To Mars and Beyond

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Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash

Nina: Nana, do you think I could actually go live on Mars in my lifetime?

Nana: Not a chance. You might as well follow Buzz Lightyear to infinity and beyond.

Nina: Oh Nana, you do know how to crush a girl’s dreams. Don’t be such a wet blanket. Just because you’re too old to go, doesn’t mean I can’t. Haven’t you seen astounding progress in technology in your lifetime? I mean from the invention of the wheel to cars, airplanes and space travel.

Nana: Young lady, exactly how old do you think I am?

Nina: Didn’t you have a dinosaur for a pet when you were little?

Nana: Hmph. But I have seen technology progress rather more rapidly than even science fiction could anticipate. While Asimov was going on about inter-planetary civilizations we never achieved, real technology created smart phones and the world wide web that science fiction never imagined. I mean, the bridge technology on those Star Trek ships from the original series seems so backward.

Nina: So then what’s the problem. Surely, we’ll be on Mars in a decade. No one expected us to be on the moon ,and then suddenly we were. And this was even before decent computers were available.

Nana: But that’s my point. Even though science fiction envisioned space travel and settlement so long ago, we have not been able to realize it. There are fundamental problems, Nina.

Nina: No way. Andy Weir presented a pretty realistic scenario in The Martian with Mark Watney. A lot of what he wrote about is not too far from being achievable, and frankly, I’m okay with potatoes grown in my own urine if that means I get to stay on Mars. It is possible for us to survive on Mars. It is.

Nana: But the problem of surviving on Mars is minuscule issue, compared to the problem of getting there. Because however hostile Mars may be, deep space is far worse.

Nina: That’s nonsense Nana. People already live on the International Space Station for extended periods. Besides Elon Musk has plans to send us to Mars by 2024, although that may have got a tad delayed.

Nana: Yes, and the people on the ISS suffer plenty of problems because our bodies have not evolved to endure microgravity.

Nina: Pooh, name one.

Nana: Muscular atrophy and bone degeneration, to start with.

Nina: But Nana that can be countered with exercise. That’s how astronauts keep fit.

Nana: And what about cardiovascular problems?

Nina: Oof Nana. Must you be an eternal pessimist? How can being in space cause heart attacks, unless you meet space ghost I suppose? Haha.

Nana: It’s no laughing matter Nina. Gravity on earth pushes body fluids more towards the legs, but in the absence of the strong gravitational pull, more fluid is pushed to the top, straining both the cardiovascular system and the eyes.

Nina: What? Eyes? How so?

Nana: The increased fluid pressure in the eyes causes vision problems such as farsightedness.

Nina: Oh Nana, that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean so many people have that problem, anyway

Nana: It messes with your sense of balance as well. Returning astronauts find it difficult to walk around corners for a week

Nina: Nana, how do you know all this? Have you been doing some fun facts research yourself? You have, haven't you? I’m so glad my curiosity and enthusiasm has rubbed off on you. That’s the spirit Nana.

Nana: Oh, don’t you get so happy. I only read an article about this stuff, so I could gloat over ruining your space travel dreams.

Nina: Those are minor hiccups, Nana. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Nana: Ha! That’s what you think, Miss Sunshine Fountain of Cliches. I’ve saved the best for the last.

Nina: What would that be, Nana?

Nana: Well, what about the radiation in deep space? Without the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field, you’ll never survive.

Nina: We will Nana. I have faith that our scientists will be able to find the necessary medication to keep us safe. Everything seems impossible until it suddenly is possible. When computers occupied an entire basement apartment, smart phones must have seemed impossible. When horses pulled carts, airplanes were a laughable idea. I believe in the ingenuity and tenacity of humanity, Nana. We will conquer space. I know it in my heart. Besides, what choice do we have? We have almost destroyed this planet. We are going to need a new home to start fresh, as so many stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky envision.

Nana: Adrian Tchaikovsky is cool. I love his stories about spiders and grumpy old women. Fine, whatever.

Nana: Psst... Aren't I the most awesome motivator ever? Look how uncertain she was when we began this conversation, and look at her now. To infinity and beyond, I say.


This post is a part of the #NinaAndNana series I co-host with Lavanya Srinivasan. Her posts can be found here.

Tags: physics, family, space, biology, humor, solar system, Nina and Nana, astronomy