Martians have landed in Manchester after a leading space exploration group opened a new branch in the city.
The US-based Mars Research Society, which developed plans and research for human spaceflight to Mars that have been used by NASA, has opened a chapter for Manchester.
The group hopes the city can lead the nation in developing technologies and ideas for humans to live on Mars – a goal boosted after NASA’s discovery of water on the red planet.
Lucinda Offer, executive director of the Mars Society, said: “People would just say, ‘humans on Mars, oh you mean some little green men, you’re gonna meet some little green men?’ and I don’t hear that today.
“We don’t need anything super galactic or special to do this.”
First, however, the organisation has some terrestrial work to do.
Ms Offer set up the chapter – of which dozens exist in America – after being contacted Rob Adlard, a violin store owner and spaceflight advocate based in Manchester.
Mr Adlard was appointed the chairman of the Mars Society’s Manchester chapter this month and already has big plans for the city’s role in Mars exploration.
She said: “He wants to create a six person crew for Manchester and send them out to the Mars Research Station in Utah to live for two weeks, simulating living on Mars.”
The organisation has also developed habitats that simulate how humans would live and work on Mars in Utah.
— The Mars Society (@TheMarsSociety) October 30, 2015
These have been the subject of many documentaries and have proved invaluable in Mars-based research.
The plans were popular at the inaugural meeting on Sunday October 11, where spaceflight enthusiasts discussed the ambitions of the new chapter.
“They were really gung-ho about that, they were really excited, people are already signing up for positions as crew members,” she said.
Founded in 1998, the society’s principal goal is to ‘further the exploration’ of Mars by engaging the public, and encouraging government and private enterprises to fund research and Mars colonisation projects.
Mars Direct, promoted by the Mars Society, is described as a comparatively inexpensive plan that envisions humans sustaining themselves on Mars before eventually returning to Earth.
Ms Offer believes the new Manchester chapter will allow the Society to tap into Manchester’s innovative potential.
She said: “I think it’s a fantastic place because you have Manchester University, you have Manchester robotics group (Manchester Robotics and Autonomous Systems Research Group).
“You’ve got all this incredible history and legacy of scientific innovation and discovery here and it’s a really great way to make a difference to your local community.”
Now Ms Offer hopes that the Manchester chapter can promote and tap into the UK’s capacity to research and design space exploration technology, which she says has not been taken advantage of.
She said: “We want to bring you guys out, we want to show off your talent because you have talent and so all you need is a challenge, all you need is an opportunity to do that.”
The Society hopes that robotics technology, vital for Mars exploration, could benefit by increased involvement by the UK, using research done by organisations such as the Manchester Robotics and Autonomous Systems Research Group.
Ms Offer cites the European Rover Challenge, entered by more than 40 countries and hosted in Poland, as an example of challenges and opportunities that the UK’s research and development groups miss.
“Let’s see what we can create here and then maybe we can send the winning UK team to Poland, or send the winning UK team to Utah,” she said.
— The Mars Society (@TheMarsSociety) October 29, 2015
Prominent US aerospace engineer Dr Robert Zubrin, who has worked for NASA and Lockheed Martin, sits on the Mars Society’s board of directors.
He led the design of the famous Mars Direct program, parts of which were adopted by NASA.
“NASA had come up with a very expensive, lengthy plan to take humans to Mars,” Ms Offer explained.
“Dr Robert Zubrin is very action-oriented and he wants to do things sooner rather than later.”
Much of the design was used in the new Matt Damon blockbuster, The Martian.
Ms Offer estimates ’80 to 90%’ of the Mars program seen in the film is based on Dr Zubrin’s plan.
She credits the film, along with the discovery of water on Mars, for reviving interest in sending humans to Mars.
She said: “I think it’s because of all the work that NASA has done and Ridley Scott coming up with the Martian and I really think people now see that it’s possible – they didn’t over 10 years ago.
“So now I’m hoping that brings out more members to the Mars Society.”
For more information about the Mars Society, visit here.
Image courtesy of European Southern Observatory, with thanks.