Going to mars has for long been science fiction and colonizing it more so. But now it is becoming more of a reality then we could ever imagine. We are getting closer and closer to both getting humans to mars and colonizing and build habitats on our neighbor planet. The last 20 years we have had a lot of obstacles that we have come up with solutions for and there is even more new obstacles now. Although there are so many new obstacles now i am certain we will find a solution for them just as we did for the obstacles before. If we succeed with colonizing mars it will help humanity in so many ways and one of the biggest problems it would solve is overpopulation and hunger which is some of the biggest problems we face today.
How can we get to Mars?
Humans have wanted to explore space for a long time and recently for the past 100 years we have succeeded on sending people to the moon and even sent rovers and other robotic spacecraft to mars. So we can already send robots to Mars but sending people there is a whole other deal and way more difficult. The distance between Earth and Mars is way further away than from the earth to the moon so going there will require a lot of energy which is expensive. So the best time to go is when both Mars and Earth is closest to each other and when the energy needed to transfer between the 2 orbits the lowest. The lowest energy consumption for the trip is when the two planets are the closest and when the energy needed is the lowest which is fixed by the synodic period. The synodic period comes around every 26 months but it is only every 15 years where the synodic period is at the same time as when the planets are the closest. Therefor the best time to make the trip is every 15 years and 2033 being the next low energy launch window. You would also need to go back and the best window for the trip back would be 17 months after the landing on mars. That is because the trip to Mars takes approximately 9 months and then you would need to wait 17 months on Mars for the next low energy window. This means you need provisions for the people going to Mars for approximately 32 months counting the trip back. To make this work you would need to find some way to farm crops or in some way find a food source on Mars itself. This can be done but is very expensive and a lot of research is put in to find a cheaper way of making this work.
How can we colonize Mars?
When we have been able to get people to Mars we still need to find a way to survive on Mars which is harder than most people expect. There is many factors you need to consider around this subject and those are air, food, water, shelter, waste system, temperature and protection against radiation.
The main consideration surrounding the air the astronauts breathe inside the habitat is air temperature, pressure and the composition of the air. Humans can breathe pure oxygen but is something we want to avoid considering that pure oxygen feeds fire which was the cause of the apollo 1 fire getting out of control. Because of this we need additional gases and one possibility is to take nitrogen and argon from Mars atmosphere. The air we breathe on Earth mostly consist of nitrogen and oxygen so the best choice would be to take only take nitrogen from Mars atmosphere. The problem with this is that nitrogen and argon is very hard to seperate and as a result the Mars habitat can use 40% argon, 40% nitrogen and 20% oxygen to work. The other thing we need to consider is the pressure of the air inside the habitat which is estimated to be over 2000 pounds per square meter. Because of this we need to build the habitat so it can handle this amount of pressure. Another thing that can greatly help with air production is various plants which can create air through the photosynthesis.
This is one of the biggest obstacles at the moment as there has not been a lot research done around this matter. The best way found at the moment is to build a low pressured greenhouse which will lower the structural demands to maintain air pressure but require the plants to survive. Not all plants can survive the desired pressure of the green house so the problem is to find plants with as low growth time, with minimal waste and with high nutrition. The most suitable plants found for the time being is duckweed and waterfern which both grow on top of water. Another plant that could grow in low pressures is lettuce and in standard air pressure beans could also survive. There has also been tests on the organism lichen which comes from algae and they concluded that the organism could survive for at least a month in Mars condition and at this time went through photosynthesis. Another possible greenhouse is biodomes which would have bacteria that could convert regolith or ice into oxygen.
You will need a waste system for the feces and the waste from the greenhouse and this can be done by putting the waste in tanks and then reuse the waste as biofuel. And when you get to much waste you will need to put the waste somewhere on Mars outside the habitat.
There has been some evidence for water on Mars but this is not enough evidence for how much water there is and if it would be enough. Therefor a advanced water recycling system that can recycle the majority of the water is needed. For now the ISS water recycler can recycle approximately 70% of the water used which is not enough and have to be researched further to maximize the recycle amount. Recycling of the water will not be enough by itself because the water will still need to be refilled 4 times a year so a way to get water from Mars itself is vital for the habitat. For now there is no official way of getting water on Mars but collection of ice by drilling is being investigated and is a potential way.
The location of the shelters is currently not certain but is being discussed what location would benefit the shelter the most. One location is to build the shelter in lava tubes created by the volcano Arsia Mons and is a good option because of the radiation protection it would provide. The construction of shelters in the lava tubes would also be fairly cheaper as it is relatively easy to seal with the onsite materials around the shelters. Natural caves is another possible location for the shelter and has been spotted around Arsia Mons and would in the same way create protection against radiation and micrometeoroids. To build in caves or lava tubes would also lower the total cost to build the habitat because you would not need to build radiation protection over the habitat if you build the habitat underground. The last possible location currently found is Hellas Planitia which is the lowest lying plain on Mars and would be a good location because of the protection and the flat space for building. There is also a higher chance for water in the craters on Mars which is a really important factor for the habitat.
The temperature on Mars fluctuate a lot and can get really cold therefor several heating methods will be needed. Some of these methods would be light, electronic gadgets and other things that generate heat. To build in caves or lava tubes would also help to balance the temperature more and therefor is a good option for the location of the shelters. The temperature do also need to be different on the different sections of the habitat therefore which can be hard if the temperature fluctuates. The greenhouse sections temperature also need to stay the same and can not fluctuate and therefore some precautions need to be considered to balance the temperature.
What is the benefits?
Colonizing Mars will help humanity with overpopulation and even if people do not want to go to Mars it can be used for food production which will help with both space and hunger on earth. Exploring Mars is not only going to benefit the people on earth but will unlock many new possibilities for humans as a species. We have no idea what resources we can find on our neighboring planets or in what way they might help us. For example just think about if we find a material on Mars that is super efficient for energy production how that could change our whole way of living. We do not know exactly how much colonizing and exploring Mars could benefit us but we know that it will and maybe more than we now can imagine. If we colonize Mars it can also be used as a station and make space explorations to other planets possible. We would be able to go way further than before because spaceships can land on Mars and restock on fuel, food, etc or just launch from Mars directly. This will also make Mars-Earth trades possible where they can exchange resources, food and equipment.
- Phy6.org, Website, http://www.phy6.org/stargaze/Smars1.htm
- Hypertextbook, Website/book, https://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/AlbertEydelman.shtml
- CNN, Website, https://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/01/tech/mars-life-support-system-study/
- Nasa, Website: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/students-design-space-habitat-concepts-for-mars
- Neo geographics ,Documentary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5D8e71c75U
- Space X, Documentary, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x536yga