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Mars Colonization: New and Improved


Michele Dutcher

Mars Colonization: New and Improved!

One of the basics of science fiction is the colonization of Mars, so my small pack of friends and I have been philosophizing about how that would be possible. In the words of Antonio Salieri: "It’s like killing a man with your bare hands: easy to say, but how do you do that, exactly?"

There are two schools of thought: 1) send people up in pods to eventually form domed communities or 2) terraform the entire surface.  The domed-city school of thought has gotten a lot of play recently by the Mars One project and now the Elon Musk challenge – 80,000 people on Mars by 2050.

“Offering cheap, reliable delivery services to NASA and commercial clients such as broadcasters is for Musk a means to perfect the technology that can get humans to Mars. He believes it could happen within decades – giving him a chance to live his last days there. ‘It'd be pretty cool to die on Mars, just not on impact,’ Mr. Musk jokes. Turning serious, he adds: ‘It's a non-zero possibility. I wouldn't say I'm counting on it but it could happen.’” (Rory Carroll The Guardian July 17, 2013). If you recall, Elon Musk is the person who started PayPal and has now proposed the Hyerloop transportation system that would send passengers through tubes at over 700 miles per hour - leading one comedian to insist it will be 'powered by passenger's screams'.

Mars One has been accepting applications to train for Mars colonization for two years now.  Their plan is to send up a pod carrying 6 people on a one-way trip. Then they plan to send up another pod every two years – until you have enough pods to make up a base.  Your spaceship would become your new home – forever.  So after ten years you would have 30 people living in 5 pods on Mars – maybe less if the residents didn’t get along so well.

The thing about pod living on Mars is that you can’t just hop in the dune buggy and go to a grocery store.  There is zero room for error if the food supply gets damaged or plants refuse to grow in the greenhouse cubicle because solar radiation seeped in to the seeds during the flight there.  At that point you’re just dead – some quicker than others (think Donner Party). But everyone dead within twelve months, unless the next party shows up early…at which time you would have starving people on Mars waiting to devour whatever is onboard.

Which brings us to option 2: terraforming the surface of Mars. The big question is: why did the surface of Mars become uninhabitable to begin with? Over the past decade it has become apparent that at one time Mars had oceans of water. Was it the solidification of the Mars’ core that led to the loss of its magnetic field, and thereby the loss of its atmosphere?  Are there oceans of frozen water just below the surface of Mars or were they ripped from the surface by the solar winds?

The core here on Earth is molten and in constant motion. The inner core rotates in a different direction than the outer core and the interaction of the two creates our magnetic field, which protects the surface from solar radiation. The Martian core is solid and does not move. It is thought to be about 2,960 km in diameter. The planet lacks a magnetic field because of this and is constantly bombarded by radiation that killed any potential life forms millenia ago.” (Universe Today 14702)

There are pockets of magnetism on the surface of Mars, domes that might be capable of being fending off the solar winds long enough to throw some H2O and some tomato seeds on the ground and see what happens. Perhaps a good starting point would be a space elevator here on Earth capable of throwing bags of water pulled up from the Amazon towards Mars and one of these pockets. You’d also need to harness asteroids and crash them into the surface of Mars to stir up enough dust to protect the surface while terraforming is going on. After some plants were established, they would begin producing Carbon Dioxide – great for building an atmosphere.

Colonization during Elon Musk's lifetime? - maybe, if he lives to be 200, which is also a non-zero possibility.  As long as humans keep striving towards a goal, I suppose that anything is possible.  Writers, dreamers, and readers - turning science fiction into science fact for over three hundred years.





2013-11-13 11:56:40
micheledutcher - Thanks Pippin91 for your comments. After seeing Gravity over the weekend, it becomes obvious again how fragile life lived off the surface of Earth really is. At one point Sandra Bulloch says, "I hate Space." As far as Mars, some Speculate that Phobos is coming apart at the scene and rains debris on the surface continuously. With it circling Mars 3 times a day - I don't even know why it's still up there.

2013-11-07 19:47:59
Pippin91 - I doubt humans could live for long on Mars because the lack of a magnetic field is really a very, very big problem. You'd need to protect everything that lives including crops. The thin atmosphere probably provides relatively poor protection against meteors also, and Mars is a lot closer to the asteroid belt than Earth is. I really don't see a Mars colony happening for a very long time.

2013-11-04 08:44:20
Of course there are stories that there IS a moonbase up there, with one woman and one man always occupying it. The discovery of water on the moon recently might pull us back to it's surface. Michele Dutcher

2013-11-04 04:55:08
Ironspider - I doubt any of the barriers to a permanent colony on Mars are insurmountable, but I seriously doubt it would be a comfortable existence. Several stories have posited commercially useful, and obtainable, elements buried beneath the Martian surface. I suspect that private enterprise will be the motivating force behind the exploitation of Mars, after all, NASA stopped visiting the Moon as it held no further scientific potential worth the capital outlay. I did believe, for a while, that the development of the shuttle might see a return to the Moon and, possibly, the setting up of a base, whether permanently manned or just as a temporary shelter for visiting astronauts.

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