That Pioneer Spirit Still Lives Within Us. Where to next?

The Quest To Push The Envelope | Image skylonspaceplane.jpg

When did it all start? Was it when a caveman decided the cave was too crowded, so he moved his family to another cave? Was it when Christopher Columbus set sail for what was supposed to be a new route to the Orient? Was was it when a group of people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a new life and form a new country called America? Was it when Daniel Boone said that it was time for him to move when he could see the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney?

Neil Armstrong On The Moon | Image
Neil Armstrong On The Moon | Image

Or was it when astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human to touch his foot down in the dust of the moon and uttered those eloquent words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” for all of us to witness? I’d say the answer is yes to all of the above. Each time we have encountered a challenge that involved extending our reach we stood up and met that challenge head-on.

Let’s go back to when Columbus sought the help of Spain to fund his westward trek to India. One of the prevailing beliefs was that the earth was flat and if you went too far into uncharted waters your ship would fall off the edge. Just think what must have been going around in his head. Is it worth the risk, if it were true, to go where “no man has gone before” (to borrow the line from Star Trek) just to find a faster route to India? Columbus thought so and we know that Queen Isabella also had faith in his excursion into the unknown. Christopher Columbus was a smart sailor and knew the sea. One example of that is a story about him that I read some years ago.

Christopher Columbus & The Nina | Image
Christopher Columbus & The Nina | Image

On his return from the “New World” for the 4th and last time Columbus was within a small fleet led by a Spaniard. As the fleet was passing by the islands they could tell a hurricane was approaching. They asked the harbor master if they could come into the shelter of the harbor. Their request was denied and the fleet moved on except for Christopher Columbus. Sailing his own ship “Nina” he found a cove to shelter his caravelle (ships that could not withstand the strength of a hurricane out to sea). The fleet was destroyed and an estimated 500 people perished. Columbus survived due to his weather knowledge and his refusal to stay out on the ocean when the shallow waters of a cove would keep him and his crew safe.

In past columns I spoke of the Montgolfier Brothers who pioneered hot air ballooning, and the Wright Brothers who took the first motorized airplane flights. If you have seen the movie “The Right Stuff” you were shown the brave men who were test pilots trying to break the “Sound Barrier” who were then followed by our Mercury-7 Astronauts, the ones who were to become the first Americans to “push the envelope” as they would say and venture into space. Then and now space is still a relatively unfamiliar place that can’t be visited by just anybody.

We have sent “rovers” to the planet Mars which in itself is quite an amazing feat, but many believe that we must send humans to explore and potentially colonize Mars. What will it take to accomplish that? You do realize that it will take a long time to get to Mars and the same amount of time for the return trip.

Saturn V Rocket Launch | Image
Saturn V Rocket Launch
| Image

The first known detailed technical study of a Mars mission project was proposed by Wernher von Braun in his 1952 book Das Marsprojekt. You might remember that von Braun was instrumental in developing the German V-2 rockets during WWII and then brought that technology with him to the United States where he eventually became the director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket which powered our Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

Now we are in the year 2013 and there is an ongoing debate over whether we should be spending vast amounts of money to explore space when we have so many seemingly insurmountable problems back here on earth. The Space Shuttle program has been scrapped and we don’t have any replacement vehicles ready to be built to take over their job. Now we depend on the Russians to ferry our astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station. Mny have come to the conclusion that Government can’t do it all and that private enterprise will be a more competitive and economical way to get to Mars.

More than 165,000 people over the age of 18 have already signed up for  the “Mars One” colony mission that would include a six-month one-way trip to Mars to start the first human colony for four lucky people.

Mars One Colony Concept | Image
Mars One Colony Concept | Image

The plan is for others to follow at regular intervals. The main reason for the one-way trip is to conserve fuel. It would take a much bigger and heavier spacecraft to hold enough fuel for a return trip. It is also a good way to guarantee that the “colonists” will keep their promise to stay on Mars rather than to decide to come back home to Earth. What kind of people will it take to make this historic journey? Some of the traits they will have to exhibit would be: to be brave, innovative, emotionally stable, in excellent physical condition, to be able to leave all relatives and friends behind possibly forever, and to have certain abilities and skills that would benefit themselves and the community. A quote from the famous poet Robert Browning says it best:“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

Are you interested in making the trip to Mars, one-way or round-trip? I’m too old and not in particularly good physical condition so that knocks me out of the running. When I was younger I might have given it a try. What would you tell your family and friends? Could you really give up all of the comforts of home to be one of the first four colonists on Mars?

I’d like to know if you are interested in going or not and why and I’m sure our readers would like to hear what you have to say. You can post your answer at the bottom of this column or email me at the address that follows and we can share in the discussion.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].



Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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