With the Earths ever expanding population, the thought of colonisation of other planets has been in the public eye for the last decade. This debate revolves around Mars, the second closest planet to Earth, where there is talk of life being able to prosper. However, with all the hype surrounding this potential colonisation, the question of whether this goal is attainable arises. In this report, I shall discuss how, with current technology, the colonisation of Mars is possible in the near future.
Background on Planet
Mars is the fourth farthest planet from the sun, orbiting at an average distance of 228 million kilometres, or 1.52 AU. It has a rotational period of 24.6 hours and an orbital period of 687 days. Hypotheses supported by evidence from the recent NASA missions to Mars conclude that there was a high chance of life on Mars billions of years ago. However, Mars as it exists today is very different to what it likely was back then. Now, it has a thin atmosphere mainly consisting of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon, with small amounts of water vapour and oxygen. Because of this, the atmosphere of Mars does not hold as much heat as Earth’s, the average temperature being -60o C. The surface of Mars is rugged and rocky, mainly being made up of a thin layer of iron oxide, covering basalt. The iron oxide is what gives Mars its red colour. Mars is known for its dust storms, which can sometimes cover the entire planet. However, storms of this scale only happen once every 3 Earth years.
One potential hazard for humans colonising Mars is the notorious dust storms that are common on the planet. However, from almost a century of data on these dust storms, we can conclude that these storms do not have the force to damage or destroy vital machinery, as the wind speeds only reach maximum speeds of ~97 km/h. For reference, the highest recorded wind speed on Earth was 408 km/h, recorded at Barrow Island, Australia.
Another main hazard for astronauts travelling to mars is space radiation. This radiation is naturally occurring, and comes from three main sources, galactic cosmic rays, sun flares and nuclear fuels. Radiation can have serious long-term effects on humans if they are exposed for long periods of time. These effects include increased risk of cancer, infertility, stillbirth or even death. Also, this radiation will not only be experienced during space flight, but also on the surface of Mars. This is because it does not have as much protection to radiation as the Earth. However, some radiation can be shielded almost entirely by just the spacecraft, almost mitigating its effects entirely. Galactic cosmic rays, however, cannot be as easily protected against. One possible way is to use different materials that are better able to protect against radiation. Currently, we are making good progress on researching and developing these materials. Another way to shield against this radiation is a localised magnetic field, or force field, to help protect against this radiation. However, these are not currently feasible to create.
The main reason Mars has been the centre of discussion regarding colonisation of another planet, is because it is the most habitable planet in the nearby vicinity to Earth. The other terrestrial planets in our solar system have much harsher conditions in terms of temperature or terrain. Although the temperature on Mars is much harsher than that on Earth, it should not be an issue. Also, the human body will be able to adapt to the lower gravity on Mars. Mars also receives enough sunlight to support solar panels, meaning that it will be much easier to provide energy for machinery. The rotational period of Mars is also similar to that of Earths. Finally, traces of water have been found in the soil of Mars, meaning it could be possible to extract some of that to decrease the amount of water needed from other sources. However, the atmosphere of mars is quite different to that of Earth, although that should be able to be overcome, depending on the technology available.
Life Support Systems
Artificial atmospheres used in space exploration and colonisation must be reliable and able to provide enough breathable air for the crew. This includes reusing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and other particles from the air. Currently aboard the ISS, we are only able to reliably generate ~40 percent of required oxygen. If we were to colonise another planet, this figure would have to significantly increase to guarantee the safety of all astronauts. Currently, carbon dioxide and particle removal can be achieved, however, we are still looking for ways to improve this system.
Water is vital for the survival of humans, and as such, a reliable water management system is key for space exploration. Currently aboard the ISS, we can recycle and reuse ~74% of water. However, for a colonisation trip to mars, this number would have to dramatically increase. However, we have been investigating different ways to extract water from the atmosphere or soil of Mars. This would decrease stress on water recycling systems, however, we would still need to improve these systems for the journey to and from in the spacecraft.
Prototype designs for spacesuits to be worn by astronauts on Mars have been released by NASA, however, they are not currently ready.
Selection and Training
Astronauts are selected based on a few personality attributes:
They also must be above the age of 18 and must have mastered the basics of communication in the English language.
Crewmembers take part in a three-stage training program. They are first trained to identify and fix technical problems that could occur on a space mission. Some are also trained to identify and treat medical issues. They are then trained for the isolation from friends and family, and the cramped living conditions so that they are mentally prepared for the journey. Finally, they complete training with the rest of their group in simulators, designed to be as realistic as possible.
NASA has recently been studying psychology and group dynamics for the possibility of a Mars mission in the future. The studies have shown that between 4 and 7 months into the mission, groups generally begin to break apart. Clear roles within a group are extremely important in building a good team. Without them, people will not know what their role is, and will possibly cause the group to break down. Teams also must know each other well and be able to give and receive information from each other easily.
The estimated cost for the first manned trip to mars involving four astronauts is 8.4 billion AUD. We can assume that the cost to set up a colony on Mars would be much higher.
I believe that due to rapidly advancing technology, a manned mission to mars will be possible in the near future. However, I do not believe it is feasible to set up a colony on Mars, due to the huge cost. Also, the current life support systems currently at our disposal are not ready to be used on such a large scale.