What Would it Take to Go to Mars?

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Mars

Humans have wanted to walk among the stars for centuries at this point.

In ye olden days, Christians believed that stars were beams of light, shining through from heaven. In Dante’s lesser-known book, Dante’s Paradiso, Dante travels across the solar system and crosses into Heaven. In Islamic tradition, Muhammad the prophet ascended from Jerusalem into the stars and heaven.

Although our view of the stars and heaven have changed a lot since those days, that desire to explore what lies beyond our small, small world hasn’t changed in the slightest. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly likely that humans will be living off-world relatively soon. Maybe even within our lifetimes.

The most likely location, of course, is Mars. The red planet. However, Mars is (obviously) not Earth, and in order to even consider living there, we’ll have some very, very difficult engineering and technological problems to overcome. Not things you want to gamble on in an online casino type deal.

Here are four of the most important dangers of living on Mars!

The Journey

Mars is very far away. Despite being our neighbor in the solar system, Mars is 54.6 million kilometers away, and that’s at a minimum!

Remember, both the Earth and Mars are moving at thousands of kilometers per hour around our Sun, and with current technology, it’ll take around seven months for a rocket to reach Mars. So imagine being stuck inside of a rocket (which is basically a tube sitting on top of a controlled explosion), for months, as time goes on it starts to take longer and longer for anyone to be able to respond to your messages.

If you think your internet is slow now, how do you think the Martian colonists will feel when it’s going to take twenty-six minutes to send and receive messages?

The Radiation

The trouble, of course, doesn’t stop when you actually reach the surface of Mars. As it turns out, Mars is not suited to life as we know it.

Simply standing on the surface of mars can be lethal. And I’m not just talking about 95% Carbon Dioxide atmosphere, or even the incredibly low atmospheric pressure (contrary to popular belief, this won’t cause you to explode. You’ll simply bloat as all your liquids turn to gas, like a gross, fleshy, balloon. Phew- I was worried).

No, I’m talking about the Radiation.

You see, our Sun is constantly chugging out radiation- high-velocity subatomic particles which can pass through your cells and damage your DNA as they do so. You see, the Earth is protected from this because of it’s liquid, metalcore. Because of the motion of this core, it generates an electromagnetic field which knocks away most of the radiation. Any that does get through is absorbed by our atmosphere, and never reaches us down on the surface.

Mars doesn’t have either of these protections, as its core is solid metal and its atmosphere is too thin to absorb the radiation. There are solutions- water, for instance, is very good at stopping radiation, and some have even suggested living underneath the surface of Mars in order to get the protection of the solid surface.

The Food

Of course, surviving the radiation doesn’t matter so much if the colonists starve to death.

Growing food on Mars’ surface has been proven possible in lab conditions. However, that food won’t be edible. You see, Martian soil is full of perchlorates– which is classified as a hazardous waste material here on Earth. Plants absorb nutrients from the soil they grow in… which isn’t great for us if that soil contains toxic materials like perchlorates.

It’s possible to treat the soil and remove these toxins, but that can be energy-intensive, especially for a small colony.

There are microbes we could introduce that would eat these toxins out of the soil for us, but that creates the risk of contaminating Mars with Earth life… and who knows what the consequences of that could be.

Bringing soil from Earth is just unfeasible- space travel is still incredibly expensive, and even an extra kilo could cost additional tens of thousands of dollars.

The Energy

How would the colonists power their life-support systems? You know, the machines that would be needed to create oxygen, treat the soil, and get rid of the poop?

You might think that Solar Panels would be the way to go- but you’d be wrong. Every few years, Mars has dust storms the size of continents, and while these wouldn’t be particularly dangerous by themselves, they do block an enormous amount of sunlight, which would be really bad for a colony powered with Solar panels.

Nuclear power would be perfect, but that would require us to set up a nuclear power plant on Mars. It’s not exactly a plug-and-play type system.

And these are just some of the many, many problems scientists are working to overcome as we get closer and closer to really sending people to live on Mars.