05 June 2020

John Lyon pupils go on mission to Mars with space expert and author

More than 100 John Lyon pupils were told they could be the first to step foot on the Red Planet, in an Excellence Programme talk about man’s mission to Mars.

Dialling in to the talk on Tuesday 2nd June, astronomer, author and public speaker Colin Stuart spoke to the virtual room of Year 7 and 8 pupils about man’s proposed mission to Mars, the difficulties we face in getting there and what we might do once once we actually arrive.

Opening his talk, Mr Stuart put it to the 11, 12 and 13-year-old pupils that they could be the first to reach Mars, on the basis that the first mission would be around 25 years away. He said: “When Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon, he was 38 years old. So if the first person to walk on Mars 25 years from now is also about 38 at the time, how old are they now? 13? The first person to walk on Mars is about 13 now. So they’re at School. They could even be on this call.”


He continued his talk showing footage from the rovers that had already reached Mars and that had helped us learn that the cold, dry and dusty planet used to be warm and wet with oceans and lakes.

He talked about the human colonisation of Mars being the ‘ultimate insurance policy’ in case of Earth’s existence being threatened by an asteroid, but also warned that it shouldn’t be seen as a ‘spare planet’ that gave us a reason not to look after our own. Once there, he said, we could live as a community and even take up sports such as rock climbing and athletics, which would benefit from lower gravity.

Mr Stuart, who has written a number of books about space, including co-authoring a book with Tim Peake, discussed the difficulties humans face in space travel and a mission to Mars, notably the effects of isolation, something which he said astronauts train for and that we all now have some knowledge of. He said: “One of the biggest challenges on a mission to Mars is loneliness and isolation. When I’ve given these talks in schools in the past, many kids wouldn’t have gone through any sort of isolation, but of course that’s not the truth any more — we’ve all been isolating for weeks. So we get a sense of what it must be like to go form Earth to Mars. When you’re cut off from everyone else. When you don’t have that normal interaction. Psychologically it’s quite a tough thing to deal with, as we’ve been experiencing.”

The session finished with questions from pupils. Oliver asked why we would settle on Mars and not the Moon. The answer was that the Moon isn’t as nice as it seems because its slow rotations would mean each day and night lasting two weeks each.

Neelkanth asked about the availability of breathable air. Mr Stuart told him that as there is Oxygen in both the frozen water on the planet’s surface and in the carbon dioxide atmosphere, oxygen factories could be set up to produce safe air.

Finally, Hemang asked if we could go to any other planets. The reply was unfortunately not. We couldn’t go closer to the Sun from Earth as it is too hot and that beyond Mars in the other direction are the gas planets of Jupiter and Saturn.

Mission to Mars

Colin Stuart spoke to more than 100 John Lyon pupils via Microsoft Teams

John Lyon’s Excellence Programme provides an opportunity for all pupils, no matter their academic ability or age, to maximise their potential to learn and to discover their passion.

The Excellence Programme’s activities vary every term and include visits to cultural events, lectures from leading academics, external national competitions, in-house workshops and discussion groups, delivering Academic Society lectures, and using the School’s 1876 Reading Room to demonstrate a commitment to independent thinking and research. Reading is at the heart of our programme, with pupils encouraged to reflect on their reading in a journal.

Any pupil wanting further information about the Excellence Programme or to find out about joining the Excellence Committee, which helps organise events should contact [email protected]