Mars Menus

Right now there are two privately funded manned-missions planned to set out for Mars.  One is set to leave in 2018, the other in 2023.  They are unlikely to be the only departures for Mars in the next decade.

At current speeds of deep space travel, it’s a 520-day trip, and astronauts in the simulated flight in 2011 said one of the worst parts of the “trip” was the utterly boring food.  The powdered orange drink Tang and freeze-dried ice cream might prevent starvation, but the threat of starvation seems to have become the only motivation for eating at all.

So scientists are preparing an alternative.  Plants will grow in zero-gravity conditions, and on the real trips to Mars, astronauts will be able to grow their own ready-to-eat food. Spinach, tomatoes, spring onions, strawberries, sweet potatoes, soy beans, and even wheat, fresh from the spaceship’s garden will be on the menu

There is also a slim chance that Mars itself might produce its own plants one day.  Astronomers in an observatory in Australia have identified a comet coming from outside the solar system that will  pass quite near Mars on October 19, 2014.  They estimate that there is one chance in about 700 that the comet will actually crash into Mars.  If it does, it could produce a produce a blast a million times the blast of the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested.

A comet as small as 25 feet crashing into Mars would form a crater 100 miles wide.  But something far more dramatic would almost certainly be uncovered – the underground ice on Mars that is now been confirmed as certain.  Astrobiologists estimate that the impact would melt ice, much of which would find its way to the surface as water.

Right now, Mars is so cold that water would quickly return to ice.  But the comet’s impact would heat rocks in a swathe of ground the size of New Jersey and keep it warm and wet for millions of years.  New New Jersey might become the first Garden State on Mars.

That freeze-dried ice cream would taste a lot better garnished with a bowl of Martian strawberries.

The idea isn’t nearly as wild as it might have seemed just a couple of years ago.

But then, the comet probably won’t hit Mars in 2014 either.  And if it does, we’d better get out of the way first.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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