Mission to Mars: U.S. astronauts may again walk on the moon--and someday land on Mars.
From the first moment that humans looked up into the skies, they wondered about life on the planets and stars. The planet Mars holds a special fascination for Earthlings. It is our closest neighbor in the solar system--the fourth rock from the sun. And of all the planets, scientists say, there is the greatest chance that life existed on Mars.
Now we may find our for sure. President Bush has ordered NASA, the U.S. space agency, to begin planning for a permanent manned station on the moon, and to use that base to push on to Mars--50 million miles away.
"The 12-year-old boy in me is jumping up and down," said science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, a book that tells of living on Mars. But could this really happen?
"Absolutely," said Philip Christensen, one of NASA's main Mars scientists. "I'm 50, and I hope to live to see it.... The technology more or less exists today. The only thing lacking is the will and the money."
What's up There?
So far, details about the mission to Mars have not been decided. The President's general timetable calls for a new spaceship--a "crew exploration vehicle"--to be ready for astronauts by 2014. A permanent base on the moon would be established by 2020. After that, astronauts would attempt to reach Mars.
What can we hope to find? For years, scientists thought that Mars was dry and lifeless. But now, we have pictures taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). These photos show what look like gullies--features that may have been carved out by water.
Other pictures suggest snow at the planet's poles, and patches that may be remnants (things left behind) of ancient glaciers. Now it seems possible that Mars was once warm and wet. And where there was water, there could have been life.
The rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in January, are checking for other traces of water. Already, geologists think that Opportunity has picked up the presence of hematite, a mineral that on Earth is formed by water.
What Will It Take?
The challenges of setting up a station on the moon and going from there to Mars are enormous. The trip to Mars would take 10 to 21 months, using present technologies. And astronauts would have to build stations on both the moon and Mars to make fuel and support life.
Not all scientists are happy with NASA's new direction--especially concerning the Hubble Space Telescope, which has given us breathtaking photos from space.
According to the President's plan, NASA would abandon the space-shuttle program. And without regular maintenance from the shuttles, the Hubble Space Telescope would go blind and fall out of its orbit (path around the Earth).
Others worry about the fate of the International Space Station (ISS). The U.S. would have only limited involvement in the ISS after its completion in 2010.
And then there is the issue of money. Critics say the President is leaving the cost of getting to Mars, which may take hundreds of billions of dollars, to future generations.
But for others, the sense of being on a new mission is worth the cost. The President noted that it has been 30 years since a person has set foot on the moon. "We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit," President Bush said. "So let us continue the journey."
Your Turn WORD MATCH 1. astronomy A. things left behind 2. geology B. path around Earth 3. orbit C. study of earth 4. remnants D. study of space
THINK ABOUT IT
How important is the space mission to your life? With all of the problems in the U.S., is such an undertaking worth the cost?
To the Planets
Apollo astronauts last walked oil the moon in 1972. But unmanned U.S. missions into space have continued.
1974-75 Mariner 10 photographs 45 percent of Mercury's surface.
1976 Viking 1 and 2 begin to unlock the mysteries of Mars.
1977 Voyager 1 and 2 fly by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, taking photos of their rings and moons.
1989-90 The orbiter Magellan produces the first detailed maps of Venus.
1997 Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor add detail to NASA's view of the Red Planet.
2001 The orbiter Mars Odyssey sends back evidence of a Mars ice age.
2004 U.S. rovers land on Mars, taking photos and collecting soil samples.
NASA for Kids nasa.gov/audience/forkids/home/F_Travel_Mars.html
Students should understand
* NASA has been directed by the President to begin planning for a permanent base on the moon by 2020--and to push on from there to Mars.
Remind students that one year ago, the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. Ask: What reasons might the President have for pursuing such an ambitious space agenda so soon after that disaster? Given the many problems in this country, and the high level of national debt, is a trip to Mars worth the cost? What does the President mean when he says exploring space "improves our lives and lifts our national spirit"?
In the 1960s, Americans supported sending men to the moon, despite the high cost and dangers. Then, astronauts were national heroes and the space program was a key part of America's conduct of the Cold War. Since Americans last walked on the moon in 1972, many people have felt that NASA has lost its way, and needs a new challenge like sending astronauts to Mars. Others, including many scientists, believe it would be cheaper, safer, and smarter to keep using unmanned space probes, like the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
COMPREHENSION: Why do scientists believe life may exist on Mars? What conditions would allow life to thrive on other planets? If we find life on Mars, what should we do then?
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES: Mars, because it is thought of as the planet most likely to support life, has long been the subject of science fiction. Ask students to write their own science-fiction stories about what astronauts might find on Mars. Remind students that while science fiction is made up, it is based on scientific fact, and they should incorporate facts they've learned about Mars in their stories.
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Science and Technology: Understand the nature of scientific knowledge and its relationship to society.
* Historical Understanding: Understand current events in historical perspective.
* Berger, Melvin, Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet (Scholastic, 1992). Grades 6-8.
* Croswell, Ken, Magnficient Mars (The Free Press, 2003). All ages.
* Mars Exploration Rover Mission http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html
* Exploring Mars http://www.exploringmars.com/
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Mar 8, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Back from extinction.|
|Next Article:||A day in the life of South Africa: a decade after the end of apartheid, life in a South African township remains a challenge.|