Stepinac High School Honors
Academy Students Write Next Exciting
Chapter of Space Exploration—Colonizing Mars
The next exciting chapter of space exploration was written recently— not by billionaire business moguls, nor a major think tank, nor NASA for that matter— but by Stepinac High School Susan and Daniel P. Mahoney Honors Academy students.
For their fourth annual Symposium topic, the academically top-performing students addressed Space Exploration—Colonizing Mars—during a much-anticipated session held at the renowned all-boys Catholic high school.
As in past Symposia, the Honors Academy students shared with a panel of experts their college-level research findings and recommendations in the four disciplines that comprise the groundbreaking, unique-to-the-region Honors Academy—engineering, economics and finance, health sciences and law. Their collaborative efforts addressed key issues relating to successful colonization of Mars, nearly one million miles distant from Earth, but a goal that is within the realm of possibility later this century.
To help space flight crews undertake scientific missions on Mars, the Engineering Academy students constructed and demonstrated a model of a rover featuring omnidirectional movement and a 360 pan-tilt grabbing capabilities for gathering soil samples and rocks. The rover was designed with the flexibility of being manually or autonomously controlled.
However, the students discovered that autonomous control may not be suitable to conduct missions as even the smallest object can bug the execution of the built-in algorithm.
The students also created an artificial Martian environment (both the atmosphere with high levels of carbon dioxide and soil composition are toxic to humans) to conduct scientific experiments by constructing a Martian capsule. It comprises two compartments, one containing water and the second high concentrations of carbon dioxide and soil that is chemically close to one on Mars. A computer affixed to the top of the capsule acquires data from sensors and controls the environment. The students were surprised to observe that plants grew better than expected in the Martian soil.
The Law Academy students recommended a Treaty of the New World to help govern the new colony on the red planet. They focused on how this agreement between countries participating in colonizing Mars would work as they were not able to find any current treaty that addresses the unique circumstances the pioneers will face.
They recommended military rule after landing on Mars to ensure order at the outset, followed by the drafting of a “Colonial Pact” once the population reach 1,000. An interim form of government would be set up to ensure the rights of the colonists. A three-branch system (executive, legislative and judicial) similar to the U.S. was recommended, but ultimately the colonists would decide which form of government to adopt. The students envision that when the colony’s population reaches a half million, the choice to either form an independent nation or become a territory/state of a sponsoring country could well face voters.
The overarching recommendation was that the colony be given the freedom to make choices for themselves and that the founding countries, such as the U.S., not be overbearing on their colonists as Great Britain was with the American colonies which sparked the American Revolution.
The Economics and Finance Academy students explored how various economic and financial systems throughout history— mercantilist, feudal, socialist and a laissez-faire free market—. would hypothetically operate in a new colony on Mars and the challenges and opportunities that each of these systems would present.
They concluded that a strong degree of government regulation would be needed initially, but eventually as the colony grew and became more sustainable, it would be necessary to transition to a free-market system.
After examining fiat money, barter and a commodity-based system like the gold standard, the students concluded the new Martian colony presented an opportunity to use a completely digital cryptocurrency, MarsCoin, that would be secure and easy to use. They also explored banking and insurance options and the important roles they would play to help achieve a healthy and stable economy for a developing colony.
The Health and Sciences Academy students addressed a host of physiological and psychological challenges on Mars including life-threatening radiation, altered gravity fields, muscle loss, toxic soil, isolation and confinement and closed environments, among others
Their “Health and Wellbeing on Mars” presentation included how to eliminate bacteria from earth that could be brought to Mars by the colonists. Their recommendation was to use nanoparticles and nucleases to break down bacteria so antibiotics would be effective in protecting the health of the settlers.
The students also proposed growing potatoes on Martian soil, which simulated lab experiments demonstrate it can be done, in order to provide necessary nutrients to maintain an effective diet plan. And to optimize the mental health of the inhabitants in a distant and challenging environment, the students explored the use of Virtual Reality for socializing and fun, NASA- issued headbands to promote sleep and SAD lamps to help provide artificial sunlight.
The panel of experts representing each of the four disciplines were: Engineering — Stefania Mignone, Commissioner of the White Plains Department of Public Works (DPW). Previously, she was Deputy Commissioner for 16 years, a tenure that began with her joining as and then promoted to Engineer II. Law — Lucia Chiocchio, Partner, in Cuddy & Feder LLP’s White Plains office and chair of the law firm’s Land Use, Zoning and Development Practice. Economics and Finance — Brian McGrath. A Stepinac alumnus (Class of ’93), McGrath is Managing Director, Tax – Fortress Investment Group, a leading global investment manager. Health Sciences — Dr. Tina Mathews, board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, in a private practice based in Yonkers with focus in women’s health and wellness, preventive care, diabetes and hypertension She is affiliated with St. John’s Riverside Hospital Andrus Pavilion in Yonkers and the Dobbs Ferry Pavilion . Frank Portanova (Class of ’93), Vice Principal for Academics and Curriculum, served as moderator of the session. He noted: “As in prior Symposia, the panelists were highly impressed by the students’ in-depth and comprehensive research, findings, solutions-based recommendations and the clarity of their presentations. Clearly, the possibility of colonizing of Mars by mid- century fired the students’ imaginations and sparked deep academic interest,” adding: “Some of whom may well be among the pioneers in their respective disciplines of making that a reality.”
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