What dangers must we overcome before we can live on Mars? | Aeon Essays (2023)

Can humans live on Mars? The answer is amazingly simple. Can humans live in Antarctica, where temperatures regularly drop below -50°C (-60°F) and it's dark six months of the year? Can humans live under the ocean where pressure increases rapidly to crushing levels as depth increases? Can humans live in space where there is no air at all?

As the limits of our ingenuity, materials science, and chemistry have grown, we have gone from being able to tolerate only a narrow band of conditions to expanding our presence to almost every part of the world and now beyond. Even the most hostile environment we have ever encountered - the vacuum of space - had a continuoushuman populationfor more than two decades.

So why not Mars? If we can live in Antarctica, if we can live in space, then surely it's just a question of logistics. If we can get enough material onto the surface of the red planet, we might be able to survive - and even thrive - there.

But that "if" takes a lot of work. When we went to the moon, the astronauts had to carry everything they needed for their visit to their tiny, fragile lands. TheApollo missionsspent only between one and three days on the surface - and it only took three days to get to the moon itself. If a Mars-boundAstronautwill spend months in space just to get to the landing pad, spending only a few days on the planet will not satisfy. Every mission, even the first one, is bound to beplannedbe for months, and that increases thecomplexityof logistics enormously.

Mars is a particularly difficult planetto land on it. It's too far from Earth to remotely control a descent — on average, a radio signal is enough12 minutesto cover the distance – so everything has to be pre-programmed. A single error in the computer or in its inputs will result in a new and expensive crater, of which there have been many. And once the order to land has been given, there's nothing anyone in mission control can do to intervene - the time elapsing between that order and asafe landing, is known as the "seven minutes of terror".

The weak Martian atmosphere also makes landing difficult. It's thick enough that any spacecraft emerging from orbit needs a heat shield to keep it from burning up, but even the latest generation of giant supersonic parachutes struggle to provide any significant support in the thin air on the way down . What remains of the orbital velocity must be accounted for, or our landers will shatter on the frozen surface of Mars.

A giant silver rocket with everything the astronauts need for their months-long stay just isn't practical

Various methods have been used, but the most consistently successful has been the "Sky Crane," a disposable frame fitted with retro rockets that burn until it hovers a few feet above the surface. It then gently winds the lander down, disconnects its connecting cables, and then flies a safe distance away from its enginesruns out.

What dangers must we overcome before we can live on Mars? | Aeon Essays (1)

As expected, these calculations are very finely judged. Every pound of lander—the batteries, the solar panels, the science experiments—requires several kilograms of fuel in the sky crane. And every kilogram of fuel in the Sky Crane requires several kilograms of fuel on the rocket that will take it into Mars orbit. We'd send bigger, better landers to Mars if we could -- but rocketry is at its very limits when it comes to putting a rover the size of a small car on the ground. This has huge implications for conducting a successful manned mission to Mars.

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Whilewe could dreama huge silver rocket slowly descending to the dusty red surface and containing everything the astronauts would need for their months-long stay, we find it just not practical. This rocket, and the even larger spacecraft required to get it there, will exceed our projected launch capabilities for decades, if not centuries. Planning a successful Mars mission - for a permanent presence on Mars - requires of uswork smarter, and take every advantage we can. This includes those that we can find on Mars itself.

What dangers must we overcome before we can live on Mars? | Aeon Essays (2)

Mars is a planet full of useful resources and specific dangers. On the plus side, if we choose our landing spot wisely, we don't have to take water with us. Water is heavy and there is nothing we can do to make it lighter. It takes up space and there is nothing we can do to make it smaller. And even with the best recycling facilities, the astronauts still need a certain amount of replacement water. However, there are many places on Mars where water is just in the form of icePartof the floor. Stick a shovel in the ground and half of what's picked up is popsicles. And we can use this water for all sorts of things, not just drinking. We can use it for chemistry.

We can break it down into its component parts using electrolysis. We can breathe the oxygen - this saves us having to fill up with air. And if we recombine it with the hydrogen, we have an explosive mixture that we could use as rudimentary rocket fuel. If we go one step further, we can remove the carbon from Mars' carbon dioxide atmosphere and synthesize hydrocarbons for better combustion.

This carbon dioxide is also vital for plant growth. Add water and a growing medium and suddenly supplementing our freeze-dried food packs becomes not just a possibility, it's an objective. Humans consume a lot of calories, but we also eat with our eyes. A side salad isn't just nutrition, it's a mood booster.

Then there's the stuff from Mars itself. That's what we can use as construction material: makebrickfrom it, or simply pile it up and over our existing structures. And we really have to, because life on the surface of Mars isn't easy.

The red dust has become a nanoparticle and poses a great danger to both us and our machines

Temperature is the most immediate. Mars is an average of80 millionKilometer(50 millionmiles) farther from the Sun, and its atmosphere is too thin to absorb the extremes of diurnal variations. Daytime temperatures in mid-summer can reach a balmy 21 °C (70 °F), but on the same day, just before sunrise, -90 °C (-130 °F) are recorded. Temperatures can drop enough to freeze carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The added insulation of several feet of Martian soil will be a welcome bonus.

Additionally, it helps with a long-term threat: radiation. The sun constantly spews out charged particles and high-energy light in the form of gamma and gamma raysX-rays.On Earth, and to a lesser extent on the Moon, we are protected by the Earth's large magnetic field, which extends into space and deflects the solar wind around us. Mars does not have such a magnetic field, and while surface conditions are not acutely life-threatening, they are every day astronauts spend on the Martian surfaceaccumulateRadiation damage 10 to 20 times faster than on Earth — not counting the occasional solar flare that squeezes a decade's exposure into a single event.

Burying the astronaut base underground is a relatively simple solution to this radiation problem. The same goes for building in a cave - volcanic areas of Mars are the sites of lava tubes that now form huge tunnels, with access through partially collapsing roofs.

The soil itself is toxic, rich in perchlorates. While these are a potential source of oxygen, perchlorates are water soluble: contaminated soil cannot be used as a growing medium.

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Then there's the dust. Formed by hundreds of millions of years of continuous grinding of volcanic ash, the red dust has become so fine that even the weak Martian winds can carry it and keep it aloft for weeks. The dust has become a nanoparticle - with an average size of 3 μm (one 10,000th of an inch) - and poses a great danger to both us and our machines. Dust from living quarters could hardly be ruled out: Astronauts would bring it in from outdoor excursions, and even with zealous measures – washing, vacuuming, anti-static windows and air filters – it would become part of the air we breathe and the food they ate. In addition to the perchlorates already mentioned, there are other carcinogenic compounds and the damage fine-grain rock dust can cause specifically to the lungs and eyes.

We already havelosta rover in the dust coating its solar panels. The more complex the machines we use, the safer we need our seals and finishes to be. Maintenance as well as spare parts to support this regime would have to be strictly adhered to.

So How can we do that? We have parameters set by the number of crews we send, how long they plan to stay initially, and what they intend to do once they get there. We need to plan to house, water and feed them, and then bring them home - and if we intend to do anything other than a one-time visit, we need to keep the long game in mind: what kind of infrastructure can we build, that will be useful in the future?

Breaking the problem down into manageable chunks is by far the most viable approach. What we learn from such incremental efforts—and what we have already learned—can help us work our way through the various elements we need to conduct a successful and sustainable Mars mission.

We must prioritize a safe landing without burdening the descent with the weight of food, fuel, air and water

The first stage would be increasing our capabilities in low Earth orbit. A multi-month trip to Mars requires the largest spacecraft we've ever built, and almost certainly something that can't be lifted in a single launch. It must be built in space using similar methods to the International Space Station. Fuel, along with everything needed to sustain life for the long journey, has to be shipped off Earth - twice as it comes back. The descent vehicle will be a separate part of the ship, while the main part will remain in Mars orbit.

The second stage would be to send supplies to the designated landing area. If we can, we should send robotic self-erecting modules. This would ensure there is a safe place for the newly arrived astronauts and allow us to prioritize a safe landing without adding the extra weight of food, fuel, air and water to the descent phase. And that way, we wouldn't have to commit astronauts to the long and arduous journey to Mars until we know there's enough equipment to support them. If a rocket is lost - more than one is statistically likely to be lost - we simply send another one.

One of the pieces of equipment we would send ahead would be an ascent module, an empty ship that can not only land on Mars but also refuel itself from the Martian atmosphere, ready for return to the transfer ship in orbit.

TTo be clear, none of this is risk-free. As you know, an alternativeNetworkwas extradited to US President Richard Nixon in advance in 1969Apollo 11Landing covering the failure scenario. Although our careful preparation has made success more likely, there are still situations from which it would be all but impossible to recover. The main cause of this is how long it would take for us to react to the unforeseen.

(Video) The Mission to Mars

Supply chains are one of the most underestimated andmisunderstoodFactors that make up a modern economy. We are very used to being able to order anything from anywhere and have it available within days if not hours. Manufacturers maintain just-in-time inventory with their suppliers, and retailers promise near-immediate delivery. Behind these storefronts lies a fantastically complex web of communications, transportation, inventory control and staff. We only notice it when it fails.

Almost everywhere on earth is networked. Vital medicines, microchips, engine parts and even living organs for donation are moved seamlessly between countries and continents. But there are places where that's not true, and they give us our first glimpse of what challenges a Martian colonist might face.

Antarctica, despite our technology,remainsone of the most isolated and inhospitable places on earth. Almost everything that is needed - apart from air and water - has to be shipped or flown in, over long distances and not without risk. Heavy seas, thick ice, a storm, an extreme cold snap: you all see food and fuel stuck on a dock or on an airstrip. Antarctic bases do not operate a just-in-time supply chain because when that supply chain is inevitably disrupted, people can die. Planning for these disruptions means you need to carry and store far more than is typically required. Those of us who aren't preppers will balk at the amount of food it takes to feed a single person for a few months: the winter population of the Amundsen-Scott base just at the South Pole,is 50

Of course, food can always be rationed. The heating can be reduced to one or two heavily insulated modules. There are backup generators and a doctor on site, as well as a modern satellite-linked communications suite. The scientists are supported by a full team of electricians, plumbers and technicians who work around the clock to maintain the base's infrastructure, identify problems before they become critical and use their expertise to offer workarounds.

The risk of death - from hunger, cold, suffocation, accident, disease, infirmity - must be accepted

None of these have prevented problems from occurring. In particular, when the base doctor falls ill and needs an operation, as happened twice, the doctor operates himself. In both cases, a medical evacuation was not possible due to the bad weather conditions and the distances involved. Some permanent bases still insist that staff have their appendix removed prior to arrival.

Now imagine this would happen on Mars. A fully operational base, in the most favorable position, with multiple redundant infrastructure maintained by shifts of highly motivated and trained engineers, is still in a far more precarious position than any Antarctic base today. A coup de grace to airdrop urgent medical supplies in Antarctica from New Zealand's South Island is difficult but possible: the travel time, once everything is in place, is just a few hours. Meanwhile, if the launch window is friendly, Earth to Mars will take nine months. New generations of space drives will inevitably reduce that, but nothing can be done to eliminate the vast distances between the two planets. at best,56 millionKilometer(C35 millionMiles). In the worst case, when Earth is on one side of the Sun and Mars on the other,400 millionKilometer(C250 millionMiles).

Without a doubt it would be the longest supply chain in history, culminating in the harshest environment we have ever encountered. Even in the sailing age, the journey from England to Australia was faster.

As a doctor on the first Mars mission, you don't have to decide which medicines and bandages and surgical equipment you take, but which you don't. What can you do without? Space and weight are limited. If you are the engineer, how will you choose between this critical spare part and that critical spare part? Of course, you could ask the mission planners to send one - or two - of everything. But how doable is that given everything that has happened before? At some point, enough is too much. The risk of death - from hunger, cold, suffocation, accident, illness, disease - must be accepted.

As with all pioneers, the heaviest burden falls on those who go first. You will be the most uncomfortable, the most precarious, the most vulnerable. Those who follow after, if not easy, certainly have it easier. The infrastructure of the original base is to be expanded as long as the earth believes in the project. What is certain is that Mars will be completely dependent on Earth for decades to come. But how would a Mars colony grow toward independence? Can we see that far ahead?

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Manufacturing is a key technology here: not only the usual but vital supply of spare parts, but also the vital chemicals. Specially tailored medicines, dietary supplements and plant nutrients give the colonists a degree of security;3D printerWith a vast library of models, one can begin to deal with the physical, while the biological components can be conjured up through automated synthesis machines.

Another cornerstone of a more self-contained Mars would be thatSettlersthemselves - and in particular their education. Necessity is often the mother of invention, but Mars would be a very strict disciplinarian. A Martian colonist would have to devote a significant amount of time to learning. The level of technology required to maintain a functioning colony would be high and staff numbers limited by the food and air available. Since each expert is in two or three different areas of knowledge, a tragic accident need not turn into a crisisfor all.

The highly precarious nature of life on Mars will inevitably give rise to new onessocial moresAndCodesOf the behavior. Far from being rugged individualists, Martians rely on each other in a highly interdependent manner throughout their lives - and they will reflect this in both their relationships and their laws.

How different colonists will become from the mother planet remains to be seen. But an independent Mars would not be a copy of any Earth society. It would be terrifying and deeply alien.

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars (2022) von Simon Morden istpublishedby Pegasus Books.

Astronomycosmologyspace exploration

December 6, 2022

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What problems do we need to overcome to allow us to live on Mars? ›

Future Mars exploration missions will present scientists and astronauts alike with a host of problem that will challenge human survival. Accessing water, dealing with a frigid planet that lacks oxygen and coping with dangerous levels of radiation are among the biggest hurdles to overcome.

What are the dangers of living on Mars? ›

Difficulties and hazards include radiation exposure during a trip to Mars and on its surface, toxic soil, low gravity, the isolation that accompanies Mars' distance from Earth, a lack of water, and cold temperatures.

What would need to happen for humans to live on Mars? ›

Homes on Mars would need to withstand radiation levels, temperature fluctuations, lack of oxygen, and other conditions on Mars. And new environments call for alternative structures. A few possibilities are that humans could live in ice igloos or below the ground surface.

What will be 5 challenges that we will need to overcome to get to Mars? ›

Every challenge astronauts will face on a flight to Mars
  • The flight trajectory for Mars and corrective maneuvers.
  • Spacecraft and fuel management.
  • Radiation, microgravity, and astronaut health.
  • Isolation and psychological issues.
  • Communications (in transit and on Mars)
  • The Mars approach and orbital insertion.
Feb 5, 2021

How can we overcome the effects of Mars? ›

Donating scarlet clothes, gold, copper, masoor lentils, Batasha (an Indian sweet) is considered one of the effective remedies for planet Mars. You should eat sweets with brothers to improve the harmful condition of Mars. Chanting the mantra “Om Bho Bhomay Namah” can help reduce the harmful effects of Mars.

What is the biggest problem with living on Mars? ›

The main problem is the weak atmosphere on Mars: it has 0.6% of the Earth's pressure at sea level, which is equivalent to the Earth's pressure at an altitude of 35 kilometres (22 miles). This means that water cannot be found in a liquid state on Mars.

Why is it difficult for humans to live on Mars? ›

We are protected from most of this radiation thanks to our planet's atmosphere and magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere. But Mars has no magnetosphere, and its atmosphere is over 100 times thinner than Earth's atmosphere. The trip to Mars and the stay on Mars will mean extended radiation exposure.

Why would living on Mars be difficult for humans? ›

Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth and doesn't have a global magnetic shield, so humans on the planet's surface would be at risk of exposure to solar and cosmic radiation.

What kind of life can survive on Mars? ›

One of Earth's toughest microbes could survive on Mars, lying dormant beneath the surface, for 280 million years, new research has shown. The findings increase the probability that microbial life could still exist on the Red Planet.

What would you need to go to Mars? ›

You'll need to bring breathable air, running on super reliable systems, and enough spare parts to carry you through a multiyear mission, because there's nothing that you can forget. Once you leave for Mars, there's no turning around and no resupply vehicles to send afterward.

Can Mars support human life? ›

The atmosphere of Mars is mostly carbon dioxide, the surface of the planet is too cold to sustain human life, and the planet's gravity is a mere 38% of Earth's.

How can we improve Mars environment? ›

Proponents of terraforming Mars propose releasing gases from a variety of sources on the Red Planet to thicken the atmosphere and increase the temperature to the point where liquid water is stable on the surface. These gases are called “greenhouse gases” for their ability to trap heat and warm the climate.

What is one of the biggest challenges faced by a mission to Mars? ›

Besides millions of kilometers long travel distance, scientists say one of the biggest challenges for Mars mission is the seven minutes of terror. That is, the Mars probe needs to reduce speed from 20,000 kilometers per hour to zero in seven minutes during the re-entry, descent and landing process.

What are 3 reasons it is difficult to land on Mars? ›

Three things make Mars landings difficult—the planet's gravity, Mars' atmosphere and our distance from the red planet. FIRST PHOTOS FROM THE CHINESE MARS ROVER ZHURONG IS OUT! Mars is less massive than Earth, but its atmosphere is also perilously thin.

How can I survive Mars well? ›

Surviving Mars: Tips For Keeping A Colony Alive
  1. Play Tutorial and Avoid Easy Start. ...
  2. Explore The Area Before Setting Up Shop. ...
  3. Look Out For Hazards. ...
  4. Important Buildings Should Be Separated. ...
  5. Keep Buildings Fully Staffed. ...
  6. Avoid Connecting Far Away Bases Together. ...
  7. Gear Gameplay Style to Sponsor and Commander Profile.
Jun 21, 2021

Why we shouldn't go to Mars summary? ›

Colonizing Mars is a terrible idea there is no natural source of water, if Mars One sends them they cannot come back once they arrive there, and someone could get sick and die before they get there. The people that go to mars are risking their lives they can die of many things, including lack of oxygen and sickness.

What do humans need to survive on another planet? ›

You need water, shelter, a power source, food and, unlike on Earth, you need oxygen. In terms of shelter, a basic structure could be made out of martian regolith, which can be used to create bricks. But any home on another planet would need added protection against harmful space radiation.

Why should humans go to Mars? ›

The scientific reasons for going to Mars can be summarised by the search for life, understanding the surface and the planet's evolution, and preparing for future human exploration. Understanding whether life existed elsewhere in the Universe beyond Earth is a fundamental question of humankind.

How can we protect humans from radiation on Mars? ›

Lightweight magnetic shields could be the best way to protect an astronaut from deadly radiation as they travel to Mars or beyond.

Can we change the environment of Mars? ›

Even if we somehow managed to introduce enough carbon dioxide and oxygen in the Martian atmosphere—and sustained liquid water on the surface––the resulting Earth-like conditions would probably be short-lived. NASA's MAVEN mission has revealed that Mars is losing its atmosphere even today.

Is Mars toxic to humans? ›

Martian soil is toxic, due to relatively high concentrations of perchlorate compounds containing chlorine. Elemental chlorine was first discovered during localised investigations by Mars rover Sojourner, and has been confirmed by Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

Why would your blood boil on Mars? ›

For example, like Earth, Mars has seasons, meaning seasonal changes in its atmosphere and weather. But the Martian atmosphere is much thinner than Earth's, meaning atmospheric pressure is so low that the blood of any unprotected visitor would boil.

Why is Mars air toxic? ›

Mars has no ozone layer in its atmosphere as Earth does. This means ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and astronomical sources reaches the surface unhindered. This radiation is harmful for any exposed organic compounds.

Can humans breathe the air on Mars? ›

Mars does have an atmosphere, but it is about 100 times thinner than Earth's atmosphere and it has very little oxygen. The atmosphere on Mars is made up of mainly carbon dioxide. An astronaut on Mars would not be able to breathe the Martian air and would need a spacesuit with oxygen to work outdoors.

Can Mars support life? ›

Despite its smaller size, the planet's land area is also roughly equivalent to the surface area of Earth's continents—meaning that, at least in theory, Mars has the same amount of habitable real estate. Unfortunately, the planet is now wrapped in a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere and cannot support earthly life-forms.

Can humans survive radiation on Mars? ›

Without a protective magnetic shield and a thick atmosphere like Earth's, radiation from space has a nearly unimpeded path to the Martian surface. Our machines can roam around on the surface and face all that radiation with impunity. But not humans. For humans, all that radiation is a deadly hazard.

Can your skin survive on Mars? ›

"Within minutes the skin and organs would rupture, outgas, and produce a quick, painful death." If not killed by the low-pressure atmosphere, there are many other environmental factors that make Mars inhospitable to humans without protection.

Does Mars smell like blood? ›

Based on the make-up of the planet and atmosphere, researchers have concluded that Mars smells like rotten eggs.

How long would a human survive on Mars? ›

It's relatively cool with an average annual temperature of -60 degrees Celsius, but Mars lacks an Earth-like atmospheric pressure. Upon stepping on Mars' surface, you could probably survive for around two minutes before your organs ruptured.

Can we create oxygen on Mars? ›

The MIT-led Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, has been successfully making oxygen from the Red Planet's carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere since April 2021, about two months after it touched down on the Martian surface as part of NASA's Perseverance rover and Mars 2020 mission.

Why is Mars the safest planet to live on? ›

Mars has liquid water, a habitable temperature and a bit of an atmosphere that can help protect humans from cosmic and solar radiation.

Does Mars have toxic air? ›

There is a small amount of toxic carbon monoxide (0.07 percent), as well as traces of ozone up to 0.2 ppm.

Will your blood boil in space? ›

First, the good news: Your blood won't boil. On Earth, liquids boil at a lower temperature when there's less atmospheric pressure; outer space is a vacuum, with no pressure at all; hence the blood boiling idea.

Could we plant trees on Mars? ›

If you mean trees out in the open on Mars : they would freeze. they need oxygen during the night, and at much higher pressure than on Mars. they might die from ultraviolet in sunlight, or from cosmic radiation.


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