The Exploration and Colonization of Mars: Why Mars? Why Humans? | Dr. Joel Levine | TEDxRVA


Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Ivana Krivokuća Let me tell you
how special this is for me. I’ve worked, as Andy said,
at NASA for 41 years. I was involved in half a dozen
successful missions to Mars. I presented over 500 presentations
about the results in 50 countries around the world, and yet today is the first time
they put makeup on my face before I gave the talk. (Laughter) (Applause) So it’s been a unique
experience for me, too. (Laughter) We’ve been talking a lot
about passion and uncommon – those two words – and I want to tell you my passion. I was twelve years old
in Brooklyn, New York and – (Applause) (Cheers) Brooklyn, New York
is known for its Brooklyn onions, as we heard earlier. (Laughter) I happened to look at a textbook
that just came to the library, and I saw something
that left the tremendous impression. I saw this picture of planet Mars. It was taken with the Mount Wilson
100-inch telescope in California, and I remember staring at this picture and thinking about another world
like the Earth. Is there life on it?
What’s this world like? Because of this passion for Mars, a year later, I was given
by my grandmother a telescope, an astronomical telescope, and I started looking
through the telescope, looking at Mars. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and the uncommon part of my talk is: here’s a 13 to 14-year-old, thinking he can do astronomy
with a telescope in New York City. (Laughter) But fortunately, this passion remained, and I had a very interesting career
of which I’ll talk about. So after my first experiences
with a small telescope in New York City, I was offered a job by NASA
and accepted it, and several decades later, I was a major contributor
to NASA’s plan for getting to Mars. It’s called
“The Human Exploration of Mars”, the reference architecture number five; that’s because they did four earlier ones
that didn’t go anywhere. This is the front cover, this is the back cover. When NASA announced that they were going
to send humans to Mars and return them safely – unlike some private companies
which will just deliver them on Mars (Laughter) and leave them there, we will bring our astronauts back. (Laughter) The question NASA was asked is: why Mars?
Why do we want to go to Mars? In 2007, – I was working at NASA Headquarters
in the Mars Exploration Program – they asked me to form
and co-chair the committee to come up with a scientific rationale. So we spent three years, thirty of the top Mars scientists
in the United States, Europe, and Japan, and we came up with a list
of about 150 reasons, scientific reasons for getting to Mars. Because I only have 18 minutes, I can only talk
about two of these reasons. The first is: is there past
or present life on Mars? Clearly, the detection of life on Mars
is a game-stopper, show-stopper, it impacts everything; goes well beyond planetary science. If we find life on Mars today, and if we can show it’s indigenous life,
life that formed on Mars, it will make tremendous advances in our understanding of biochemistry,
a molecular structure of life, and it will provide information
on the human body, and how to treat diseases
that we haven’t even thought about, because all forms of life on Earth – people who come to TED,
elephants, giraffes, molecular scale, a biochemical scale – they’re the same. They’re packaged differently, but its basically the same biochemistry,
the same molecular structure. If we find indigenous life
on Mars, is it the same? That’s a fundamental question of great importance
not only to the planetary scientists, but for medical researchers and so on. Second overarching question:
what happened on Mars? We know that in its early history,
Mars was very different than it is today. In its early history, Earth and Mars formed,
4.6 billion years ago, it was a Tuesday and – (Laughter) and the Solar System formed. We know that early Mars
was very Earth-like. Early Mars had a thick atmosphere,
it had lakes, it had rivers, and it had an ocean that covered
most of the northern hemisphere. Today, Mars is very different; Mars is inhospitable, no surface water on the planet,
and a very, very thin atmosphere. What happened on Mars? And of equal importance:
can this happen on Earth in the future? This was just published,
less than four weeks ago. This is the early ocean on Mars
published in “Science Magazine”. That’s the Northern Hemisphere of Mars. The blue covered area is an ocean that covered about half
of the Northern Hemisphere, and the ocean was at least a mile deep, and that’s a very recent discovery. Scientist know that we have looked at the history of climate on Earth
several million years back by looking at ice cores from the Arctic,
and Antarctic, and glacial ice, because in these ice cores
there are bubbles, and in the bubbles are trapped atmosphere, not today, but when the ice was formed,
millions and millions of years ago. So if we can get an ice core on Mars
– we’re talking about 1000 feet deep – and bring it back to a laboratory, we can analyze it, and we can find
the climactic history of Mars, and we can for the first time get clues as to why Mars experienced
catastrophic climate change. We know robotic missions can’t do this;
too complicated for robotic mission. So, these are just
my two overarching questions. This is the northern ice cap on Mars. The history of the climate history of Mars
is trapped in the water, frozen water in this ice cap. Why humans as opposed to robotic missions? First of all, let me say, after working
on a half a dozen robotic missions, we’ve learned a tremendous amount. Robotic missions have been excellent. We have learned much
about Mars atmosphere surface, but they have their limitations, and one of the limitations is that everything that we do
on a robotic mission has to be preprogrammed, and preprogramming assumes
that we understand the environment. The human explorer has
a whole bunch of qualities that are not in machine probes
at this point, like: intelligence, ingenuity,
adaptability, agility, dexterity, mobility, and speed and efficiency. A very well-known Mars scientist said that he can do in two hours what it takes a rover to do in six months, because he’s on the scene,
he can understand the geology, he can figure things out
that we didn’t know before, whereas a robotic mission – we assume we know the environment,
and in a lot of cases, we don’t. Let me talk about mobility. The National Research Council
Space Studies Board, which oversees NASA by law, has said, “Mobility on a planet
is the most important single parameter.” We just completed the first Mars marathon, about a week ago. NASA’s Mars exploration rover,
“Opportunity”, traveled 26.2 miles. It completed a marathon run on Mars. Unfortunately, it took 11 years. (Laughter) With what we’re planning to send to Mars, for human exploration,
we can do that in a day or less. So we have great mobility. Why send humans to Mars?
Why become a two planet specie? Well, there are threats to humanity,
there are threats to planet Earth. I don’t want to spend
much time at it other than to say there’s catastrophic climate change. We know that the climate is changing. We don’t understand
where we’ll end up at this point. We know Mars experienced
catastrophic climate change. The second point I want to make: synthetic biology experiments
and natural pandemics. You know, we’ve recreated, humans have recreated
the poliovirus in recent years. Finally, perhaps the most likely,
are cosmic impacts. There are things circling the Solar System
that can impact with Earth; I’m talking about asteroids,
comets and meteors. There’s an example, earlier this year, a large asteroid passed within 3 times
the distance of the Earth to the Moon, 3.1 times that distance,
and that’s a near miss. There are many, many asteroids
and objects in the Solar System, as you’ll see in a second. Well, what we’re looking at
is the asteroid belt. The yellow thing in the middle
is called the Sun, then there are four circles
– Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – and then on the right side
you see Jupiter. But you see those hundreds
and hundreds of green things? They are asteroids. They’re chunks of material that range from 10 feet
to several hundred miles across. One of them actually came in over Russia. How would you feel if you’re in your car
and all of a sudden – This is a cam recorder in someone’s car. This object that hit the Earth in 2013 had the energy of 30 nuclear weapons. Thirty nuclear weapons. It destroyed many hundreds of buildings and injured many thousands of people. So, there is a dream.
Now I will speculate. Once we send humans to Mars, the next likely step is to take
plan of Mars and terraform it. Terraform is a bad word;
planetary engineer it to – (Laughter) to look like planet Earth. This is our oddest conception of Mars
becoming a second Earth, and I’ll talk to you
about that in a second. Once it’s terraformed
or planetary engineered, there’s a potential second home
for the human race. You know, dinosaurs were
the major form of life on Earth for many millions of years,
until about 65 million years ago, Yucatán Peninsula, a large asteroid hit,
now, that was a Wednesday, and – (Laughter) and the rest is history. The dinosaurs became extinct. The dominant form of life on planet Earth
for millions of years became extinct. How do you make Mars habitable? I’m going to tell you a simple way.
There are several other ways. (Laughter) The first is: we know there’s a lot of frozen water and a lot of frozen carbon dioxide
below the surface of Mars, and if we can get a large solar reflector
heat up the surface, it will cause that carbon dioxide
and water vapor to enter the atmosphere. It turns out that those are two
of the most efficient greenhouse gases that we know about. So we release the frozen water
and the frozen carbon dioxide, put it in the atmosphere. Once that happens, we seed the surface of Mars
with photosynthetic plants. The photosynthetic plants
convert carbon dioxide, which is the major gas on Mars. We’ll convert it to a gas called oxygen, and gas called oxygen is useful because humans breathe oxygen
on a regular basis. (Laughter) Once we have oxygen
from these photosynthetic plants, oxygen is broken up by solar radiation,
– a small amount – and it forms a gas called ozone. Ozone shields the surface of the Earth
from biologically-lethal radiation that comes from the Sun,
called ultraviolet radiation. So we form an ozone layer
once we have oxygen in the atmosphere. Once we have oxygen
in the atmosphere and ozone, the atmosphere is thick enough
because we outcast a lot of the carbon dioxide
and water vapor, and liquid water can form on the planet and be stable over geological time spans. This is an artist’s conception
of Mars today. This is Mars after terraforming
or planetary engineering. I saw a great movie about a week ago
– we are not supposed to give plugs – “The Theory of Everything”,
the autobiography of Steve Hawking, one of the great cosmic thinkers
in the world, in history. This is a quote: “I think that human race has no future
if it does not go into space.” And let me show you
how we’re going into space and how we’re going to bring
astronauts back to Earth. If I can have the last video, please.
The last video. This is a test in December of last year
of the Orion space capsule that will bring humans to Mars. It’s an actual image. This really happened, December 5th. Then, once it’s away from the Earth,
it will hook up with the transport vehicle that we’ve already put in orbit
around the Earth. Then that transfer vehicle will take
the humans to the surface of Mars. It’s a nine month trip,
and this is entering the Mars atmosphere. That’s landing on the surface of Mars, and then, once we’re
on the surface of Mars, the astronauts look
for signs of life, look for fossils. We’ll begin drilling
to find the climate history of Mars, and then, 500 days later, we return the astronauts back to Earth. They enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
This is a real image. This is under drawing board.
It’s going to happen. It will probably be 2033 to 2039
when we’ll do this. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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