Copyright © 2004 by Roger G. Gilbertson. Published by The Mars Society with permission
TRASH, TREASURE OR TIME STUDIES?
A Proposal for Cataloging the Long-Term Effects on Earth Materials
Exposed to Martian Surface Environments
Roger G. Gilbertson
45 Verissimo Drive
Novato, CA 94947
Since 1971, soft and crash landings have deposited human made materials on the surface of Mars. These materials are now undergoing "long duration exposure" to the Martian environment. In the future, when humans visit and live on Mars, these presence of these "alien" materials could provide important data on the effects of long-term exposure to the Martian environment on various engineered materials, as well as data on the short-term rates of change of various conditions in the Martian environment (sand transport, weathering rates, damage rates from ultraviolet radiation, etc.)
Earth-made materials are unique in the Mars environment. They come from Earth, having been produced by human ingenuity. They are not found anywhere else on Mars, and they will interact with Mars over time in ways that we cannot fully predict. The Viking lander investigations during the 1970's concluded, "The Martian surface is a type of iron-rich clay that contains a highly oxidizing substance that releases oxygen when it is wetted."1 Even after 30 years of direct robotic investigations, the essential physical and chemical nature of the Martian surface remains unclear to us.
The planet Mars, without readily available air, water, shelter or food, will present future settlers with challenges of magnitude beyond those faced by Earth-bound human explorers and settlers.
Humans choosing to live on Mars will need every advantage they can obtain. Foreknowledge of how human manufactured materials fare in long term exposure to the Martin surface environment could mean the difference between life and death.
Perhaps we ourselves, our children, or our grandchildren, may one day walk across the surface of the Red Planet, and happen across an artifact from the earliest days of robotic exploration. Whether we treat it as simply a piece of space junk, or as a Rosetta Stone that reveals to us new secrets about Mars, depends on what essential information has been sent forward by future looking scientists and space enthusiasts today.