Season 3, Episode 2 of The #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition
Presented by TheMarsGeneration.org
All About Astronauts On Mars
In the second episode of the #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition, host and aspiring astronaut Abby ‘Astronaut Abby’ Harrison dives into what her dream of being an astronaut going to Mars would realistically look like. There are definitely a lot of puzzles to solve before reaching this exciting, new stage of space exploration! Note Abby is NOT an astronaut, she is an aspiring astronaut.
In this episode, Abby answers questions posed by David Phillips’ 7th grade students at Greenbrier Middle School in Georgia, USA: What would you want to look for on Mars and what personal item would you bring with you from Earth? To survive on Mars, what does a space suit have to be made of Do astronauts really have their whole meal in one food pellet? How do astronauts get air in space? Would an astronaut get claustrophobic in their sleeping quarters in the space station?
Transcription of “All About Astronauts on Mars”
Hi everyone and welcome to #AskAbby: Homeschool Edition! This is a new series of #AskAbby, focused on providing resources–and of course, some of those all-important bad puns and space jokes–to students who are now doing distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic!
Each episode will feature questions submitted by students from all over the world.
This episode features questions submitted by 7th grade students at Greenbrier Middle School in Georgia, U.S., and is focused completely on Mars.
Question number one:
What would you want to look for on Mars, and what personal item would you bring with you from Earth?
I’m a little biased here because my past research has been in astrobiology, or the search for life not on Earth. And so to me, going to Mars, the thing I’ll be most excited about looking for would be life. Getting to explore all the areas of Mars that we haven’t quite reached yet, and looking for life that might be there.
As far as personal item, I would want to bring something that both can help to keep my mind and body occupied, and give me an emotional connection back to humanity. And for me, that thing would be a musical instrument. I love to play music and I think it’s something that really helps me to feel connected to a lot of other people here on Earth because so many of us love music, whether it’s listening to it, playing it, or anything else.
So now I’ll ask YOU. Everyone watching: if you were going to Mars, what would you be most excited to look for or to discover? And also, if you were going to Mars, what personal item would you bring with you from Earth? Go ahead and let me know in the comments.
Question number two:
To survive on Mars, what would your suit have to be made of?
It’s a good question. So, when you’re thinking about space suits, there are five main things to keep in mind here, and there’s a handy acronym for them. It’s called SPORT.
So the “S” in SPORT stands for space debris, little pieces of junk that are zooming through space at really high speeds that could pierce your space suit, so you need to have lots of different layers in your space suit. Any one layer or any one type of material won’t be enough to protect you from that. So that’s the “S.”
The next letter in SPORT is “P,” which stands for pressure. Obviously you’re going to be at a different pressure when you’re on Mars versus when you’re on Earth. Mars has about 1/100th of Earth’s atmosphere, which means that it has a much lower pressure, which means that you need to have your space suit pressurized to protect you from that.
The next part of the acronym… S…P…“O” stands for oxygen. Your space suit needs to both be able to either carry or connect to an oxygen container of some sort, and then also hold oxygen inside of it for you to breathe, and then circulate oxygen, and carbon dioxide when you breathe it out, through the suit, and dispose of the carbon dioxide.
After that is the “R,” which stands for radiation. There are certain types of materials that are better at protecting against radiation than others. And those are really important when you’re on Mars, because when you’re on Mars you don’t have a handy magnetic field like Earth does, protecting you from radiation. Earth, we don’t have to worry so much about radiation because we have this protection around us. When you’re on Mars, you are constantly vulnerable to radiation, and so you need to have a suit that’s built to protect you.
And finally, the last letter in our acronym SPORT is “T”: temperature. So yeah, the temperature’s quite different on Mars. Sometimes when you’re near the equator, and it’s the height of the Martian summer, it can get up to about 70°F, which sounds nice and toasty, nice and, like, you could be wearing shorts and flip flops or whatnot. But the temperature is actually only like that for very, very small amounts of time. And because Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere, even if the temperature is nice during the day when the sun’s out, when the sun sets, it drops really rapidly and really quickly, and you need to have a space suit that’s able to protect you from those kinds of temperature changes.
So in order to do all of this, to protect astronauts from all of those five things in the SPORT acronym, as well as lots of other dangers of space and of being on Mars, NASA in the past and for future space suit versions, has looked at teflons, polyurethanes, carbon fibers, and lots of other different materials. And at this point, we really don’t know what the space suit of the future will look like.
Question number three:
Do astronauts really have their whole meal in one food pellet? And if so, how does it taste?
That’s not true — anymore. It used to be that astronauts’ options of what they could eat in space were really limited and not very tasty. Thankfully, after decades and decades of having people in space, and having all kinds of research go on, food in space has gotten a lot better. There are actually whole teams of people here on Earth who are working to try and figure out how they can make food in space as close to food here on Earth as possible. Not only does this help with nutrition and other things for astronauts, but a big part of why that’s important is that if food is delicious and interesting and like it is at home, then astronauts don’t get something called “Menu Fatigue,” or they don’t start to feel disconnected from being home, which is something that’s really hard when you’re in space to not feel, and food can help.
So to answer how, if they’re not eating food out of a pellet or squeezed out of a tube, how can astronauts get their food in space? Well, the answer is through a couple different ways. It can be freeze dried, it can be frozen, it can be treated with various chemicals to make it more shelf stable, it can be dehydrated. And then there are some foods that are just naturally pretty good to take to space.
Think about the kinds of things you’d want to take with you camping–something that won’t spoil while you have it, and that’s easy to eat, that’s not going to get crumbs everywhere, which in space is a problem because of microgravity. If you have crumbs they might float off into an electrical panel, they might end up getting stuck somewhere and forgotten about and eventually mold and smell bad. Or a crumb from your sandwich or something might even end up going up one of your astronaut buddy’s noses, and that’s not fun for anybody.
So they’re very careful about the types of foods that they send up with astronauts. But nowadays, those types of food, thanks to technologies like freeze drying and such, are really broad-ranging, and an astronaut’s diet in space looks almost just like yours and mine does here on Earth.
*Abby looks up at food floating around her* Hey! Microgravity’s stealing my lunch again!
Question number four:
I know astronauts get air from the air tanks, but where do the people who stay up there for a year get air from? Do they just stock up on air on Earth, or do they make more in space?
That’s a good question to ask, and the answer is actually both things that you already brought up. Astronauts, or the people who are planning the missions that the astronauts are on, make sure to send up plenty of oxygen with the astronauts for them to breathe. And then they use a really, really good recycling system to make sure that after the astronauts have breathed in that oxygen and breathed it out, it gets collected and it gets cleaned and turned back into usable oxygen again.
So they bring it with them, they recycle everything that they bring, but sometimes they end up also having to make more. And the way they do this is through electrolysis. Electrolysis is when you run a current of energy through water, and as one of the components of that, you get oxygen. Now water is H2O, and if you break up the H’s and the O’s in water, you end up with free O’s, or oxygen.
Question number five:
Would you get claustrophobic in your sleeping quarters in space?
As an astronaut, all of your time in space is going to be in pretty tight quarters. And so if you get claustrophobic, space might just not be the best place for you. But if you don’t, you shouldn’t have any problems with your sleeping quarters or anywhere else.
Today we learned a lot about what it would be like to be an astronaut on a journey to Mars! We learned things about what they’ll eat to what they’ll wear, and even how they’ll breathe. But what we also learned is that there are still a lot of puzzles to be solved before we can put anyone on the Red Planet.
If you have an idea what astronauts might wear or use, on the journey to or on the surface of Mars, feel free to go ahead and draw it, and send it to me either through Twitter with the hashtag #AskAbby, or through the email linked below. And hey – your space-tastic design might get featured!
Thanks for watching, and until next time keep safe, keep healthy and keep learning. So long fellow travelers of spaceship Earth!