Sending people to Mars is one of humanity’s greatest ambitions this century. We are not just going there, but we plan live there as well. With the climate of Earth heading toward a dire state human might need to leave Earth indefinitely one day. However, sending people to Mars is no easy task and the challenges that lie ahead for humans are monumental. Firstly, what environmental challenges does Mars pose to humans and how can we combat them? Secondly, what would the biological and psychological effects on humans if we move to Mars? Lastly, should we go to Mars at all? Sending people to Mars is the next step in space exploration and pushes humanity to new goals heights to face the monumental challenges ahead, however, we must ask if we have the right to colonize Mars.
Mars is the closest planet to Earth naturally making it the most likely to be habitable. However, the contrast in environments between the two planets is still massive. Humans plan to go to Mars as early as the 2030’s to set up small settlements, but there are seven main environmental issues to face when going to Mars. These challenges include cosmic ionizing radiation, increased radiation dose from solar particle events, solar UV radiation, reduced gravity, dust storms, a thin atmosphere, and freezing temperatures.
Radiation poses the obvious danger of cancer to humans. Radiation is such a big issue on Mars because the planet lacks the magnetic field and dense atmosphere Earth has. The most dangerous form of radiation are galactic cosmic rays. These rays have a high enough energy level to pass through the metal of a spaceship and pass through human tissue as well. These rays halt cellular repair process and the recovery of irradiated tissues. Attempting to plant anything in the soil would fail due to galactic cosmic rays and solar energetic particles that poison the ground. Further tests by NASA on rodents found the galactic cosmic rays are damaging to cognitive health. The rodents also showed no signs of recovery from the harmful rays. Another issue that can cause physical problems for humans is low gravity.
The reduced gravity on Mars would cause physical problems such as muscle weakness and bone decay (NASA). This means humans living on Mars must exercise daily and intensely (NASA). On Earth, gravity pulls fluids down and affects pressure within the body. When gravity is reduced the intracranial pressure is changed causing headaches and impaired vision. The change in pressure can physically flatten the, “globe of the eye and dilatation of the optic nerve sheath” according to the article ‘Effect of gravity and microgravity on intracranial pressure’. Radiation and low gravity are the two main physical problems facing humans. The main environmental challenges are dust storms, freezing temperatures, and the atmosphere.
Dust storms on Mars can be massive. They can be kilometers wide and last for weeks or even months. The largest storms called “global” storms can stand forty kilometers tall and usually occur in the Martian spring and summer. The settlements will need to compensate for this and be extremely durable. In contrast to the extreme force and thickness of the dust storms, the atmosphere is very thin.
The atmosphere is so thin the entire pressure is only about six-hundred pascal. Compared to Earth’s atmospheric pressure of one-hundred-thousand pascal. In addition, Mars’ atmosphere is ninety-five percent carbon dioxide and less than one percent of oxygen. Temperatures on Mars can get as low as negative one-hundred-thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Humans will always have to wear a spacesuit if they are not in closed and secure environments. If humans on Mars are restricted to only small contained shelters, they are bound to face not only environmental challenges but humanistic and psychological challenges as well.
The first humans on Mars will be almost completely alone with only a handful of other people with them. Psychologically it will be immensely difficult to process. While traveling to another planet is exciting and thrilling there will be times of potential boredom, fatigue, and depression. Near complete isolation for an extended period increases the risk of psychiatric disorders. The humans on Mars won’t have access to fresh food either which could lead to malnourishment. The way Mars moves within the Solar System will be a challenge as well.
Humans will be almost completely cut off from Earth with communications between the two planets taking about twenty minutes. Days on Mars are thirty-eight minutes longer. That does not seem like much, but over time thirty-eight minutes will add up and potentially lead to sleep disorder due to the unbalance of the human circadian rhythm. Mars has four seasons but, a Martian year is 686.98 Earth days. An entire new calendar would need to be made due to all these factors.
There is one challenge we cannot do anything about. The trajectories of Earth and Mars. They do not follow each other or orbit at an optimal position all the time. Humans then, would only be able to send ships to Mars every two years. If humans on Mars needed help or supplies, they would have to wait and complete the two-year cycle before sending a spacecraft. Then humans would still have to wait the inevitable seven-month travel time from Earth to Mars. However, maybe these are problems that should be discarded and not worried about. Perhaps, humans should not go to Mars to prevent forward contamination and ethical values.
The argument humans should not go to Mars is a valid one. Humans are unorganized and mess things up which is reflected in the current state of Earth. Martian microbes may exist that we have yet to discover. Currently there are protocols in place by COSPAR for vehicles travelling to Mars. The vehicles are required to be assembled in a clean room to reduce the chance of forward contamination. However, for humans going to Mars forward contamination is greatly increased. Humans carry large amounts of different microbes that can contaminate Mars. Despite the harsh environment there may be life on Mars we may know about due to forward contamination. Colonizing Mars could be considered an invading process of the natural environment.
Sending people to Mars is the next step in space exploration and pushes humanity to new goals heights to face the monumental challenges ahead, however, is it right to go to Mars? Reflecting on all the challenges and asking the ethical questions that put doubt into the decision it might not seem worth it. However, I would argue for colonizing Mars. Going to Mars is human’s greatest ambition currently. Once completed there will always be a next step. Eventually goals will be of interstellar travel, harvesting the power of the Sun through a Dyson Sphere for unlimited renewable energy, and finding out more about the universe from these advances. No matter how impossible those concepts seem humans always take steps to one day reach them.