Exploring the Possibility of Living on Mars

Exploring the Possibility of Living on Mars
Image Credit: Bryan Versteeg

The Red Planet has garnered a lot of attention in recent times, as scientists obsess about the possibility of discovering evidence of life on Mars. Added to this, NASA and SpaceX plan to make humans visit to the planet within the next decade or so, but one of the biggest questions still remains unanswered concerning the long-term sustainability of human habituation on Mars.

Physical Challenges

• A low average surface temperature of -55 °C (-67 °F), and an atmosphere composed 95% of carbon dioxide lowers the possibility of creating sustainable life on the Mars.

• Having a gravity a mere 38% that of the Earth creates obvious mobility challenges for humans, as well as wreaking havoc on our cells, bones, and muscles, ultimately making a healthy return back to Earth unlikely.

• The atmosphere of Mars is around just 1% that of the Earth’s, meaning it offers no protection from the harmful radiation coming from the Sun.

Journey and Landing

Lets now explore the amount of time astronauts would take to reach Mars, and the possible ways scientists have devised for landing on the planet’s surface upon arrival. While the distance between the Earth and Mars ranges between 33.9 million miles (54.6m km) and 250 million miles (401m km), at their shortest point (perihelion) the journey to Mars may take just 260 days to complete. Considering this relatively short travel time, scientists have come up and implemented quite a few possible landing ideas over the years, although with the advent of technology scientists from NASA are currently exploring the possibility of a lander deep diving into the planet’s thick surface atmosphere before skirting close to its surface using jets.

Creating a Habitat

Studies on the subject of human habitation on Mars have concluded that the most suitable habitats on the planet need to be self-sustaining with the capability of supporting life for extended periods without any support from Earth. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in this direction, but NASA has already selected six American companies to help develop full-sized prototypes for these ground habitats. As Richard McGuire Davis, co-leader of NASA’s Mars Human Landing Sites Study, explains:

“The International Space Station has really taught us a tremendous amount of what is needed in a deep space habitat. We’ll need things like environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS), power systems, docking ports, [and] air locks so that crew can perform space walks to repair things that break or to add new capabilities.”

Plant Growth

The first goal of colonization is learning how to live on the planet as survival is the biggest priority. Having learned the survival basics, there is a world of things to explore in time such as the possibility of farming, how to utilize water from the ice-capped poles of Mars, managing plant growth and so much more.

Having sufficient food and medicine supplies stocked on Mars is a good idea, but the planet’s thin atmosphere and reduced sunlight will make it a challenge for anything to grow. There are a number of suggestions to cope with this significant challenge, including the use of artificial leaves made of silicone rubber that can absorb some of the sunlight and turn it into enough power to initiate the chemical reactions necessary for creating “pharmaceuticals, agrochemcials or solar fuels.”

While the Martian soil contains minerals, it has none of the organics biological materials that plants need to grow, though, and in the distant future, the planet’s soil inside green houses will need to be detoxified, while water from the Martian ice-caps will need to be utilized in order to support intensive farming activities.

With rapid advancements in science and technology, scientists and space organizations are rapidly gaining valuable insights into the possibility of life in the universe, with the planet Mars providing a unique case study. It will be interesting to see how things move forwards over the next few years, especially with Mars having been a source of great fascination and inspiration for the human imagination over our entire history.

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