By Muna Agwa
Scientists predict that humans can make it to Mars by the 2030s, now it’s just a matter of staying there long term.
Humans have had this undying curiosity for what lies beyond Earth’s atmosphere for centuries. As the great philosopher, Plato, once said, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another.”
Scientists say that the actual trip to Mars is possible, but the real question is what are we going to do once we get there. Long term survival has academics and scholars all over the world drawing their own conclusions and debating the challenges Mars’ first explorers will face. But there are a few prominent ideas in the works:
It is evident that long-term colonies on Mars will be faced with unique challenges. There is obviously no oxygen or food on the red planet, but astronauts will also have to confront obstacles including the lack of available water, extreme temperatures, solar radiation, and meteorites.
All of this might sound daunting, which is correct, and scientists have spent years researching the environment on Mars and how all these factors might affect a human’s physical health. The designs of interplanetary colonies aim to minimize these issues by using a series of methods. A good example of this would be that bases would need to focus on clean, renewable energy sources for maximum sustainability. Something as strategic as placement would be beneficial to the long term survival. Many scientific journals have suggested setting up colonies on the North Polar Cap of Mars, closest to where the frozen and stored water is located, and possibly underground. This seems viable until other journals argue that temperatures would become too extreme for long term human survival, complicating what seemed like a simple solution.
In addition to placement, research papers detail that “colonists would live in thermally insulated large, comfortable habitats under the ice surface, fully shielded from cosmic rays”(Powell 1). Also, with all the ice and CO2 in the atmosphere as raw materials, chemists believe that this could be used to sustain the colony by manufacturing air, water, plastics and food. The fact there is at least preexisting ice under the surface provides researchers with optimism regarding the long-term living quarters themselves.
Another idea that is a lot more ambitious and long term than colonies is the process of terraforming. Terraforming has a further reach than just setting up colonies. Although ambitious, the goal of terraforming is to modify Mars to the point that it might be habitable for humans to live on, without the need for space suits and colonies. This plan would take many years, and our current generations would never be able to see its effects. Simply put, terraforming would involve three basic steps.
First, we would need to give Mars a magnetosphere. The magnetic fields that wrap around the earth play a vital role in protecting us from the devastating particle blasts from the sun. Mars doesn’t have a magnetosphere, which explains why their atmosphere is so thin. In order to give Mars a magnetosphere, NASA scientists propose sending out a satellite that would create a very strong magnetic field to help grow Mars’ atmosphere.
Next, scientists would need to build up the Martian atmosphere. To do this, they would need to pump CO2 into the atmosphere, which would warm up the planet by trapping the light from the sun. Since there is carbon dioxide trapped in Mars’ polar ice caps, Elon Musk suggests dropping nuclear weapons in order to release it into the atmosphere to build it up. Some scientists argue that there won’t be enough carbon dioxide packed up there, so the longer but safer process would be planting factories to pump fake greenhouse gases into the air. This would create a similar heating-effect on earth.
The final big step would be to unleash bacteria that would take in Mars’ nutrients and begin making oxygen, helping to one day support life on Mars. Humans would have to wait between hundreds and thousands of years for Mars to even begin mirroring Earth.
Making it on Mars might be one of our era’s biggest challenges, but the actions we’re taking today might play a bigger role in the continued survival of humankind, and that alone gives us a reason to aim for the Martian horizon.
Barnes, Pete. “How Can We Survive on Mars?” George Lucas Educational Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018, http://www.edutopia.org/article/how-can-we-survive-mars. Accessed 4 Nov. 2019.
Candanosa, Roberto Molar. “Open for Discussion: Surviving on Mars.” ACS, Chemistry for Life, http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/2016-2017/april-2017/surviving-on-mars.html. Accessed 5 Nov. 2019.
Powell, James, et al. “Acta Astronautica.” ScienceDirect, vol. 48, nos. 5-12. Self-sustaining mars colonies utilizing the north polar cap and the martian atmosphere, vol. 48, no. 5-12, March-June 2001, pp. 737-65, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0094576501000819. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019. Abstract.
TED. Mar. 2015, http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_petranek_your_kids_might_live_on_mars_here_s_how_they_ll_survive/discussion. Accessed 4 Nov. 2019.
Will We Survive Mars? – Glad You Asked (E1). Produced by Cleo Abram, Vox Media, 2019. Vox, https://www.vox.com/2019/10/8/20903623/glad-you-asked-episode-1-survive-mars. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.