16/04/2018

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Living on Mars: fact or fiction?

But are human beings really ready to live on Mars? Because when we talk about “living”, we are talking about colonising Mars…

To be able to survive, human beings need two fundamental elements; namely, water and oxygen. Promising underwater accumulations of the former have been detected on Mars, though in solid form. Detailed preliminary regional geology and soil studies will have to be conducted to extract said water, assess its amount and the possibility of extracting it. This will take some time and a lot of effort and dedication. This, however, is something NASA is ready to do. It has also shown its willingness to “create” the latter of the two elements, oxygen, given the fact that it does not exist on Mars.

“As far as the technology needed is concerned, we are closer to Mars today than we were to the Moon when President Kennedy set that target in 1961”

Oxygen can be created by the famous NASA machine, called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In Situ Experiment), from the carbon dioxide to be found in the planet’s atmosphere. With a power output of 300 watts and a production rate of 10 grams per hour, MOXIE takes CO2 from the Martian atmosphere, compresses it and subjects it to an electrochemical process to produce oxygen through electrolysis. But we should not forget that this is merely an experiment. The machine would have to be resized to produce more oxygen, so it can be useful for a community of people.

Once we have oxygen and water, we would need another essential factor to be able to live on the red planet; namely, food. It makes no sense to transport food from our planet to Mars. It is much more logical to harvest it there on the surface or in lava tubes by using greenhouses which allow the temperature, humidity, light and other parameters needed for plants to grow to be controlled.

For the moment, it seems that tomatoes, rye and carrots could be planted. These are plants which have already been tested on soils having a similar composition. Though there is phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen and iron on Mars, scientists would, however, have to advance much further in a more efficient way to collect and use water. We already have a lot of experience in the area of smart greenhouses on Earth.

Other aspects that will have to be taken into account in an eventual colonisation of Mars include energy generation (which seems feasible through the use of solar panels), preparation against the terrible air storms that sweep the red planet or protection against solar radiation and low temperatures.

Imagine for a moment that we achieved all of the above; that we had water, oxygen and food to survive. According to the analyses conducted by experts, the base camp could not be on the surface, but rather in the lava tubes whose existence has been verified by the images captured on the surface of Mars, where the colonists would be shielded against solar radiation, temperature changes and the aggressive storms. These experts suggest that communal areas would have to be built there, such as crew dormitories, laboratories and greenhouses.

To end, I would like to mention a reflection made by Michael Griffin, a former NASA director. “As far as the technology needed is concerned, we are closer to Mars today than we were to the Moon when President Kennedy set that target in 1961”. There is no doubt that this is a comment which makes all of us who believe we will some day be able to live on Mars on a permanent basis dream.

 

 

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