Date Added: October 14, 2022
More than 400 years have passed since establishing the first colonies in the New World. Today, the new “New World” is much farther away than America was from Europe. The modern-day pioneers are not people who had fled their countries because of religious prosecution but highly-trained astronauts tasked with exploring the planet of Mars. Still, there are undeniable connections between the 17th-century European settlers and their modern space-exploring counterparts. In his 2016 NASA-published article, Bob Granath explores some of the obstacles that pioneers of all kinds face when they leave the safety of their home countries (and planets) to explore the unknown.
Most of the parallels that Granath draws between the astronauts and pioneers have to do with managing resources. Early in the article, the author writes that, just like the settlers, “planetary pioneers will not be able to take everything they need, so many supplies will need to be gathered and made on-site” (Granath). Both groups needed to survive in a hostile environment by collecting resources and looking for shelter. Of course, one of the significant differences is the time needed to travel to Mars versus the time needed to sail to the Americas. The author notes how “a mission to the Red Planet would be about six to nine months each way” (Granath). The settlers, on the other hand, traveled for only, relatively speaking, two months to reach America from Europe.
Even though spaceships are exponentially faster than sailing ships, getting to Mars is still a daunting journey, as the distance between the red planet and Earth is around 33.9 million miles (“Mars in our Night Sky”). Another parallel the author makes early in the article is leaving the safety of one’s home and going off to unknown and potentially dangerous lands. Granath writes that the astronauts “go off to an extreme environment for a short period, gather information, and return.” There are some differences between the pioneers and the astronauts here. Many of the early settlers fled religious prosecution, so their homes were not exactly safe. With that said, just like astronauts, they embarked on an uncertain path that led them to a hostile environment where they had to learn how to survive, acquire resources, and find shelter. This parallel is further underlined by a quote from the director of NASA’s Kenney Space Center, stating that “as pioneers, we will create a sustained human presence in an ever more extreme environment” (Granath). Besides dealing with a harsh environment, both groups also have to solve the problem of getting enough food to survive.
Currently, the astronauts that go to the space station take enough food supplies to last them for their stay. However, researchers are working out ways to grow plants in space. Commenting on the issue of food, Dr. Gioia Massa states, “There are several different types of plants we can grow” (Granath). Indeed, the astronauts need to contend with some of the same things pioneers had to do regarding growing their food. They must consider lighting, watering, and providing their plants with enough nutrients. With that said, there is one more factor that complicates things a little, which is dealing with microgravity. European settlers contended with their challenges when it came to farming. While they did not have to worry about microgravity, they suffered from poor harvests and long, relentless winters that resulted in famine and starvation. Indeed, in some colonies, like Jamestown, things had gotten so bad that the settlers engaged in cannibalism (Saenger). The farming methods that had worked in Europe often failed in America. The settlers needed to adapt and find new farming methods, just like astronauts are doing now. While the specifics of the challenges are different, the essence is the same.
There are also parallels regarding technology used to gather much-needed resources. Even though NASA has some of the most advanced tech available to man, they still partially rely on tried and true methods discovered centuries ago. One such technology is applied to mining resources. Rob Mueller, a senior technologist, notes that “our ancestors found that lots of small scoops on a wheel is quite efficient” (Granath) when it comes to mining. It is safe to assume that the pioneers also used many of these time-tested methods to gather resources. Nowadays, these techniques have been optimized to the point of perfection. The early settlers needed to rely on their wits and mechanical capabilities to collect what they needed to survive.
Granath’s article shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Humans are no longer traveling to distant continents but trying to colonize other planets. Still, the astronauts trying to do this face the same challenges of finding shelter, growing food, and gathering resources as the European settlers in America. The only difference is the scope of the expedition and the incredibly advanced technology that will eventually enable the astronauts to surmount the obstacles they face. Hopefully, the space pioneers will succeed in surviving and thriving in a hostile environment just like their settler counterparts had done.
Granath, Bob. “Pioneering Space Requires Living Off the Land in the Solar System.” NASA, 2016, www.nasa.gov/feature/pioneering-space-requires-living-off-the-land-in-the-solar-system.
NASA. “Mars Close Approach.” NASA Mars Exploration, mars.nasa.gov/all-about-mars/night-sky/close-approach. Accessed 24 Mar. 2022.
Saenger, Tim. “Colonial Farming and Food: Famine to Prosperity | NCpedia.” NCPedia, 2013, ncpedia.org/colonial-farming-and-food-famine.