, atmospheric readings taken by the MAVEN can also help to determine whether terraforming the planet in the future is at all possible. If the degree of atmospheric degradation has been determined to exceed the level necessary for the sufficient development of a habitable ecosystem this would go a long way towards determining humanity’s future course of action regarding off-world colonization.
The Differences Involved
What makes the MAVEN mission exciting lies in the fact that while there have been missions in the past which have explored the quality of the Martian atmosphere from the surface of the planet there have been no studies which have precisely examined the current state of the Martian upper atmosphere from space.
One of the reasons behind this has been an overall lack in sufficient technology and willpower to even get the project underway in the first place. What most individuals fail to notice is the fact that the recent global financial recession which occurred as a direct result of toxic subprime mortgage debt has in effectively limited numerous potential space programs from getting underway.
It is actually quite and expensive affair involving billions of dollars in technological expenses as well as staff expenses. Taking this into consideration the sheer cost of the MAVEN mission which is estimated at several billion dollars is quite amazing especially when comparing it to the problems the U.S. economy is currently facing.
This paper would like to conclude that despite the inherent costs and problems associated with space exploration and space, it is actually a very important and vital step for the future of mankind that people attempt to explore your solar system sooner rather than later.
No one really knows how long the planet Earth can sustain life or if it is already on the verge of being unable to sustain life in the future. It is based on this exploratory missions such as the MAVEN help to examine the current state of planets within the solar system in order to determine their viability as either future homes or as mirrors into what could possibly be Earth’s coming future.
NASA . “http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/maven/overview/index.html.” MAVEN. NASA, N.I.. Web. 1 Dec 2011.
Updike, John. “Visions Of Mars.” National Geographic 214.6 (2008): 86. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.