Podcast: Why humans must go to Mars

The Red Planet may hold keys to understanding biology and climate change

Discovering life on Mars, or the remnants of life, would give us ‘a whole new take on biology’. Photograph: Getty Images

Discovering life on Mars, or the remnants of life, would give us ‘a whole new take on biology’. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The remote, barren rock called Mars has long been a target of imaginations, telescopes, probes and rovers., and many believe the next step should be to send humans there.

Entrepreneur and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk has hinted he will announce his company SpaceX’s plans for manned Mars missions at a conference next month.

But any such mission would be both dangerous to human life and extremely costly. What is there to be gained from exploring Mars?

To find out, Vanesa Martinez of The Irish Times sat down with IT Tallaght’s Kevin Nolan, a self-described Mars fanatic and Irish co-ordinator of the Planetary Society.I

It’s about a lot more than Musk’s sense of achievement, says Nolan - and one tangible benefit could be a deep understanding of biology.

Discovering life on Mars, or the remnants of life, would give us “a whole new take on biology, which would radically alter our view and understanding of Earth biology, from a biotech standpoint, from a medical standpoint, from a evolutionary standpoint,” he said.

As we set about radically changing our planet through our carbon emissions, Mars, which lost its atmosphere billions of years ago, may hold keys in its rocky layers to understanding how planetary systems change.

There is also the fact that, in terms of human space exploration, it is the only option.

“It’s a place we actually can go. In the vast cosmos stretching trillions and trillions of kilometres and millions and millions of light years, it takes a couple of months to get to Mars. So we can get there,” Nolan said.

The pair’s conversation about the past, present and future of our relationship with Mars can be listened to using the player embedded in this article.

*Vanesa Martinez is on placement at The Irish Times under the BSA/SFI media fellowship programme