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If we go to Mars

A presentation on the issues (and of the solutions to those issues) involved with living on Mars.

Stefan Martin

on 4 November 2013

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Transcript of If we go to Mars

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
If we go to MARS...
Why go to Mars?
Going to Mars is the next logical step for humankind. With the rate at which we are using resources on Earth, and the rate at which our population is growing, the Earth may not be able to support us for much longer. Creating colonies on Mars would allow us to expand and stop putting such a strain on Earth. But there are a few key problems. For one, Mars has little atmosphere, and so no protection from radiation and no oxygen. Secondly, the minimal gravity of Mars would cause negative health effects if left unattended. Additionally, any human population would potentially have problems with genetic diversity, as a limited amount of people could be put on Mars, which would eventually cause inbreeding. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that Mars lacks nutrient-rich soil and has no liquid water. This means that food production will be a major issue, and humans are unable to survive without food and water.
Gravitational conundrums
The gravity on Mars is only approximately 1/3 of that on Earth. For this reason, humans will likely experience Mars quite differently than Earth. But with the ability to jump really high comes a whole host of problems attributed with minimal gravity. These include bone density issues, muscle atrophication, as well as ocular issues with the fluid in your eyes. Initially, colonists would also encounter nausea, vertigo, headaches and lethargy. While some problems will not be as severe as those of people living in pure weightlessness, they will still be of considerable concern. To combat these problems, we would institute a regular exercise program similar to those currently aboard the ISS. It is necessary to stress the muscles and bones of individuals in order to keep them in shape. Another possible solution would be to have regular treatments involving artificial acceleration in centrifuges. This would let the inhabitants experience artificial gravity in order to let them recuperate from these problems.
Radiation troubles
Since mars has no magnetosphere and only a very limited atmosphere, the radiation exposure levels are considerably higher than those on earth, and even multiple times higher than those on the ISS. Increased electromagnetic and cosmic radiation in the form of gamma, and x-rays. These forms of ionizing radiation are mutagens and can cause cancer, radiation sickness as well as other harmful mutations. For this reason colonists would need to be protected. We suggest that this issue could be solved by placing living quarters under the surface. This would be actually quite convenient as many extinct lava tubes have been found on and under the surface of Mars, which could be used to house and shelter the colony. Another more expensive solution would be to line the walls of the habitat modules with heavy metals such as lead and neutron reflectors.
Genetic diversity
Because there would only be a very limited amount of colonists, there would be little genetic diversity to ensure the continued success of the colony. Inbreeding would become inevitable , and genetic problems would result. These people would not be able to reliably reproduce for fear of causing severe genetic problems. As such, it is critical that we resolve this issue if we want this colony to be permanent and self sustaining. One solution would be to simply bring more people initially, but this is incredibly expensive and not necessarily effective. Therefore, we suggest another approach; if we were to cryogenically store a multitude gametes from genetically diverse individuals, we could then use them to boost the diversity in the population. More recent advance would eventually let us take the DNA sequence of individuals and later 3D print them to be put into the population, but this is currently not possible.
Atmospheric inadequacy
Mars' atmosphere is incredibly inadequate for humans. The pressure is approximately 600 pascals or 0.6% of earth's mean atmospheric pressure. The atmosphere is furthermore composed primarily of carbon dioxide and argon with only trace amounts of oxygen. Not only would you not be able to breathe the martian air, there is so little of it that most of the water in your body would boil away instantly,...even thought the average surface temperature is -62 degrees Celsius. Not exactly habitable... To solve this problem it is necessary to live in pressurized environments with their own supply of oxygen. This oxygen would be supplied through the electrolysis of water as well as produces by plants through photosynthesis. In this way, much of the oxygen production would be renewable. Colonists would also need a good heating system, powered by solar energy. Space suits for excursions would also be a necessity.
Food production issues
Producing food on Mars is the final big issue we'd have to face. Mars has no usable soil, as it is mainly composed of oxidized metals and contains no organic matter or nutrients that plants could use. Additionally, the water content of martian soil is below 2%, which is too low for the majority of plants to survive. Without the ability to grow food and maintain livestock, any colony would have to rely on shipments of food from earth to survive, which would be very difficult. To remedy this problem, we suggest that the colony could use hydroponics to grow food products. Many different fruits, vegetables, and legumes could be grown to provide all the necessary nutrients for life. What's more, this vegan diet would have benefits, since less energy would be lost because of energy transfers. One problem would be the complete lack of nitrogen on Mars. However, if enough nitrogen could be transported to Mars to begin the nitrogen cycle, along with nitrogen fixing bacteria, then the nitrogen could be completely recycled.
Water is a necessity
If there is one thing we humans cannot live without, it is water. While it is abundantly available on Earth (though not necessarily salt-free), that is not the case on Mars. Due to the low atmospheric pressure there is not a drop of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Any water that there is is locked away under a sheet of dry ice in the icy polar caps or dissipated across the underground terrain. Yet our colonists would need large quantities of it to drink, grow food, and even for turning into oxygen for breathing. As such, we need a way of getting water from Mars, as any supplies brought with the colonists would quickly run out. A possible method would be to extract the water in the martian soil (around 2% of the mass of martian soil is water, compared to around 3% for sand on earth). This would require vast quantities of soil to be collected, but since we already plan to excavate an underground colony to escape radiation this would be feasible. The soil would then be centrifuged at high temperature to release water vapor for collection. This would require large amounts of solar energy. Another possibility would be to extract water ice from Mars' polar ice caps, yet this would require a mission to these areas and a transport system back to the colony. Also, the water ice is shrouded by 8m of dry ice which sublimates each summer into the atmosphere provoking 400km/h winds and CO2 geysers. This would only be viable for a very large long-term colony. On top of water collection, a very sophisticated water conservation and recycling program would also have to be put into place. Purifying every liter of waste water with UV treatment, microfilters/reverse osmosis, and bioreactors would help keep the requirements to a minimum.
Thank you to NASA, the Goddard space flight center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for providing information about the wonderful planet Mars with these missions:
Viking I and II (which supplied the background to the presentation), Opportunity, Spirit, and most recently Curiosity rovers, as well as a number of other orbiters from other organizations.
Medical area
Our model of the Mars colony:
meal area
Base control center
Cryogenetic storage and replication
Artificial gravity centrifuge
Personal room
Locker room and housing hallway
Base overview
Outside base entrance and cultivation domes
Medical bay
Communications center
Service and systems building
Water recycling
Solar farm
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