As we all know, fall has officially begun. September 21st was the autumnal equinox, when the solar equator and earth’s equator are parallel, making day and night equal length. The sun sets exactly to the west at the equinox. It changes over the year; moving north in winter and south in summer. On March 21st, the vernal or spring, equinox, it will be in the same position; due west, moving south. Also, while looking to the west at dusk, try and spot Venus on the horizon. As we move into winter, we will become very familiar with Venus as it continues to rise until about mid-February. The sliver of a new moon, called the Black Moon, also appears in the west on September 30th. It will be the second time in this month that there has been a new moon. The first was the 1st.
Meanwhile, we are finally putting an old idea into action. A committee of the Senate has just passed a bill authorizing about 20 billion dollars to NASA to fund a manned mission to Mars. While it still has a way to go, it makes the trip “official”. We are naturally curious about what mysteries await us on the Red Planet, but we know that a successful manned mission could acquire more data than the rovers there now. The mission includes a lot of risk including the uninterrupted eight-month mission to Mars.
The good news is that we have known that Mars will be the next step, so there have been many years of preparation already. For example, a Mars simulation test just ended last month that consisted of six people who spent a year in a Mars simulation dome in Hawaii. They had only small rooms for privacy and had to deal with real problems as if they were on Mars. They had to eat powdered meals, wear a spacesuit if they went outside, had to cope with various problems like a broken water treatment device and even have a delay for sending and receiving emails to simulate the signal transmission between planets.
Mars is a hostile planet, though, and it can pose serious threats to any who venture to it. The -80 ͦF. average temperature, powerful dust storms that can interfere with equipment, dangerous solar radiation, and lack of oxygen warn against habitation of the planet. We are aware of most threats but some may lurk in the shadows. In preparation attempt to make oxygen from the CO2 atmosphere of Mars, called MOXIE, will be tested on an upcoming rover.
The mission to send men and women to Mars is scheduled for the 2030’s giving us at least a decade to prepare. One of mankind’s most well-known behaviors is curiosity and drive to learn about new mysteries. Mars is the next place to find that, so this mission will definitely feed the explorer within us.