What we still need to figure out before living on Mars?

It’s clear that the next milestone in space exploration is going to be Mars. This gives a lot of focus on rockets and being the first to step on Mars soil. In this blog we think one step further. The reason for this, as for example Elon Musk’s put it, is to become an interdisciplinary species. Before we are so dumb to make ourselves extinct we must be so smart to make this impossible.

There are many ways to destroy ourselves

On a planet, far far away

It’s not only about creating a backup-earth, but Mars will be the stepping stone of living and exploring space. The issue with Mars is not that it just far away, but that it’s a very, very hostile place. It’s actually so hostile that it looks like a planet we already have destroyed.

We also have hostile places on earth like the Antarctic or Desserts. But they are a paradise compared to Mars. It’s actually easier to create a backup earth on the Antarctic or the moon then Mars.

Some hard numbers:

Mars with its red color always seems like a hot dessert, in reality it’s blistering cold. An average temperature of -63 Celsius which can drop as low as -153. There is little gravitation, sandstorms and no atmosphere which means no air and no protection against radiation.

Staying on Mars

A lot of attention is now going to the rockets which may bring us there, but the biggest issue is staying there. Some designs of the 3D printed habitat challenge by NASA designed small domes without any windows:

These homes look like an eternal quarantine or a lifelong prison which puts a serious psychological burden on the first explorers. As ‘failed’ projects like Biosphere2 showed, even living under a gigantic dome with light and plants it was hard to live there on the long run.

The puzzle of living on Mars is still missing a lot of pieces. Where do we find the resources to make the homes? How do we survive the radiation, how do we create a lifecycle? What do we do when someone gets hurt? How do we address the psychological pressure?

Fortunately progress is being made:

“Centered on using plants to sustain a continuous vegetarian diet for astronauts, a typical BLSS employs plants and crop production in addition for food, to also provide air revitalization, water recycling, and waste recycling for the crew.”

On top of research by space agencies and universities, NASA started partnerships with 19 public-private organizations to accelerate Mars programs. New technologies of today like VR, gene editing and 3d-printing can all help to bring the dream closer. It is unclear if this is already possible in our generation, but one generation needs to combine all these research together to one practical solution.

Terraforming

Now terraforming Mars is only a game, but if we want a permanent stay we need to be extremely serious. Terraforming means modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface similar to earth. And at the end make it habitable by earth life.

The only place where humans had impact on a planet so far is earth itself. And we need to pump 200 years of Co2 in the atmosphere to have a noticeable impact of a few degrees.

A study of NASA in 2018 says that it is not possible with current day technologies. One idea is to use Aerogel. The gel is a super low-density solid that’s 99% air. This functions as a bubble where people could live in. Elon Musk has also a crazy plan to nuke Mars first with 10.000 nukes.

In reality the ‘small-scale technology examples in the first part will be slowly improved and iterated so that living on Mars will be slowly possible, bearable and at the end even nice.

More reading:

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