Space Mirrors May Create Martian 'Pocket-Eden'

One of theproblems that explorers on Mars will face is low surface temperature. Althoughthe surface temperature on Mars can rise above freezing in the summer, the meantemperature is about -60?C (-90?C at night). Mars' orbit is highly ellipticalwhich leads to even greater cold in winter - temperatures as low as -110?C onthe poles.

RigelWoida, an engineering student at University of Arizona, Tucson, has beenawarded a $9,000 NIAC (NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts) Student FellowsPrize to study the use of large orbital mirrors to heat a small area of theMartian surface. Raising the temperature in a 150 acre patch would make iteasier and more economical for humans to study the Red Planet.

Woida'sprize-winning project is titled "The Road to Mars." Optical sciencesProfessor Eustace Dereniak and Assistant Research Professor Robert M. Stonewill supervise Woida on the project.

Orbitingballoons made of a reflective metallized polyester would act as mirrors,collecting sunlight and shine it down to the Martian surface.

"Iadjusted the aperture so the reflector would heat ... (the) surface to roughly Tucson daytime illumination and temperatures, said Woida. "Eventually, usingtechniques like these, humans might cultivate plants on Mars."

The highertemperatures would allow astronauts to survive without heavily insulated suitsor living quarters, increasing comfort while reducing costs. Added sunlightwould increase output from solar power cells on the surface; it might also meltice at or just below the surface, making it available for human use.

Althoughstill a student, Woida is no stranger to scientifc achievement. In high school,he was the driving force behind the construction of Tucson High Magnet School's thirty-inch telescope. After coming up with the idea, he successfullyraised the necessary financial support from the school district, a privatelaboratory and the University of Arizona.

There is arather unusual precedent for this idea in science fiction. FallenAngels, a 1991 novel written by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle andMichael Flynn, contains a scene in which people are fleeing across a glacierwithout the necessary equipment to survive the -30 degree (F) temperatures.They survive by having a satellite focus a "spotlight" ofsolar-generated microwave energy onto their location:

"BigMomma, it's cold here. We're going to freeze, all of us. We need heat. Can yougive us a microwave spotlight? Have SUNSAT lock one of its projectors onto ourtransponder frequency and track us across the ice."

"Skazhiyte.One moment." Alex waited while Big Momma conferred - probably with thePeace Station chief and the SUNSAT engineer. Sherrine asked him what he wasdoing and he told her...

"Isthat possible?" she asked. "To beam enough microwave energy down tokeep us from freezing? ...It won't be too much, will it?"

Alexgrinned. "I'll have them set it for thaw, not bake...

(Read more about Spotlight of Heat)

Woida's plan is also not without potential hazards; themirrors could focus harmful high-frequency radiation like gamma rays onto thesurface. This problem might be solved by using a coating on the balloons thatreflected only visible and infrared light, says Woida.

Read about these other unusual proposed projects, each witha science-fictional twist:

Learn more about the Martian surface temperature and conditions. Read more aboutRigel Woida's plans here and here.Thanks to BajaB for the tip on this story.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used withpermission from - wherescience meets fiction.)

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