A Trip To Mars That’s Out Of This World






Welcome to Mars! Wish you were here!

Mars doesn’t seem all that inviting. Hawaii is a much nicer place.

But NASA has a detailed vision about how to put people on Mars, what to do, and how to get home.

If you’re interested here are some of the skill sets to have on your resume:

*Able to rapidly recognize and respond to unexpected findings.

*Capable of lifting rocks, hammering and selecting samples

*Able to react quickly to new and unexpected situations, problems, hazards and risks

*Efficient at equipment manipulation and problem solving

Only six will be selected and you’ll be gone for 2.5 years. That’s about one year in travel time – up and back – and about 500 days on the planet. It’s dry, dusty and cold with no palm trees and such, so bring skin moisturizer and your iPod. The average temperature is about minus 78 degrees Fahrenheit, so pack warm clothes. But it can reach a pleasant 68 on a good day at the equator.

The good news is you will weigh less and there is a lot of radiation so you should be able to get a good tan. Just be careful!

Details on all this were provided by Mike Paul Hughes, a senior staff systems engineer, specializing in entry, descent and landing systems at Lockheed Martin. He presented at the Saturday METal breakfast in Los Angeles. Hughes previously worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to design, test and operate control systems. He also worked on the Deep Impact mission to Comet Tempel-1 in 2005. He has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from USC.

Deep Impact strike on Comet Tempel-1

Hughes began by walking us through the history of our fascination with Mars, starting with the time Galileo made the first telescopic observation in 1609. Things start to get interesting when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observes “canalis,” meaning channels, which gets mistranslated into English as canals. This sets up waves of hypotheses, speculation and folklore as to the possibility of intelligent life on Mars. That set the stage for American astronomer Percival Lowell to spend his life trying to prove there is life on Mars, with the canals being excavated by intelligent beings.

It leads to a corpus of science fiction books, among them the 1898 classic “War of the Worlds” from H.G. Wells. In the book, an armada of octopus like Martians “regarded our planet with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

The bastards come to Earth with three-legged fighting machines and destroyed England. Fortunately, we later kill them with bacteria and live happily ever after.

That was until Orson Wells on Halloween night in 1938 dramatized War of the Worlds on a 60-minute radio program to suggest an alien invasion by Marians was currently in progress. It causes panic and scares the bejusus out of New York and New Jersey.

As it turns out there was no real need to panic.

Starting in the 1960s the first close-up flybys of the Red Plant showed no canals or Martians. Viking 1 in 1976, the first spacecraft to land on Mars, reveals Mars to by a seemingly lifeless expanse, with no hotels or beaches.

Sunset on Mars

We’ve learned a lot since, especially with the highly successful Rover missions of Spirit and Opportunity. Among many things, they discovered past evidence of liquid water on the Martian surface.

As we humans understand it, life requires water. And while the Rover missions have not discovered life they have offered valuable information on how to go about building a parking lot on Mars. NASA has laid out how to get there with its “Human Exploration of Mars” report.

The idea of putting men on Mars always brings the question of “Why?” I mean, we spent billions going to the moon and came back with a bagful of rocks that weren’t all that interesting, really.

On the other hand the Moon mission ignited a generation of engineers and techno-enthusiast of which all manner of products that enrich our lives today have come forth.

Hughes briefly responded to the reason of why put humans on Mars at the breakfast, hosted by Ken Rutkowski.

“If life did evolve on Mars then we are not alone,” said Hughes. If so, “We stand on the new threshold of evolution” just as important as learning that fish crawled out from the oceans and evolved, eventually, into us, or so the story goes.

But there are people who take this whole Mars thing a lot further. They believe there was indeed a civilization on the planet. I won’t go into detail now but among the discussions is a place called Cydonia.

When the results of the Deep Impact mission that examined what comets were made of came in, Hughes said, “It was hydrocarbons and organic molecules,” meaning “The Universe is made out of stuff of life.”

Other METal notes:

We had the pleasure of having Ron Rice, who in 1969 founded the suntan lotion company Hawaiian Tropic. He was a poor country boy from the mountains of North Carolina who, after getting degrees from the University of Tennessee, spent time as a lifeguard and came up with the idea for his suntan lotion. It became a huge success thanks to Rice’s role in guerilla marketing, which he defined as marketing without having to pay any money.

A big break came when he got a woman to walk into a popular story in Florida and asked the man at the counter for seven bottles of Hawaiian Tropic, which the store did not carry. The owner offered some Coppertone instead, to which she replied, “I don’t want that crap.”

That evening the owner called Rice and demanded he come to the store, which then began selling Hawaiian Tropic.

“You’ve got to create your own demand,” said Rice.

Another brilliant idea of Rice was the creation of the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Beauty Pageant, “which became famous in every country in the world,” he said.

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