Wednesday, October 19, 2016

European Space Agency busy anticipating Mars colonists' popcorn needs

Schoparelli lander final descent to the surface of Mars (ESA/ATG medialab)
SpaceX leader and all-around science action hero, Elon Musk, has recently announced plans to put humans - lots of them - on the surface of Mars within the next dozen years or so. In addition to all the space-age technological challenges this implies, one big question remains: what are they going to eat when they get there?

This is where the European Space Agency (ESA) is coming to the rescue. As part of their ExoMars mission now underway, they will be deploying the Schoparelli lander, shown here in an artist's conception making its final descent to the surface of the Red Planet.

Original Jiffy Pop in action
Modeled after the iconic Jiffy Pop popcorn maker developed for NASA in the late 1950s, at over 1.65 m (a little less than 5 and a half feet) in diameter and with a carrying capacity of 577 kg (almost 1,300 pounds), "Schop," as it's known, will be able to supply 100 Mars colonists with all their popcorn needs for well over a year.

So, although these brave pioneers will be undoubtedly be spending most of their time sciencing the shit out of stuff, every now and then, when they kick back and settle in for a quiet evening watching a movie - my guess is that Matt Damon's "The Martian" will be a favorite - they'll never have to worry about running out of traditional snacks. Also, Schop is equipped with ample salt and butter-flavored topping dispensers, seen on the top of the spacecraft in the above image.

And there's no need to worry about all those golden kernels going bad waiting for customers. Given Mars's frigid surface temperature averaging around −55 °C (−67 °F) and almost non-existent atmosphere, Schop's popcorn payload will stay fresh for decades. And, thanks to a constant stream of Solar wind radiation bombarding the lander, any microbes that decided to hitch a ride with the corn, will be toast, so to speak, long before Schop starts to popping.