The New Space Age: Living on Mars

NASA is planning a lunar outpost and training for life on Mars.

Feb. 8, 2008— -- Traveling the universe, discovering who and what is out there, will always be an endless fascination for mankind.

For the first time, it now looks as if people will soon be able to travel into outer space, and even learn to live in zero gravity.

"It may be that our only insurance policy against extinction is to become a multi-planet, space-faring species," says Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at Rose Space Center at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

So could our changing planet, or even a falling asteroid, some day force us to take flight to a lunar base, or even Mars?

There are flights planned for next year to take people to the edge of our atmosphere; companies are designing spaceports and even planning space hotels.

"We're trying to build a system that can go to the moon and points beyond," says Jeff Hanley of NASA's constellation program.

NASA's currently planning a lunar outpost where astronauts could stay for a week at a time.

In 2020, this Orion spacecraft will take astronauts there to start building it.

There's even a lunar hot-rod concept car in the works to help them get around once they're there.

The moon's surface is about as big as Africa. To prepare for the extreme terrain, NASA uses a training center in Antarctica to simulate the moon's conditions.

"We have to worry about radiation, micrometeorites, the lack of water, lack of food supplies. Everything has to be transported to the moon," explains Michio Kaku, a researcher at City University of New York.

Mars is just as forbidding. It takes 180 days to get there, and it's a frozen desert. But scientists do have some theories about how we could transform the Martian atmosphere.

"We can inject methane gas into the atmosphere. We may be able to induce a greenhouse effect to heat up the surface of Mars. Then if you're ambitious you can use nuclear weapons. Detonate them on the ice caps so that liquid water flows on the surface of Mars," explains Kaku.

Right now, NASA has a training camp in Utah to replicate the Mars environment. At the Utah facility they're also testing out special Mars suits in preparation for a life that would be truly out of this world.

As Peter Diamandis of the Zero Gravity Corp. explains, "It's sort of like it was 500 years ago looking out toward the west, and now it's us!"