Wednesday, January 19 at 8 p.m.
Can humans survive a trip to Mars and back that could take two to three years? NOVA scienceNOW examines all of the perils and dilemmas of this journey–as well as the ingenuity being used to design innovative new materials for such an undertaking. The challenges faced by the space food lab at Johnson Space Center to serve fresh and healthy dishes that will last the long journey could inspire a "top chef" outer space competition, Neil deGrasse Tyson learns. Can he identify an eight-year-old pork chop in a taste test? Add to that the threat posed by deadly meteoroids, bone and muscle deterioration, and perilous levels of radiation. These are the dangers that await spacefarers on a long space trip, as veteran astronauts attest.
Scientists are developing new ways to keep astronauts alive, using novel meteoroid-proof materials, artificial gravity, exercise, and new modes of transport, such as plasma rockets. But will this be enough? Astronaut Mike Massimino checks in with MIT on designing a less cumbersome space suit for future Mars explorers–a formfitting flexible suit that is more Captain Kirk than Neil Armstrong but still protects cells from the vacuum of space. NOVA scienceNOW also profiles young female scientist and daredevil Vandi Verma, part of the team that drives the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, who talks about the thrills and trials of driving on another planet.