The reality of a permanent colony on Mars is getting closer with every new press release from the Mars One project. Let’s explore Mars colonization prospects and dangers.
The Era of Mars Colonization Is about to Start
Space continues to beckon U.S. billionaire Dennis Tito. He was there in 2001 as the world’s first space tourist, having spent a fortune to buy a ticket to the International Space Station. Now, he is planning a further expedition – to Mars.
However, this time the billionaire will not fly to space himself: two volunteers – a man and a woman – are invited for this mission. For this purpose, Tito established a fund Inspiration Mars and called the project Mission for America.
The mission is scheduled to start in the period from 25 December 2017 to 5 January 2018, when the Earth and Mars will be at a minimum distance. This convergence – the so-called opposition – happens a once in 15 years.
According to the calculations, round-trip flights will take 501 days. Return to Earth is scheduled for May 2019. However, no one will land on Mars. The crew will only fly around it at a height of 160 kilometers.
Tito believes that this will be a good beginning of the era of manned missions to other planets. The billionaire hopes that the U.S. government will help him with money and NASA – with technology, specifically – with the rocket SLS (Space Launch System), capable of transporting heavy loads.
According to Tito’s plan, SLS will take a spacecraft, which will fly to Mars, and a lander, which will land on the Earth when astronauts return back, to the orbit of Earth.
Astronauts will get to the spacecraft on a commercial rocket. They will go into a habitable unit of about 20 cubic meters, will switch on a booster, and will start their trip to Mars.
Another American billionaire – Elon Musk, founder and CEO of aerospace company SpaceX, is also making plans for the ‘conquest’ of the red planet. He sent a ship of his own design and construction to the ISS, and the flight was successful.
After that, some loads were delivered on the Musk’s ships to the orbit at the request of NASA, which, in fact, opened a new era in space exploration – a private one.
Musk says he can build ships that will fly to Mars. They will deliver the first passengers in 2023 and… leave. That is, the return to Earth is not even scheduled.
The billionaire said that he will take 80,000 space immigrants to the Red Planet who will settle and will begin farming – plowing and sowing – under special domes. The analysis of the local soil, by the way, has shown that it can be fertile. It’s hard to believe, but there are already about 300,000 people who want to move to Mars!
At the same time, NASA has plans to go to the Red Planet in 2020. The agency has already selected four women and four men for the flight. Almost all of them are military.
The Dangers of Mars Colonization: 3 Ways to Die on Mars
With all this enthusiasm about starting a colony on Mars, it probably makes sense to remember that any person who will take part in Mars colonization will most likely die an untimely and painful death.
Here are some things that are most likely to cause it (all kinds of technical problems are excluded from consideration).
First of all, the Mars colonists will be subjected to radiation before having set foot on the threshold of their new home. Technically, the radiation level during the trip from Earth to Mars does not exceed the capacity of the human body, but one should remember that the Sun is a huge unpredictable radioactive destructive mass.
Just one solar flare during the trip to Mars will send a stream of high-energy particles that will damage any shielding that can be created today.
In fact, it will ‘roast’ any creature that is not protected by the planetary magnetic fields. In 2022, just a couple of years before the planned start of the expedition, the Sun will be at the peak of its 11-year cycle.
Then, on the surface of Mars, the colonists would have to find a way to deal with a reduced gravitational field of the planet. Since Mars has only a third of the earth’s gravity, this factor can be fatal in the long term perspective. All aspects of our biological structure – from heart rate to the strength of our bones – are related to gravity.
As soon as this force is removed, we begin to lose bone marrow, and our heart and vestibular system start to malfunction. It is the reason why the astronauts do not stay on the ISS for longer than necessary.
The effects of the so-called “space sickness” on Mars will be reduced compared to the microgravity of outer space, but in the long run, they will likely lead to terminal health illnesses.
3. Lack of resources
And finally, there is a problem of self-sustaining life on the Red Planet. Since the supply missions to Mars will cost billions of dollars, they will be probably delayed if the colonists suddenly run out of something important, like the air, water, or food.
Of course, each colony on Mars is planned as a self-sustaining system. However, just one serious crop failure will lead to the lack of oxygen, which will be produced by plants, and will raise the question of survival of the colonists.
Will There Be a Way Back Home for Mars Colonists?
But it’s not that grim after all – there eventually could be a way back home for Mars colonists.
Despite all the dangers described above, 200,000 people have decided to participate in the Mars One project aimed to establish the first colony on Mars. The future Mars colonists definitely took into account the fact that it would be a one-way trip.
They know that they can die even before reaching the planet, and even if they get there, it’s most likely that they will die too. And these assumptions are very difficult to refute, especially when you consider that everything that ever went to the Red Planet never returned back to Earth.
However, according to NASA, it is too early for such conclusions. Since 2011, the Aerospace Agency has considered SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft as a potential candidate for the possibility of its use in various Mars missions. One of those will be delivering a new Martian rover to the Red Planet in 2020.
But according to NASA, it is not the only problem that can be solved with the help of this spacecraft.
NASA analysts believe that a modified version of Dragon spacecraft is safe to be sent to Mars. One of the features of this spacecraft is the possibility to transport a small rocket. This rocket can be used as a transport vehicle for sending various samples back to Earth for scientific purposes.
Note that this is just an idea and NASA has no plans to consider it until 2022 or at least unless the rover, which is planned to be sent on Mars in 2020, finds something that would be worth sending back to Earth for study.
As for the Mars One colonists, it is unlikely that a spacecraft with the ability to return people to Earth will be created at that point.
However, if scientists manage to create a spacecraft that could carry to our home planet at least a pebble from Mars, the creation of a vehicle that could bring Mars colonists back to Earth would be only a matter of time.
So not every aspect of Mars colonization is gloomy. After all, starting a colony on the Red Planet will be a milestone for humanity.
Featured image: NASA Ames Research Center
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