The Ideal Martian Transport Vehicle - For Humanity's Next Giant Leap Forward
Ever since the dawn of Mankind, humans have been gifted with a trait which makes us stand out from all forms of life on Earth, whether it be on land, on sea or even in the skies. We have been gifted with the trait of the Pioneer, a novelty seeking gene which motivates us to explore new lands, the exploration of new worlds, the discovery and application of new resources, and to take risks, overcome boundaries, and push humanity forward for a brighter future, and for a clearer understanding of the world and its surrounding environments.
We can see the clear result of this unique gene. One hundred percent of the Earth's surface has been discovered, researched and mapped, with almost half of it inhabited. Human civilization has advanced at an unprecedented rate today, with new innovations and technologies developed and applied to modern society for our leisure, convenience, growth and even for our survival. The eradication of primitive diseases that had wiped out millions in the past, such as smallpox thanks to vaccines, along with being at our peak in the medical and health field.
Now, most people might think, What now? We know even more things about our big blue marble than ever before, even taking full advantage of most of its resources. The answer lies in the stars above us.
For as long as humans have first looked above at the night sky, we have always been constantly awed by the possibilities that lie ahead. Wonder. That is what we all thirst. Throughout history, our novelty seeking gene built into us has always made us fascinated with the unknown. We explore new lands as as result of our fascination with it. Even though the unknown may harm us throughout history, such as alien threats that early explorers have faced like Anthrax, Cholera, Malaria and Smallpox, we have always learnt to fight back against it.
Now that almost the entire surface of Earth has been discovered, there is only one way left to go, up. Our fascination with the unknown continues to drive us into exploring new lands once more, this time, expanding humanity from intercontinental to interplanetary. The one lingering question about space was also a result of our thirst for mystery, that is, are we alone?
It was this thirst for the unknown that had fueled the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1959, the Soviets have launched Sputnik, the first inter-orbital satellite. Two years later, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man ever to reach space and return back to Earth safely, avenging fallen Russian cosmonauts that had came before him. In 1969, humanity had reached its peak, with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the moon, causing global euphoria.
Space Travel Today
Now that the space race was over, innovations for space travel have still continued, but this time at a slower pace. After Apollo 17, humans have never returned to the moon. The biggest breakthrough in space travel may have been the United States Space Shuttle, or the USSR's attempt of one, the Buran. However, none of them have reached further than our own exosphere. The cost of bringing a man to space have risen exponentially, with the possible distance of how far we can bring a man to space decrease drastically. Space travel had become less efficient.
However, space travel has brought out the best in humanity, solving problems that we have never been able to solve before. The biggest evidence of this is the building of the International Space Station, an international effort between the United States, Russia, the European Union, Japan and China, providing a platform for astronauts to conduct research which could possibly lead to new breakthroughs, along with serving commercial, diplomatic and educational purposes. The ISS also serves as a future base for missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.
Our new Final Frontier
Today, we aim for a new goal for humanity. To colonize the red planet. Government agencies such as NASA, Roscomos, JAXA, CSA, ISA and the ESA now aim to place humans on Mars by the year 2030. But in this new space race, a new challenger arrives, the private sector.
The private sector has been involved in space travel more than ever in the history of space travel. Companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Vodafone, Google and Audi have researched and developed new innovations for space travel, with the aim of reducing the costs of space travel once more for our long term journey to Mars. Innovations such as reusable rockets, electric and solar powered vehicles, and 5G connectivity have been developed by the private sector.
The journey to Mars will be humanity's most epic and ambitious journey ever taken, along with the creation of a self-sustainable civilization which will officially classify our species as interplanetary. The business and scientific possibilities of Mars are endless, with new things out there waiting to be discovered, innovations to be applied back on Earth to make our lives just a bit more convenient, profits to be made along with Mars-based businesses, and maybe, the birth of a new Genesis, with the discovery of previously unknown new forms of life.
The Martian Colony
Creating a colony on the red planet is obviously no easy feat. The risks of getting there in the first place are even higher than climbing Mount Everest. Mars also has a very, very unforgiving environment where the cost of foolishness or recklessness could be monumental, and could even cost human lives or even jeopardize the entire mission as a whole. Humans are imperfect. Every single component there must work effectively and correctly without error, along with creating a fail-safe for each system in case anything had gone wrong.
Mars' atmosphere is also very, very hostile to us humans. It's a hundred times thinner than our atmosphere here one Earth, along with 95% of it comprising of carbon dioxide, which is toxic to our bodies, compared to just 0.03% here on Earth. Mars' climate can also pose a threat to our survival. Average temperatures on a Martian day can go only as high as 20 degrees Celsius, or about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. During nightfall, it can get as low as -153 degrees Celsius, or -243 degrees Fahrenheit. Sandstorms and solar flares could also knock out power grids, the chances of either one happening being greater than Earth.
Essential factors for a thriving Martian colony are food through vegetation, water generation and extraction, an air-tight shelter where oxygen is generated, conserved, sealed and exchanged via plants, effective communication between every citizen of the Martian civilization, advanced and high-standard hygiene and disinfection to prevent contamination of the Mars colony from outside environments and possible pathogens, along with an effective transportation system to conduct research in far away or remote areas.
Martian Vehicle Challenges
Humans have known a thing or two about placing vehicles on Martian soil. Take all the rovers placed on Mars by NASA, such as Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, along with the future ExoMars Rover developed by the EU. All those aforementioned rovers are powered by specially-made batteries and powertrains made for the martian soil. The surface on Mars consists of mainly Iron dust, which is finer than the dust found on Earth, as each grain is exponentially smaller.
The very fine surface of Mars means that maximum traction is essential, as dust particles that form Martian regolith easily and constantly break apart into even smaller pieces. Fine dust could lead to the death of a Martian rover, as smaller grains of dust can get into the way of the rover's vital internals such as suspension and gearing. Martian dust permeates almost everything, so if it manages to enter the rover's internals, it could break the vehicle down, and the entire mission will be in danger.
The gravity on Mars' surface is also much lower than gravity on Earth, 62% lower to be precise. As a result, fine Martian dust particles with very, very little mass tend to float around more often. The chances of Martian dust settling on solar panels are very high, and if it does, the amount of energy that is able to be harnessed reduces exponentially, which could lead to the death of the rover.
Mars' extreme change in temperature between day and night may also cause disruption in internal systems. Martian rovers are made of different materials which expand and contract in response to changes in temperature. The rover may be subject to constant expanding and contracting, which could reduce its structural integrity. This could also lead to some parts contracting way too fast, and can render the rover immobile.
The Martian surface is also subject to extreme amounts of radiation. The Curiosity Rover had to deal with 300 mSv of radiation, equal to 24 CAT scans. High energy particles are constantly blasted onto Martian rovers, hitting their internal computer systems. For most of the time, this would just lead to rebooting of the system, but if lethal enough, may lead to a short circuit.
Several solutions proposed to face Martian challenges are labyrinth seals, already being featured on the Audi Lunar Quattro, which re-directs dust, while protecting the rover's internals at the same time. In most Martian rovers today, the rover's internals are sealed completely to prevent any dust from making its way into the rover, fitted with custom made wheels paired to a rocker-bogie suspension made for climbing over soft sand along with scrambling rocks, being able to tilt as least 50 degrees without overturning.
Most rovers today are fitted with a heat rejection system. An internal thermal system will warm the rover throughout most of the Martian year, where temperatures may drop to extremes. The thermal system may dissipate heat to internal components through electrical heaters placed on key components, along with a temperature-controlled fluid pumped through a 60 meter tube through the rover's body so temperatures are kept at optimal temperatures.
To counteract radiation, special computers are placed inside the rover's internals. They contain radiation hardened memory to tolerate extreme radiation on the Martian surface, which safeguards the system against power-off cycles. Each computer contains 256 kB of EEPROM, 256 MB of DRAM, nad 2 GB of memory, in the case of the Curiosity rover. The processor is also optimized to work under heavy radiation, and all systems have a backup just in case one breaks down.
Communications from the Mars rover are relayed into the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey orbiter. Data speeds are frustratingly slow, at 256 kilobytes per second, slower than the average home's Wi-Fi speed, along with an eight minute latency between the rover and home base.
My take on The Ideal Martian Transport Rover
My concept of the ideal Martian Transportation Rover takes into factor these vital things. Transportation, Payload Capability, Efficiency, Durability, Connectivity, Autonomy and Survivability. My ideal Martian Rover would be able to withstand all the challenges that the Martian soil would throw at, utilizing technologies already found in previous rovers only on a larger scale such as using radiation-resistant materials such as polymers or composite materials like carbon fiber, making the rover strong and light at the same time.
The rover will feature advanced computer systems, each backed up with a fail-safe system. It will be powered electrically via the use of solar panels on the roof. Features such as torque vectoring will be available to prevent energy loss, found in most electric cars today. The rover must be able to handle through challenging terrain. All rovers will be fully autonomous, tracked via GPS, and will be able to navigate through the Martian soil via a locally built communication and data network system, as autonomous vehicles have lesser chance of collisions or accidents. In case data could not be accessed, a manual override option will be available, along with a locally saved database of the Martian environment to prevent anyone from getting lost at Mars.
The rover would be fully pressurized with oxygen to keep the driver and occupants safe. A maximum of ten occupants can be carried along with the driver, along with cargo hauling capability to carry research payloads from research sites back to the home colony. And in the worst case scenario, if the main battery is low or the rover stops in the middle of Mars, a smaller, backup power supply will be activated which would protect the occupant with enough oxygen and heat, along with sending an SOS message for rescue. If a malfunction is detected in any component, a backup system will take its place.
The Mars rover must be modular and lightweight in order to be carried via spacecraft if built on Earth. The transport rover must be able to be deconstructed and reconstructed when on Mars without any compromise of structural integrity or systems. Modules would also be built to serve different purposes on Mars. There would be a passenger and a cargo configuration, along with a payload carrying configuration to carry heavier samples.
Effective transportation would be a vital role for the growth and survival of the Martian colony, just like any other civilization or country on Earth today. Today, new concepts of Martian transportation are being developed by companies such as NASA. New innovations found in Martian cars could be applies to cars back on Earth, perhaps, shaping the car of the future. Not the first time space technology has enriched our daily lives.
The course of human history has been set precisely by such far sighted missions, and soon, we are about to realize our next one.