By Tom Bartsiokas
As a child, Oneil D’silva spent hours sitting on his bedroom floor constructing elaborate spaceships out of Lego blocks.
What started out as a boyhood hobby, however, has evolved into a talent that could take others out of this world.
D’silva, who graduated from Ryerson with a degree in aerospace engineering, was one of the local stars at the 3rd annual International Mars Society Conference held in Toronto from Aug. 10 to 13.
More than 1,000 space experts and enthusiasts from around the world landed on Ryerson’s campus to discuss, among other things, the possibility of living on the Red Planet.
D’silva and his team, who took part in an inter-university competition last spring, wanted to send people to Mars. he launched the conference by showing off their creation—a manned Mars vehicle system.
Mars enthusiasts who flocked to the Eaton lecture theatre in the Rogers Communications Centre listed to D’silva discuss the major challenges the students encountered while crafting their craft.
“The major problem was the fuel and weight,” the 24-year-old said. “Every kilo of weight that we added caused us to add more fuel, but more fuel meant more weight, and this led to a vicious cycle.”
Having local talent kick off the conference was only fitting as it was the first time the galactic event was held outside of the Mars Society’s birthplace of Boulder, Colo.
Conference organizers said Ryerson, which charged the society nearly $30,000 to host the event, was chosen because it’s close to Toronto’s downtown core.
“This means a lot to Ryerson is terms of prestige,” D’silva said. “There are only two universities in all of Canada that have true aerospace programs, Ryerson and Carleton. This conference means that Ryerson and its students are seen as the future of Canada and are on par with their international peers.”
But even though a manned ship capable of reaching Mars can be designed, as D’silva said his team proved, his outlook on Mars exploration remains the same as others who moonwalked to Ryerson for the weekend—that governments have to be more committed to the society’s ideas if anyone is to land on Mars anytime soon.
“It would take us three years of dedicated work to get back to the moon, let alone the fact that mars is some 20 times more distant,” D’silva said.
“Aerospace engineering professor William Brimley, one of a handful of other Ryerson staff and students who participated in the four-day event, agreed an actual take-off to Mars could still be lightyears away.
“The technology is there,” Brimley said. “What we’re lacking in the modern world is the commitment that existed during the Kennedy era.”
The late American president had an overwhelming desire to make the United States a world leader in space exploration, something the society says it hasn’t seen for many years.
Convinced that NASA has been slow in its efforts to send manned missions to Mars, the Society’s 3,000 members, including more than 160 Canadians, have been taking matters into their own hands ever since the group was formed in 1998.
With the help of private donations and some public funding, the society has started with what it hopes will reignite interest in space exploration—the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station.
The makeshift spacehouse was constructed on Devon Island, in Nunavut territory, because the terrain is similar to Mars.
Whether or not a mission to Mars will ever take off, D’silva still wants to be part of a renaissance of space exploration in North America.
“Through aerospace, I can hopefully be part of mankind’s move forward,” he said, “sort of new age Columbus.”