Soccer team in a huddle

To Infinity and Beyond With SAP

Feature Article | March 26, 2018 by Carmen Peter

SAP not only has two contenders for a spot on the Mars One mission, Aerospace & Defense will also contribute technology to companies involved with current Mars projects that might help them reach the Red Planet and maybe change the world as we know it today.

If you’ve ever read Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff,” where he describes the incredible early beginnings of space travel, you realize that at the dawn of every new epoch, you need people who are brave (or crazy) enough to be the first to venture out into unchartered territory – even at the risk of their own lives.

Back in the 50s, this meant regular jet pilots pushing their machines and their own bodies beyond any limit to reach the edges of our atmosphere, before subsequently being squeezed into small capsules and shot up into space without knowing what exactly would happen. Needless to say that not all of them died of old age.

Jazz Fan, Scientist, Pioneer

Now here we are on the threshold of another epoch in space travel – the journey to Mars. After a period of disinvestment by national aerospace programs, partly due to some serious setbacks like the Challenger disaster, private agencies suddenly cropped up and unleashed a downright race to Mars. And they might be just in time, as the threat of our world’s resources being exhausted leaves us in dire need of alternatives and efficient ways of utilizing what is left. Doing research on Mars and exploring new technologies in this context might give humankind a new lease on life.

What might sound a bit overdramatic to most is actually already evidence for many scientists, like Adriana Marais, who is head of Innovations at SAP South Africa, holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics and deals with such lighthearted topics as quantum cryptography and quantum biology. Her mission is no less than to change the world by treading new scientific ground, which is why she applied for Mars One.

Adriana wasn’t even born into a family of scientists; in fact, she found school boring. When her ambitions to major in jazz music failed, she randomly leafed through the course catalog and chose the major with the most unintelligible definition — physics, which shows that she is definitely one for an adventure, a trait that seems to run in the family, as her ancestors, French Huguenots, escaped to the Netherlands and eventually took a boat to South Africa. Instead of settling for a solid career in research, Adriana chose the prospect of a one-way ticket to space.

“Moments after I decided to apply, a friend and I went to the beach and we talked about whether I’d miss the ocean.” Obviously not that much, as she never had second thoughts, something Adriana considers to be the most important prerequisite to participate in an open-ended mission where the journey itself takes seven months. Empathy is another crucial character trait. “But that’s one of the reasons to go to Mars, to try something new. The models for society, the legal and economic structures will be completely new.”

Mars will definitely also be a big social experiment.

One Small Step for a Hipster, One Giant Step for Mankind

The idea of going to Mars sounds like the whim of quirky entrepreneurs like Bas Lansdorp of Mars One, Tesla founder Elon Musk of SpaceX, and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, with his space agency Blue Origin, of whom at least the latter are not exactly known to be scientists. You just go because you can and because you enjoy pushing the limits. But even though the idea of populating Mars might sound like a giant scheme in self-promotion, it is of far greater significance than anyone can probably assess.

“The research that we’ll be able to do from Mars will have important implications for Earth,” Adriana is convinced. “Climate studies for example — we don’t model Earth’s climate very well, as we only have massive amounts of data from a single planet.”

According to Adriana, we might also learn how to utilize our remaining resources more efficiently, by learning about a material’s behavior on a molecular level within a different environment.

The people going to Mars will have to create their own biosphere, powered by solar energy — a huge challenge in itself. Oxygen has to be generated by splitting hydrogen and oxygen from the soil and water needs to be extracted from the ground. No drop can be wasted. Even the carbon dioxide from the air you breathe or your sweat will be recycled. Plants will have to be grown by moistening their roots, instead of watering them.

“Life on Mars will certainly be characterized by a deep respect for life. Every seed that sprouts its first leaf will be a celebration.” Something we seem to have unlearned here on Earth: “Humans are full of contradictions. They believe that life only exists on Earth, yet they treat Earth with utter disrespect.” Adriana’s biggest dream would be to find evidence for life on Mars, a planet that is still quite unknown. Nobody has ever dug deeper than a few inches.

Asteroids Might Not Kill Us But Be Our Next Resource

Climate change is not our only problem on Earth. We are overpopulated and every cell phone we throw away to buy the latest model contains 11 different precious minerals. Consumerism, nearsightedness, and our current economic system geared toward constant growth and quick profits chew away at Earth’s substance. “We lack long-term vision,” is how Adriana sums it up.

We need innovative ideas, and quickly. One could be a cutting-edge technology that is already heralded as the next trillion dollar industry (yes, even maintaining ourselves has to be profitable): asteroid mining. What sounds like science fiction could be a way to exploit resources, at least for space endeavors, maybe even for our terrestrial industry, without doing any harm, or so one hopes. After all, asteroids are just remnants of exploded stars.

While we only know them as moving targets that extinguish life on earth in movies, this flying debris contains the same materials found on Earth. So, theoretically, you could extract water and precious metals from them. Currently, two companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, officially explore asteroid mining techniques. Leaves us with the tricky question of space legalities. But that’s a different story.

Stargazing Might Make Sense for SAP’s Aerospace & Defense Industry

Other than potentially “sacrificing” two of its employees to the Mars One mission, SAP delivers the technology for many of the companies supporting space projects.

MineRP, a South African company providing software that can immediately calculate the profitability of a mining endeavor based on geology and fluctuating raw material prices, among others, is now running on SAP HANA, which reduces calculation time from months to minutes and closes the gap between technical and financial calculation, making things like asteroid mining a possibility.

The Aerospace & Defense industry provides customers like Lockheed Martin (Mars Basecamp), Boeing (NASA), Sierra Nevada (Dream Catcher spacecraft), United Launch Alliance, and the European Space Agency with the technology needed to handle their infrastructure and analyze Big Data, which is used for advanced satellite technology, launch systems for space rockets, or voice control technology for rocket workers.

SAP Africa is among the state and industry partners involved in a project to set up the world’s biggest telescope that will generate an unbelievable 160 terabytes of data per second. SAP obviously didn’t miss the bandwagon.

Should Adriana pass all upcoming tests and be among the first settlers on Mars, she hopes that her irreversible decision will help to change the planet she is willing to leave behind. If this unprecedented adventure will indeed be a puzzle piece in saving our species, it will be rewarding to know that SAP had some part in this endeavor.

If Adriana had one wish she could leave us with here on Earth, it would be to never stop questioning the world around us: “Otherwise we will arrive in a future that nobody planned, and nobody understands how we got there because we never stopped to think ‘What are we doing?’ Always question everything!”

The SKA (Square Kilometre Array) radio telescope is a “mega-science” project that will bundle many areas of cutting-edge technology to generate unprecedented amounts of data. Thousands of radio antennas in Africa and Australia will enable scientists to “take a listen” into deep space and gain a better understanding of how our galaxy was formed. It might also help us to learn more about dark energy and dark matter, and maybe even catch signals from life in outer space.100 organizations from 20 countries are helping to design and implement this program which should be completed in 2030.

Top image: Kate Shaw

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