Mars Society Switzerland
Why we must go to Mars
Mars is not an ordinary planet. We must see it as a “Quasi Earth”: Only 50% of the solar light that reaches Earth reaches Mars and temperatures on its surface are most of the time negative but some time, in the equatorial areas it can be positive. With days of 24h39, its night and day cycle is, contrary to that of the Moon, almost the same as that of Earth and its rotation axis tilt also induces seasons. Its gravity is indeed weaker than Earth’s (0,38g) but it is twice that of the Moon. Its atmosphere is very thin (a little less than one per cent ours) and unbreathable (CO2) but at least there is some (there is none on the Moon). It allows aerobraking of spaceships, to a certain extent protects the ground of solar and cosmic rays, provides natural resources which can be used (carbon and oxygen). Water is scarce and cannot remain stable in a liquid state. However it is everywhere, even on the surface, in a state of ice. Mars, smaller than the Earth cooled and solidified inside much faster but, during almost a billion years, its volcanism was very active and water flowed upon its surface, enough to alter primitive rocks and create conditions which on Earth, later allowed the budding of life. Mars is extremely far but accessible. Even though the voyage is a 400 million km one, it does not require more energy than to reach the Moon and to land there because, once out of the atmosphere and of the pull of Earth gravity, there is no more braking in Space. Observing Mars, the evolution of which almost stopped when Life on Earth was just barely beginning, may teach us a lot on ourselves. Difficulties to reach the planet is indeed a challenge which stimulates inventiveness because we need to send the largest quantity of sophisticated equipments, as small as practically possible so that their mass be the lightest possible. Ideally, of course, we should send men there as they are the most efficient of our machines. We’ll do it someday, if we accept to pay as much money as what we did for the International Space Station. Existing technologies which we need, do already exist. In between, robots, passengers of our spaceships, must be automated to the maximum. In this enterprise, Switzerland possesses very strong advantages thanks to its capacities in microtechnology, precisions technics and in robotics. The Atomic Force Microscope, “FAMARS” conceived by Sebastian Gautsch of SAMLAB (IMT/EPFL) perfectly illustrates what can be done. Embarked aboard NASA’s Phoenix and landed on Mars in 2008, it allows a close scrutiny of Martian dust which, like an image book, tells the story of Martian geology, its past history and its present state. Miniature cameras conceived under the coordination and control of Jean-Luc Josset’s State Exploration Institute, in Neuchâtel, are another example of what can be done. Pierre Brisson