Colonizing And Terraforming Mars: Will It Ever Be Possible?
Humans have been known to screw up things. Okay that statement appeared hard but it is the truth. We are doing that to the earth already - talk about pollution, release of CFCs that contribute to global warming, so many man-made disruptions that are affecting the earth negatively. Not satisfied with that, humans are now planning to take their troubles to another planet. But just so you know, unlike the eath, other planets may not be too nice and will fight back. In the bid to screw em up, you might get screwed yourself. Okay enough of the sarcasm! We'll try to consider the factors to consider before humans can colonize or terraform another stellar body. By "terraforming", I mean: Altering a planet to make it suitable for habitation.
If I was to take a random sampling of the closet possible planet to host human life apart from the Earth, the top respond will be "Mars". Obviously, Mars would be the most suitable to bet on and you will find out the reasons as you read on. Humans have been adventurous and curious, and this can explain why the first ever space trip happened. In April 1961, history was made as Soviet Union (USSR) successfully sent Yuri Gagarin to space. As if that was not enough, few years later, U.S landed the manned Apollo 11 on the near side of moon, ever since then, dozens of others have visited space, and even space stations have been built. The question now is; how about landing manned space shuttle on another planet like Mars and how about forming a colony there? Well, let's take a look at the possibility (or impossibility) of having a Martian colony.
Many government corporations (like NASA, ESA) as well as private space corporations (like Elon Musk's SpaceX) have become so much interested in extraterrestrial colonization more than ever before. In a statement made by Elon Musk a few days ago about his prototype reusable spaceship called Starship MKI, he said that Martian colonization is next on his agenda.. What a witty statement.
As Elon Musk is busy doing his own homework, NASA is also busy with the big one "Mission-To-Mars" which, according to this report by NASA, should be effected in 2030 (few years behind Elon Musk). However, there are untold facts about Mars that one should be aware of, so that the "Mission-To-Mars" will not turn to "Suicide Mission". At least, the knowledge of the problem is the first and crucial step towards proffering solution to it.
FEASIBILITY OF MARTIAN COLONY
For each day we live here on earth, we face countless ways to die, and as it stands, earth is the only home humans have at the moment. Let's take a look at this: How long will the earth sustain and ensure our survival? This is not to talk about the possibility of natural phenomena (like Cataclysm or stellar body collision) that can end the future of the Earth - I guess this is part of the reasons other alternatives have been sought.
However, the journey of a million miles starts with having an indepth knowledge of your proposed destination. Here, Mars is the destination, so let's consider a few facts about Mars first. Mars is roughly 53% smaller than the earth, with a diameter of 6790KM [ref] and with a much lower gravitational pull. Talking about the land mass, there are similarity between Mars and Earth. However, the problem here is; Martian atmosphere is not just too thin but is almost majorly made up of CO2 - Well, that's where the problem begins, cos I mean, how da heck are you supposed to breathe in CO2?
Someone might also ask "how is the Martian temperature like?" First of all, let me remind you that Mars is the 4th planet from sun and this also means that you will not expect as much heat that is experienced on earth to be experienced in Mars. In plain terms; Martian temperature can get as low as -87oF (with that kind of low temperature, your words might even freeze as you speak... okay I'm kidding, but it's better than the kind of hell-like heat being experienced in Nigeria and maybe Brazil - @abigail-dantes will understand). Talking about length of day on Mars, it is almost similar to what we have here on earth (with just a difference of about 40 minutes in a day).
Now that we have had a considerable knowledge of our destination, we'll now talk about moving people from earth to Mars.
IMMIGRATION PASS TO MARS
For those that have tried to compare space trips with any other journey on earth, I'll like to burst your bubbles. The distance from Earth to the near side of Mars is over 54 million Kilometers [ref]. Assuming you are travelling with one of the fastest space shuttles that has ever been launched by NASA - which is the Juno (having a speed of 165,000miles/hr), it will still take you an excess of 6-8 months to breach the Martian atmosphere. Just to let you know: A particular statistics was released by NASA which states that, out of the many rockets (unmanned obviously) that have been sent to Mars, just a small percentage of less than 33% successfully got to Mars. Okay let's assume y'all are ninjas and can survive such journey, then we'll move over to the next problem.
For survival and sustenance of the human species in any place (earth and Mars inclusive), a few primary needs must be met - like water, food, shelter and of course, the air to breathe. I know someone is already considering the option of shipping all these from earth to Mars, just like we ship products with DHL from China to Nigeria. Okay hold on! According to this background fact by NASA, shipment from earth to space costs about $10,000 for just one pound of material. Okay how many pounds of food stuff and other materials do you want to ship and what will the price look like? Remember, the above figure is just the shipment to space, not even to Mars. It may also interest you to know that it took about $25billion to land Apollo 11 crew members on moon [ref], that figure should run into 100s of billions of dollars in this current time. Just a fun fact: That amount is more than some countries' annual budget (Nigeria inclusive). The only possible solution to this high cost of shipment is to source for what you need in Mars from Mars and not from earth. How possible is this? Before we continue, I saw a very interesting space exploration Sci-Fi movie (The Martian) a few months back and I thought y'all may want to watch it too (not for @lemouth though, cos he doesn't watch movies:)).
ENSURING SURVIVAL AND TERRAFORMING MARS
Having passed the hurdle of travelling to Mars, now you have successfully landed on Mars, it's time to figure out how to survive. Let's start with sourcing for water. People have often referred to Mars as "the Red Planet" and have portrayed it as a vast expanse of desert. However, from the information and footage gathered from some unmanned rovers that have been sent to Mars, it has been discovered that water actually exists in Mars but majorly as ice and some of these ice-bed lie beneath the Martian lithosphere, while small amount exist as vapour.
This means that, instead of shipping water from earth and incurring heavy expenses, water can be extracted from Martian atmosphere. Initially, this was thought to be an equally expensive feat to achieve until NASA created a water-vapour-adsorbing device known as WAVAR. Below is a prototype of WAVAR.
The work of this device is to adsorb the vapour from the Martian atmosphere, which is then converted to liquid water and can be used for drinking and other purposes. Solved!! Over to the next and very crucial question.
Breathing in Mars. Again, it will be unnecessarily expensive to ship oxygen cylinders to Mars and remember what I told you about the abundance of unbreathable CO2 in Martian atmosphere. Well, we can leverage on that. For those that did a little bit of chemistry, you must have been taught that there is a mass percentage of about 72% oxygen in CO2. Well, a feasible solution to this has been created by NASA. A device known as MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) has been created by NASA to effectively draw in CO2 from the atmosphere of Mars and produce breathable oxygen without needing to ship oxygen from earth. Below is the prototype of NASA's MOXIE.
We're a few steps closer in our quest to terraform the red planet. One more thing is very crucial: Ain't we gonna eat food there? This will obviously pose a serious challenge. Meanwhile, did you watch the Movie (The Martian) I dropped earlier? When Mark Watney (Matt Damon) was abandoned in Mars, he had to come up with an idea to use a special hydroculture device to grow potatoes on Mars. Well, there is a major flaw in using that same method to terraform Mars: It can only hold a small amount of crop. Also, you can't plant crops on the ground of Mars because crops will need surface water (at least) to thrive, which is lacking in Mars. While we are figuring out ways to plant crops in Mars, your mom will still need to ship food from earth to you. Cos you don't wanna survive Mission-To-Mars and then die of starvation.
We've seen the possible solutions to the major problems you'll encounter while trying to form a Martian colony, so what other problem remains to be treated?
"Ermm.., how are we going to have sex on Mars? Well, you'll figure that out when you get to Mars.
Humans, as curious beings, have been involved in exploration beyond the earth. This started as space trips, moon landing, and now the next point of call is going to (and possibly establishing a colony in) Mars. But before you undertake such a journey, you have to weigh the potential risks, the problems to encounter and the possible solutions. We've taken a look at what to expect on your quest to terraform Mars. I hope that one day, this feat will be achieved and humans will have a secondary home... See y'all in Mars.
> References for further reading
- Complete NASA's proposition for the Mars trip
- Statistics on NASA's Mission-to-Mars
- Elon Musk and SpaceX intention of Multiplanetary colonization
- NASA - breakdown of journey to Mars
- Martian roadmap by Mars-One
- Interplanetary colonization
- Elon Musk's SpaceX Starship proposition
gif by @foundation