Last Friday, October 2, individuals packed into the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Biotech Auditorium. Students, professors, and alumni alike filled the seats and lined the walls; the close and intimate auditorium was not large enough to accommodate all who had flocked to listen to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. speak. Bolden was a NASA astronaut from 1981-94 and was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to be a NASA Administrator. His accolades and military experience are lengthy. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in electrical science and has eight honorary degrees. Undoubtedly it is his notoriety along with the ground-breaking project he is proposing that drew such a crowd.
Journey to Mars has been an ongoing project to bring humans to the Red Planet since the 1960s. A series of probes and rovers have been sent to the neighboring planet, but NASA believes that they can push the extent of their reach even further, and in a relatively short time. Plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025–and to the surface of Mars in the 2030s–were made plain in Bolden’s presentation. Discovering the secrets of Mars and exploring what it has to offer is helpful in understanding more about our own planet’s history as well as answering an age-old question: Does life exist beyond Earth?
NASA’s course of action begins in the low-Earth orbit, aboard the International Space Station. There, astronauts are busy developing and experimenting with the new technologies essential for sending humans into deep space. It is also an ideal place to study the human anatomy and how it deals with the stresses of living in orbit. The next step after the space station would be deep space. A robotic mission will be deployed to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit Earth’s moon, and the astronauts piloting the Orion spacecraft will explore and take samples of the asteroid. This plan to have humans, rather than probes, explore the asteroid is set to take place in the mid 2020s. This project will also contribute to the human-led Mars exploration, as the asteroid exploration will yield data concerning NASA’s new systems and capabilities in space beyond low-Earth orbit. Currently, there are already probes and spacecraft orbiting and upon Mars’s surface, such as the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, which is communicating a drastic amount of information that is aiding in our further understanding of this planet. In the case of the Curiosity, it has measured radiation on its way to Mars and is currently sending back information concerning the radiation upon the surface of the planet. Plans to send another Mars rover in 2020 have also been scheduled.
Of the countries participating in the attempt to reach Mars, only the United States has managed to settle probes successfully on the surface of the planet. Bolden emphasized the importance of nations working together, for this is not the endeavor of a country, but the endeavor of a species. A member of the audience brought up the idea of colonization rights for different countries. Bolden emphasized that the Journey to Mars would be a joint-effort.
Bolden charismatically presented this project, answering questions along the way, evoking laughter every now and then. He capped off his presentation with an invitation to follow your heart’s desire, no matter where you are in your life.