June 2nd, 2015

Can Mars One colonise the red planet? The Guardian

When NASA’s first rover set down on the surface of Mars in 1997, its streamed colour images caused an early internet sensation. After centuries of dreaming, here we were, at eye level to our closest potentially habitable neighbour, and the sight was as bleakly majestic as we could have imagined: a rocky, red desertscape on a scale entirely alien to Earth. One mountain, Olympus Mons, was the largest in our solar system (three times the height of Everest, with a footprint the size of Sweden); dune-seas swept its northern hemisphere while 7km-deep canyons veined the south.

Watching on a clunky desktop computer in the Dutch university town of Twente, 20-year-old Bas Lansdorp’s first thought was one of wonder; his second of longing (“I want to go there!”), then the melancholy realisation that, being Dutch, he could never fly with NASA. So he’d have to do it himself.

November 6th, 2014

Will Interstellar inspire a new space race? The Guardian

Stanley Kubrick was right about most things but when it came to 2001: A Space Odyssey, he got it hopelessly wrong. We’re now 13 years on from that particular date, so where’s our future? Instead of Pan Am flights to the moon we’ve got the faltering efforts of Virgin Galactic, which suffered another setback with the crash of its test plane last week. Instead of elegant space stations resembling modernist furniture showrooms, we have got the cramped tin cans of the International Space Station. And forget survey missions to Jupiter, Nasa doesn’t even have a space shuttle any more. As it is, we are not even on track for the dystopian future of Blade Runner, unless we can knock together some off-world colonies in the next five years. Charlton Heston’s Soylent Green is definitely still on, however, being set in 2022 (spoiler alert: we end up having to eat each other).
From a space enthusiast’s point of view, there is nothing more depressing than the fact that 2001 does not look particularly dated. If you had told those 1960s star children we would be no further out of Earth’s orbit nearly half a century later you’d have been laughed out of the cinema, and many of those people, Americans in particular, have never forgiven their governments for not fulfilling their promises. Political and economic pressures and conspicuous accidents, such as the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters, have clipped NASA’s wings considerably, and the multitude of Earthbound problems have put interplanetary exploration on the back burner. But in terms of a big, public plea for rebooting space travel, Interstellar is the answer to space camp’s prayers.

September 18th, 2013

Valentina Tereshkova, 76, first woman in space, seeks one-way ticket to Mars The Guardian

Having reached the age of 76, it might be expected that Valentina Tereshkova would be planning a life of quiet gentility: a bit of gardening, perhaps, or catching up on reading. Far from it. The grande dame of astronautics has no intention of retiring gracefully, she has revealed. Indeed, she has a very different idea of how her future will unfold: she wants to go to Mars, her favourite planet. More to the point, she says she is happy if the mission turns out to be a one-way trip.
“Of course, it’s a dream to go to Mars,” says Tereshkova, who became the first woman in space after she spent three days orbiting Earth in 1963. “I want to find out whether there was life there or not. And if there was, then why did it die out? What sort of catastrophe happened?”

July 17th, 2013

Elon Musk’s mission to Mars The Guardian

Elon Musk has flown so high, so fast, it is hard not to wonder when, and how, he will crash to earth. How could he not? Musk is so many things – inventor, entrepreneur, billionaire, space pioneer, inspiration for Iron Man’s playboy superhero Tony Stark – and he has pushed the boundaries of science and business, doing what others declare impossible. At some point, surely, he will fall victim to sod’s law, or gravity.
He is only 41, but so far Musk shows no sign of tumbling earthwards. Nasa and other clients are queuing up to use his rockets, part of the rapid commercialisation of space. His other company, electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, is powering ahead. Such success would satisfy many tycoons, but for Musk they are merely means to ends: minimising climate change and colonising Mars. And not in some distant future – he wants to accomplish both within our lifetimes.

April 29th, 2013

China: Mars residency hopefuls sign up for emigration project The Guardian

April 23rd, 2011

Elon Musk: ‘I’m planning to retire to Mars’ The Guardian

The fresh-faced 39-year-old man, in a dark T-shirt and jeans, is talking about travelling to Mars. Not now, but when he’s older and ready to swap life on Earth for one on the red planet. “It would be a good place to retire,” he says in all seriousness. Normally, this would be the time to make one’s excuses and leave the company of a lunatic. Or to smile politely and humour a space nerd’s unlikely fantasies. But this man needs to be taken seriously for one compelling reason: he already has his own spaceship.
This is Elon Musk, a brilliant entrepreneur who made a fortune from the internet and has invested vast amounts of it in building his own private space rocket company, SpaceX. Indeed, far from being crazy, Musk is the real-life inspiration for the movie character Tony Stark, the playboy scientist hero of the Iron Man franchise.

March 23rd, 2010

‘Mars’ mission is ultimate reality show The Guardian

In May, six people will climb into a steel container in Moscow and the door will be locked tight. For the next 18 months, the “crew” will live inside this windowless environment – four interlocked modules measuring, in total, 550 cubic metres – as they attempt to simulate the conditions onboard a spacecraft on a round-trip to Mars.
It sounds like the ultimate TV reality show: six different personalities forced to get along while their omnipotent masters outside issue them with a daily set of tasks and instructions. The experiment is one of the most fascinating and demanding psychological tests you could ever dream up. But, if we are ever to get to Mars, these are exactly the sort of conditions that a crew will have to suffer and survive.

January 27th, 2009

It’s snowing on Mars The Guardian

High in the sky above Mars, it is snowing right now. Very gently snowing. The snow does not settle on the rubble-strewn land below – not these days, anyway – but instead vaporises into the thin atmosphere long before it reaches the ground.
The first flakes of snow, on a planet that until fairly recently was believed to be waterless, were spotted just a few months ago. A Nasa lander near the planet’s north pole was scanning the sky with a laser when it noticed the telltale signs of snowfall. The probe, called Phoenix, announced the news in a radio signal that was picked up by an overhead orbiter and beamed back to Earth. Nothing like it had ever been seen before.

September 10th, 2004

Gas may yield clue to life on Mars The Guardian

Scientists yesterday confirmed the presence of methane on Mars, raising two possibilities – volcanos, or life on the red planet. “Methane should be short-lived in that atmosphere. It should last for less than a few hundred years,” Andrew Coates, of the Mullard space science laboratory at University College London, told the British Association science festival in Exeter. “So there must be a very recent source, perhaps even a current source. The two possible sources could be volcanism – very recent or current volcanism – or life. All life as we know it on Earth, even down to the tiniest microbe, produces methane as a byproduct.”

December 27th, 2003

Cursed probes that have bitten the red dust The Guardian

Although Mars has an enduring fascination for scientists, it boasts a list of mission failures long enough to make anyone think twice about sending a multimillion-pound probe there. Missions to the red planet fail far more often than they succeed. Since 1960 there have been 35 missions, from the Soviet Union, the US and Japan. Two-thirds of them have been outright failures.

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