Column: As Mars research continues, let's not forget about Earth

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA delivers remarks upon arriving at Ellington Field, Thursday, March 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas, after his return to Earth. (Joel Kowsky/NASA via AP)

On Mar. 3, after spending a record breaking 342 days in the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth two inches taller than when he had left. NASA is interested in more than the visible changes; they are researching long term effects of being in space.

Kelly was the perfect candidate for the research because he has an identical twin to act as a control. NASA is collecting this data in preparation for the trip to Mars. They believe that it will take nine months to travel each way, so it is necessary to research possible complications that could occur due to that duration in space.

NASA hopes astronauts will be on Mars by the 2030s. Traveling to Mars is an amazing scientific development and an incredible research opportunity. However, this advancement should not come with the goal of colonization. 

The prospect of going to Mars is exciting. The pull of the unknown and the quest for knowledge is part of the human experience, a part that should be celebrated. These integral human characteristics are at the forefront of the drive to travel to another planet.

Advancements for the sake of moving forward is not a bad thing, but this expedition to Mars has many more possible benefits. The technology and innovations from previous space explorations have had long-lasting benefits and various applications. The material developed for spacesuits is stronger than steel; it has low translucency and high reflectivity and has found other uses here on Earth.

For example, the retractable roof of Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, is made from this fabric. Research for space exploration resulted in breathing systems that help firefighters. It also lead to medical developments like advanced implantable pulse generators used to monitor heart activity. The research required for a trip to Mars has many unforeseen benefits.

There also are many benefits for our actual Mars landing. Traveling to another planet provides new opportunities to study geological evolution. Through the exploration and research of another planet, it is possible to learn more about our own.

The possible colonization of Mars should not be the end goal of this exploration. Despite the many benefits of researching and traveling to the Red Planet, the reality of colonizing it is grim. Even in Earth’s least welcoming environments, it is more habitable than Mars.

A typical nighttime temperature close to the equator is negative seventy degrees Celsius, and there are huge temperature swings. Occasionally, it drops below -100 degrees, and midday temperature can reach above zero degrees Celsius.

This is a similar climate to Antarctica; the reason Mars is not covered in ice is because there is so little water there, and the atmosphere is a near vacuum so any water sublimates and collects near the poles. Mars is covered with dust, and every two Earth years, there are global dust storms that last for weeks.

During these times, light from the sun drops by 99 percent. During these times, possible solar power would not work and growing food would require artificial light. The dust would get everywhere possibly risking machinery. The climate of Mars is anything but human friendly, and this makes the concept of colonization seem rather unpleasant.  

Colonizing Mars would be extremely expensive. It would cost billions of dollars and continuously require support. There is a lot of excitement currently around the concept, yet after a few years of colonization, the idea will no longer hold the same spark.

However, we will still be required to send support and spend the money to support them. Even more alarming, the nine month flight to Mars means a slow reaction time to possible emergencies in a colony. A mechanical mishap or technological complication could mean death. 

We, as humans, have evolved with earth, and even though we have gained the ability to explore beyond the confines of our planet, we should keep our homes here. The prospects of colonizing are concerning. It seems like the possibility of living on another planet is being used as a reason to stop worrying about the damage we are doing to Earth. Yet, Earth is our planet and our responsibility.

While we work to explore space and Mars, we should also put great efforts into helping our own planet because this should always be our home. 


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.