NASA is planning to send men to Mars in the 2030s. This mission has already begun. NASA launched a rover named Curiosity on Nov. 6, 2011, which landed on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012. It’s goal was to see if Mars could support microbial life. They had Curiosity drill into the sedimentary rock near what scientists assume to be a stream bed and identified elements such as sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon, which happen to be key chemicals necessary for the creation of microbes. According to Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, 95 percent of Mars’ atmosphere is carbon dioxide. Carbon is the basis of life forms. “If the theory is correct, life should have appeared on Mars,” is what he contends.

An interesting acronym thrown around these days in space technology is . ISRU stands for “in situ resource utilization”. This concept is used with Mars in mind. Astronauts at the International Space Station today receive regular shipments of crucial items such as air, water, food, fuel, from Earth. The International Space Station is about 350 kilometers from Earth. Mars at its closest to Earth is 55 million kilometers. At this point in our technology, it would take about three hundred days for man to fly to Mars. Mars ISRU is about the prospect of obtaining life-sustaining elements from Martian resources. Generating necessary products from local materials sounds new, but the concept has been around since explorations past. I am sure that when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he must have restocked on supplies in the Americas before he made his journey back to Spain.

NASA is presently experimenting in three areas of Mars ISRU. NASA was encouraged by Viking’s landing on Mars, which revealed that Mar’s atmosphere was 95.5 percent carbon dioxide. Based on this, NASA has developed technologies to convert this carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel. In 2020, NASA will equip a rover that will collect carbon dioxide from Mar’s atmosphere and produce oxygen and carbon monoxide. This experiment is projected to produce six to eight grams of oxygen per hour, which is still just one percent of what would be necessary to support astronauts. But, its success is all that is necessary to fulfill the possibility of man’s long-term existence in space. NASA is also developing instruments to drill into what is called regolith-based water deposits. NASA was inspired by the fact that its rover, Curiosity, found that Mars’ surface soil contains about two percent water by weight. NASA has created technologies to excavate and actually produce drinking water, and later propellants, fuel cell reactants, and other life-support consumables. Finally, NASA is experimenting with the possibility of manufacturing and constructing necessary goods and structures on Mars by using its indigenous materials. Advancements in 3-D printing have afforded this possibility.

I have great interest in man’s possible existence outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. To be completely free to live and function anywhere is not only convenient, it follows Buddha’s notion of not being constricted. There is a concept in the Lotus Sutra called soku ze dojo. soku means “exactly or equal to”, while ze means “this”, and dojo refers to our “domain” or “place of practice”. Together as a phrase, soku ze dojo means that our place of practice is anywhere that we presently reside or exist. In other words, our practical application of the Buddha’s teaching should not be limited to a certain place such as at our temple. Its application should occur wherever we are, whether we are at work, play, or at rest. So, the Buddha’s teaching should exist and flourish wherever we are. As suggested by the concept of ISRU, we have all the resources necessary to live as the Buddha lives wherever we may venture.

(Eisei Ikenaga)