Sheldon College teens explain how to sustain life on Mars

MARS MISSION: Trent Neilson and William Bye will represent Australia at the International Space Settlement Design competition at Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Centre in June. Trent holds the school's award won at the Australian Space Design Competition in January. Photo: Hannah Baker

MARS MISSION: Trent Neilson and William Bye will represent Australia at the International Space Settlement Design competition at Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Centre in June. Trent holds the school's award won at the Australian Space Design Competition in January. Photo: Hannah Baker

WHAT would it take to live on the Mars, a planet named after the ancient Roman god of war?

Two Year Nine Sheldon College students, Trent Neilson and William Bye, think they might have the answer.

Uranium and lots of it – Trent said the use of nuclear energy, caused by the chemical’s decay, could help form an atmosphere over the planet through the heating of gases.

The process, also known as terraforming, would mean life-sustaining compounds like oxygen could be trapped underneath.

While the theory is yet to be proven, the concept has earned both teens a visit to Florida’s NASA Kennedy Space Centre next month to represent Australia at the International Space Settlement Design competition.

The two boys were chosen for the visit after their Sheldon College team shared a win with Canterbury College at the Australian Space Design Competition (ASDC), which was held in January at the University of Queensland. 

The school’s team not only submitted a 40 page document about their Mars settlement ideas, but also designed a space cruiser for inter-planetary travel and orbit.

While the idea of colonizing Mars might sound fanciful, the college’s performance manager Dr David Hughes said the recent revival of international interest in space exploration meant it was important to consider.

He said whether or not planets should be made viable for Earthlings might one day become an ethical conundrum, if extra-terrestrial life was already present.

“To terraform a planet takes hundreds of years,” Mr Hughes said. “The question becomes, ‘should you?’”

Dr Hughes said Trent and William were the school’s youngest students to travel to Florida for the annual competition – the college has qualified to represent the country five times in the past six years.

“It is testament to our work in science, technology and mathematics,” Dr Hughes said. “We are really proud.”

While this will be Trent and Nathan’s first trip abroad to represent Australia in space settlement design, both students have competed in related junior competitions.

Trent said an interest in aeronautical engineering had piqued his interest, with William inspired by information technology and coding.

For more, visit sheldoncollege.com.

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