NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars early Monday morning, which is awesome. Scientists at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory pulled off an absurdly complex series of maneuvers, ranging from simply getting the thing across several hundred million miles of space to executing a multi-stage landing that involved supersonic parachutes and sky cranes. It’s a credit to the engineers in question that Curiosity isn’t in 10 million flaming pieces at the bottom of some godforsaken red crater.
Go science, basically!
Curiosity is on Mars to search for signs of life. Long term, we’re really trying to see if we could live on it -- which means, if that ever happens, we'll certainly be playing sports on it.
How would that go? It would be fun, if a little absurd. There’s not a lot of air resistance there, and Mars’ gravity is about one-third that of Earth’s, so everything is going to go a lot farther and a lot higher, which makes some sports feasible, and others not.
• Baseball wouldn’t really work. Josh Hamilton’s longest home run in the 2008 Home Run Derby was a moonshot that went about 518 feet. If he hit it on Mars, it’d land well more than 1,500 feet away, nearly a third of a mile. If you had standard stadiums, everyone would just swing straight up and trust in gravity, but if you had absurdly large stadiums, no one would be able to see anything, and batting averages would skyrocket from outfielders having to cover a ridiculous amount of ground.
• Basketball would totally work -- you’d just have to adjust for everyone’s vertical leap going from about 40 inches to 10 feet. Kevin Durant’s having a real easy time of it shooting 3-pointers at the Olympics, but he’d have a tough time adjusting to the ball practically floating out of his hands.
• Football would have to increase the length of the field because quarterbacks would be deadly from pretty much anywhere. You can also lift more, so expect to see linemen quite literally tossing one another around the field.
• Golf courses would have to extend for leagues. We’ve actually already had a man golf in lower gravity; Alan Shepard snuck a makeshift golf club and ball onto the moon during Apollo 14. There’s actually video of him taking a few swings; even with one hand and in his bulky suit, he’s still pretty impressed with the length of his drive.
Of course, all of this would have to be done indoors. Mars is a) really cold, b) lacking an ozone layer and c) not possessing an abundance of oxygen. We’d have to terraform the entire planet if we wanted to play outdoors, and we’d have to do something crazy in order for that to happen, like slam an asteroid into Mars and wait a few hundred thousand years for the resulting cataclysm to increase the oxygen content a bit. It’s not really going to happen tomorrow, in other words.
Still, we could have people on Mars within the next few decades, so while you’ll see an NBA franchise in London before you see one on Mars (for one thing, Curiosity took about eight months to get there, so road games would be killer), we’ll probably eventually have some kind of modified sports league on the Red Planet.
It’s certainly a lot easier than playing sports on Venus (literally covered in clouds of sulfuric acid), Mercury (rather too close to the sun), or Jupiter (crushing gravity, heavy doses of radiation, permanent storms the size of Earth and doesn’t actually have any ground for you to stand on).