Mathematics-the creator of MOM
“It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the Universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world”-Blaise Pascal.
The greatest of mysteries in the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. The human beings seem insignificant and petty in cosmic perspective, yet they are curious and brave in explorations of Cosmos. On 24th September, 2014, India’s maiden Mars Orbiter Mission(MOM) successfully entered Mars orbit after the journey of ten months, becoming the first nation to arrive on its first attempt and first Asian country to reach the Red Planet i.e. Mars, the red planet with soaring volcanoes, great rift valleys, sand storms and perhaps having some forms of life. Many years ago, a newspaper publisher sent a telegram to a noted astronomer to say something about the life on Mars. The astronomer replied: Nobody knows. Some people very much claimed that there is life on Mars and others claimed that there is no life. The question is why Martians? Why so many eager speculations and ardent fantasies about Mars rather than Saturnians or any other? Perhaps it is because Mars seems at first glance, very earthlike. It is the nearest planet whose surface can be seen. Kepler found that Mars moves about the Sun in an elliptical path. The other planets have orbits much less elliptical than that of Mars. Sun is at one of the foci of the ellipse.
In the book The War of the Worlds by H. G Wells, some lines are written like this: “For all of our history, there is some hope that there might be life beyond earth.” In late nineteenth century, Percival Lowell of Boston claimed that there must be life on Mars. He believed that the planet will be inhabited by an older and wiser race, perhaps very different from us. He conjectured Mars to be earthlike but colder than Earth. He imagined the thin air but sufficient oxygen, rare water but elegant network of canals on Mars. But from that time to this, we have received the surface samples of Mars.
In 1971, the Soviet Mars 3 Spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere after missing few such opportunities but after landing it made a few bounces, hit a boulder, lost radio ling and failed. After that Viking Mission in 1976 became the first US mission to land on the surface of Mars and to return the images of its surface, after that many such missions were launched. Indian’s maiden Mars mission is crucial because only 21 out of 51 missions to Mars have been successful leaving behind Japan and China. It was found by a programme of unmanned plan exploration of Soviet Union that liquid water is present in very thin films causing death to microbes.
The real Mars is a world of wonders. We have established a presence there and fulfilled a century of dreams. Of course, it is an unbelievable technological accomplishment. But the Mars shot would have been impossible without a tremendous underlay of Mathematical aspects. The trajectory of Mars about the Sun as a function of time is a good example of this. The knowledge of Mathematics and Technology e.g. coding, computer simulation, testing of equipment, trajectories, control theory, aerodynamics, orbital dynamics, linear algebra, Riemannian Geometry, calculus etc. and besides, the use of all advanced mathematical theories, an enormous amount of basic mathematics was also required to create the mission MOM.
The human beings mostly need water which is cheap on earth, carbon in form of coal, calcium in our bones as chalk, nitrogen in our protein as air is cheap and iron in our blood. Could life on Mars be built of different stuff? But there will be a time when Mars is all explored; a time after samples have been returned safely to earth, a time after human beings have walked on the sands of Mars.
What then? What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of Earth that chills us. Human beings have managed to perturb the global temperature of the earth, disturbing forests, grasslands and water lands. Could we in some sense make Mars habitable? All of these problems could be solved if we could make new air, liquid water i.e. the change of an alien landscape into one more suitable for the human beings. With advanced technology, we could make liquid water possible from melting polar caps of Mars and build canals to make Mars habitable. It will be done by human beings who have inquisitive mathematical brains and whose permanent residence and planetary affiliation is Mars. The Martians will be us.
Dr. Raj Shree Dhar