Mars colonization can be challenging with real problems

As we all know Mars colonization is been a hot topic for space agencies & especially for Elon Musk, In this article lets us know possible problems that can arise during Mars colonization which can be challenging for humans with real problems.


Mars is full of mysteries; that’s why we humans keep sending satellites and rovers to explore it. The red planet contains water frozen as ice,  the largest known volcano in the solar system, and may have been home to microbial life in the past. But to truly explore our neighboring planet, we need to send humans there. And the reality is, that won’t happen for a, really, long time. 


How long you may be wondering? Let’s find out.


The first obstacle to overcome before colonizing Mars is to get there. Launching rich people into space has become pretty popular recently, and it seems that this type of thing will become more and more common. However, launching a few people into Earth’s orbit and bringing them back is a much easier task than sending a colonization mission to Mars.


As of right now, we do not have the technology to successfully send a human crew to Mars, let alone colonize the planet. On average, Earth and Mars are separated by around 140 million miles. Just to put that in perspective, Jeff Bezos went under 70 miles from Earth’s surface into orbit, the International Space Station is 245 miles above our heads, and the moon is approximately 238,855 miles from our planet. 


So, to send humans millions of miles to Mars is just not something we’re capable of yet. To be fair, the mission to Mars would be planned to coincide with Earth and Mars being as close as possible to one another in their orbits, which would only put them about  34 million miles apart. But that’s still a lot further, than any human has ever gone before. The other problem with aiming for this specific window is that only happens about once every 26 months. And if you’ve ever waited to watch a rocket launch, you know that there can often be delays due to unfavorable weather conditions on Earth. If the the launch window for the Mars mission is missed, then we’d have to wait another 26 months to try again.


So, how close are we to even reaching liftoff to Mars? 


The answer is not a good one. Neither NASA, Russia nor any of the private space companies have a rocket capable of launching humans to Mars. Many organizations are working on it, but this technology just doesn’t exist yet. We can launch robots to the red planet, but humans, unfortunately, require much more space, resources, and breathable air than robots do. And since the technology to get us there is still hypothetical, or being built, it’s going to take time. 


Once we have the required tech to launch from our planet to our neighbor,  how long will the actual flight take? 


The rover missions to Mars have taken between 128 days to 333 days. The main difference here is, that since the robotic missions to Mars is lighter than a human mission would be, they can travel faster using less fuel. Before we can even consider colonizing Mars, we need to be able to send a crew there and get them back. The best way to assess whether Mars is a viable option for colonization is to have actual boots on the ground. 


The best estimates for a round trip mission to Mars put the entire journey at around three years long from liftoff to landing to returning home.


It is one thing to do a flyby of Mars—which we don’t have the technology to do with humans onboard. It is another thing to land the crew on the planet and bring them home. There is currently no spacecraft that can hold a crew of astronauts for longer than two years without being resupplied. And it should come as no surprise that resupplying stations don’t currently exist in the space between Earth and Mars.


Really what it comes down to is we need to develop the rockets and technology to carry a crew through the vast distance of space between Earth and Mars before any form of colonization can begin. Astronauts and future colonists will need to endure a very long journey through space. One of the main problems here is the isolation the crew will face. Imagine spending years alone in a tight space with some of your co-workers. The thought is probably pretty terrifying, and rightfully so.


At some point, people will get on each other's nerves and conflicts will arise. NASA and other space agencies are already conducting experiments around long-term isolation of crews, but a solution to this problem is still a long way away since nothing can simulate the isolation of space or be on a different planet.


This brings us to another unique problem. Although you may be excited at the prospect of colonizing Mars, you probably won’t be a viable candidate. 


The astronauts being trained right now will not be the astronauts aboard the rocket that sends the first colonists to the red planet. This poses a problem as we don’t know what the talent pool will be like in the decades to come. 


We also need to figure out who will get along, and be able to work together in the confines of a capsule rocketing through space towards Mars.


The isolation and loneliness that will accompany the long mission to Mars needs to be better understood before we send our first astronauts on the mission. And the data collected from that first crew will then be vital to understanding how to get colonists to the red planet and keep them mentally stable.


Right now scientists are trying to figure out how to reduce the side effects of isolation such as the decline in mood and cognition increased irritability and heightened stress levels. All of these things will put further strain on the colonists,  and we don’t have a cure-all method to reduce these effects quite yet.


The next problem that needs to be solved in order to send a mission to Mars occurs both in space and on the red planet


Humans are fragile beings. The physical effects of prolonged radiation on the body is something we know will be a problem, but haven’t figured out a long-term solution for yet.  It is pointless to send a crew to Mars if they die from radiation poisoning before they get there. On our planet, we are protected from radiation by Earth’s magnetic field. This is a good thing because space is full of this dangerous type of energy. Radiation can cause mutations in DNA, which can lead to cancer; nausea resulting in loss of bodily fluids, and visual impairment. None of these things are good for astronauts trying to survive a mission to Mars. And in space, the radiation doses can be up to 700 times higher than they are here on Earth. 


Space agencies are currently working on different types of radiation shielding, and even now we have some preventative measures built into space suits,  but a larger-scale solution will need to be developed for a mission to colonize Mars. And like many things for this mission, the technology just hasn’t been invented yet. It is unreasonable to assume that an astronaut will be wearing a spacesuit for all three years of their mission to Mars, or for Mars colonists to spend their entire lives in spacesuits. Radiation shielding needs to be built into the ships and structures themselves before anyone can even think about venturing to Mars.


Radiation in Mars


Since Mars does not have a protective magnetic shield-like Earth, the radiation on the planet is almost as high as in space. The crew aboard the International Space Station have been conducting experiments around mixing a cement concoction in microgravity. This may be done using the soil on Mars to build structures that would protect the interplanetary explorers not just from the harsh weather of the planet, but the radiation as well.


That’s the good news, the bad news is that we don’t know how well the Martian concrete structures will work. We also have just recently learned that astronauts on the International Space, the station receives doses of radiation about ten times higher than people on Earth, even though the space station sits inside Earth’s magnetic field. More research needs to be done,  and better technology developed, to stop the radiation in space from harming the Mars colonists, otherwise, they will become too sick to carry out their mission.


Everything we’ve discussed so far needs to happen before colonization can begin on Mars. Without a mission to explore the planet and bring back more data, there is no way humans can set up a permanent colony. That being said, we are decades, or longer, away from sending astronauts to Mars on exploratory missions. This gives you an idea of how much longer it will take to colonize the planet.


More problems that can be serious while terraforming mars


But for argument's sake, let’s say humans have solved all of the problems of launching a high-powered rocket, flying through space, and landing on Mars. We are now ready to colonize the planet. But with this ambition comes even greater problems. Problems that we are nowhere close to solving.


Humans need around a gallon of water a day to remain healthy. Luckily for the colonists of Mars, the planet does have water. Unfortunately for the colonizers, the water is in the form of ice, and tends to be buried hundreds of feet below the surface. And even though Mars has a large ice cap at one of its poles, this will probably not be the most ideal spot to set up a colony.


Like much of the technology needed to colonize the red planet, the tools to extract and refine the frozen water on Mars do not yet exist. NASA conducts a yearly competition called the Mars Ice Challenge where engineers try and design innovative ways to access and extract the water on Mars. This may be beneficial in the future when colonization occurs, but right now, it is only the most preliminary of prototypes being designed. Large-scale water extraction for a human colony on Mars is a long way away.


And without drinkable water, there can be no colony. This is the first challenge that needs to be overcome before humans can begin planning a permanent settlement on the red planet. No matter what else the mission throws at the colonists,  nothing will matter unless there is fresh water to drink and use to irrigate crops. This brings us to food. The colonists will need to eat. Food actually poses slightly less of a  challenge than extracting water. This is because once the colonists build greenhouses they can grow plants using recycled human waste and artificial nutrients brought along with them. 


We already have the technology to create self contained greenhouses that require very little input from the outside world. Using hydroponics, the amount of nutrients and water needed for plants to grow is minimal due to the highly effective methods used to recycle these resources.


But the main challenge is building the structure 

to house the crops. 


Obviously, building on the red planet will come with some unique challenges, but there is good news. Since the gravity is much lower on Mars than on Earth, moving materials require less energy. On the downside,  everything needed to build permanent structures will either need to be brought with the colonists,  or constructed out of Martian rocks, which we still aren’t entirely sure how to utilize it.


Access to food and water for Martian colonists is currently being worked on, and there seems to be some promising technology in the future. But that’s the key: the future. As of right now,  most of the technology to sustain food and water production on Mars for colonists just doesn't exist. And until it does, there cannot be a colony on the planet. Along with the basic resources for sustenance, the Martian colonists will need to breathe.  


The air on the red planet is not ideal for humans. The atmosphere itself is too thin, and the composition of the molecules in the air is poisonous to our lungs. The air is mostly made up of carbon dioxide at around 95.3% of the total.


To put that into perspective, Earth’s atmosphere is less than 1% carbon dioxide. So, a human without a spacesuit would suffocate to death. The oxygen levels are around 0.13% on Mars, and the nitrogen levels which make up 78%  of Earth’s atmosphere only comprise 2.7% of Mars’ atmosphere.


Here are the problems with these numbers. 


The oxygen levels are too low for humans to breathe. This is especially true since the atmospheric pressure on Mars is  around 160 times lower than Earth’s, meaning the oxygen concentration on the red planet is approximately 25,000 times lower than on our planet. Also, the high amount of carbon dioxide will literally suffocate any human who tries to breathe it.


On the other hand, high amounts of CO2 are good for plants that use the molecule to conduct photosynthesis. However, the bad news is that the nitrogen levels are too low for plants to survive. Plants need nitrogen in order to grow, and the low amounts of it in the Martian atmosphere means that the colonists will need to bring their own nitrogen and fertilizers with them.


On top of the deadly air composition for the human colonists, the atmospheric pressure also poses a problem. 


On Earth, the average pressure pushing on your body is about 14.7 psi. The pressure on Mars is 0.095 psi. The problem with this is that the low atmospheric pressure could lead to air bubbles being trapped within the body, which could cause aneurysms, heart attacks, or the rupturing of tissues.


Other than staying in a pressurized spacesuit or habitat, there is no way to solve this problem quite yet. But the lack of atmospheric pressure also creates all kinds of logistical problems for the colonists of Mars as well. When landing on the red planet, the pilots will need to brake hard as there isn’t as much air resistance to shave off some of their entry speed as on Earth. This is why when we send rovers to Mars they tend to do a lot of bouncing around and impact the ground pretty hard during landing. For this reason, airbags and multiple parachutes are a necessity when landing on Mars. 


For colonist ships, they will need to employ reverse thrusters and several other maneuvers to reduce their speed when making a descent to the Martian surface. This means that several exploratory missions need to be launched before attempting to colonize Mars just to get the logistics right. It would be a real bummer to send a group of people to Mars just to have them crash land on the planet.


And since we are a long way from launching even an exploratory mission to Mars, the colonization of the planet will have to be put on hold until we know exactly what we’re dealing with.


There is some good news, however. One misconception about the red planet that has come from movies and sci-fi shows are that the windstorms on Mars will blow away structures and astronauts with deadly force


This is actually not the case. Since the atmosphere is about .63% as dense as the one on Earth, the winds and storms on the planet are actually less intense. On average, a Martian storm has winds of around 60 miles per hour, however, since the air is much less dense it feels more like a light breeze here on Earth. So, the wind knocking over equipment or structures is not something the colonists need to worry about too much.


That being said, there are factors of the windstorms that will cause significant problems for the colonists. The main source of power for the humans who will live on Mars will be solar until other infrastructure can be built. The storms may not have strong winds, but they do kick up a lot of dust and dirt. This means that constant cleaning and maintenance of solar panels will be necessary to ensure there is enough energy to power the colony.


The debris kicked up by the storms will also get into cracks, and jam up mechanical equipment. Therefore, inspection and maintenance will need to be conducted routinely. This is especially true because if something breaks, getting replacement part is not an option. There is nothing that the colonists can do about the storms on Mars other than be proactive and maintaining their equipment. Unfortunately, this will be something that colonists will have to live with. Every 5 and a half years Mars has a global windstorm that completely envelopes the planet in dust. This is on top of the regular windstorms that blow across the planet daily.


A different part of Mars’ climate poses an even greater threat to the colonists than storms. The temperature on the red planet is wildly different than here on Earth. Since the atmosphere is so thin, a lot of the heat from the sun escapes back into space, meaning that the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees Fahrenheit. 


This again poses a problem that does not yet have a solution: how do the colonists generate enough heat to keep from freezing?


The solar panels can be connected to heaters, and perhaps some form of natural gas can be used as a heat source, but as of right now, there are no plans for how to indefinitely maintain livable temperatures within a colony’s habitats.  


And to make things worse, the temperatures on Mars can dip as low as -285 degrees Fahrenheit,  which is enough to freeze a person’s skin and cause frostbite within seconds. 


You may be wondering if the weather is such a problem on Mars, why don’t we just change it by terraforming the planet? 


We’ve already changed our own planet by burning fossil fuels and overusing its natural resources. 


How hard could it be to change the climate of Mars?


As it turns out, terraforming Mars is likely impossible. In theory, terraforming is done by adjusting the atmospheric composition of a planet by adding more desirable grasses and extracting others. Unfortunately, recent studies suggest that there aren’t enough of the necessary elements on Mars to make it habitable for humans. It is theoretically possible we could bring some of the missing ingredients to terraform Mars with us, but that just doesn’t seem like a viable option. The amount of water and gas that would be needed to terraform an entire planet would be astronomical. 


If we can’t terraform Mars, is a Mars colony even possible?  


There may be other solutions, but who knows how long it’ll take to implement them? Perhaps it will be possible to pull asteroids into the orbit of Mars and use the materials within them to help terraform the planet, but the more complicated the mission to colonize Mars gets, the longer it’s going to take. The more we examine the problems with living on Mars,  the further away from the dream of building a colony there gets.

 

Also Read: Is Mars habitable? Images of Mars taken by Perseverance rover.


However, the biggest problem of all may be the unknown. There are countless scenarios we just can’t plan for, and as the missions to colonize Mars commence, the colonists will have to solve problems on the fly. These problems could be things like rogue meteors, solar flares, or even alien microbes that have yet to be discovered. There are some unknowns that we can already predict will arise, but just don’t know how to deal with them until they happen.


It is important to note that it can take somewhere between 5 to 20 minutes for a message to go from Earth to Mars. The same is true about a response. So, if the two planets are on opposite sides of their orbits, it may take as long as 40 minutes to send and receive a message. This is not great in an emergency. Colonists will need to make decisions on their own, and they won’t always have the expertise or resources of the people on Earth to help them solve their problems.


We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, humans are fragile, and things will go wrong with the bodies of the colonists. If something does happen, it is not necessarily guaranteed that the colonists will have the medication or equipment necessary to treat the problem. We know so little about the effects of prolonged spaceflight outside of the Earth’s magnetic field, and what the conditions on Mars will do to the human body that there can be no chance of a colony until we learn more.


That’s why exploratory missions will be so vital for a successful colony on Mars. And as we’ve seen since the last mission to the moon, space exploration has slowly come to a grinding halt. There is some hope, but it’s going to be a long time before even the first manned mission to Mars is launched.


Not only will the bodies of the colonists be put to the test, but any spacecraft or equipment sent to Mars will be put under enormous strain as well. The vessels will travel through different gravity fields during Earth liftoff, space flight, and landing on Mars. It is not clear how the equipment and vessels will react to the multiple changes in gravity. This is just another piece of the puzzle we need to figure out before colonizing Mars can become a reality.


As you can see, the problems with starting a colony on Mars seem never-ending. That is why it will be a very long time before it happens. And it is not just space and Mars that are filled with uncertainty, even here on Earth crazy things can happen.


Take the current pandemic, or whatever else the future may hold for the human species. Our issues on Earth tend to slow the progress of space exploration. To be fair, there are a lot of things right here at home we need to fix, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the expense of space exploration. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. There are some scientists who believe that the pandemic could push the timetable for NASA to go to Mars back by 20 or 30 years.


This mission would be to fly astronauts into orbit around the red planet, not to colonize it. So you can imagine how much longer it will take to reach that milestone. This is especially true because there are always going to be problems on Earth that need our resources and attention. But something to keep in mind is that only being a one-planet species is kind of like putting all of our eggs in one basket. We are currently at risk of having our entire species wiped out by a single catastrophic event. If we were to colonize Mars, or other planets, the species itself would have a better chance of survival.


But humans don’t tend to think this way, and this is especially true of politicians and people in power. Rarely, they are more concerned about things far in the future than what is happening at the moment. This is another huge problem with colonizing Mars, it just isn’t important to most people right now.


When the budget of the United States space program is discussed in the chambers of Congress, it is almost always on how to cut it further. It is rare that NASA and space exploration are offered more money. And with lack of resources, the time it will take to send astronauts to Mars, and then eventually colonize the planet, is going to take longer and longer. The answer from politicians right now is that if NASA wants to fund a mission to Mars, they need to find other programs to cut.


This could be why private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin may be the future of space exploration. There has been talk for a while about SpaceX launching a mission to Mars. Like NASA, and other space agencies, they don’t have all the technology to make this dream a reality quite yet. But, they do have the ability to spend money on the mission as they see fit, and this may be what allows private enterprises to go to Mars before any government programs do.


So, there are a lot of problems with colonizing Mars. For one thing, we need to send astronauts to explore and gather information about the planet before we can ever hope to colonize it. And since these types of missions are still decades away,  it is more likely than not that the red planet will not be colonized in our lifetime.


But what are the current estimates for missions to Mars? 


NASA is trying its best to make it to the red planet by the 2030s. However, this will not be a mission that lands on Mars, but will only orbit the planet and return home. This would provide valuable data, but would not address many of the problems mentioned earlier. A more realistic timeline for the first crewed mission to Mars is probably not going to happen until the 2040s, and again this will not put humans down on the planet. 


However, if private space companies do feel that the colonization of Mars is worth investing in, they could send a manned mission to set down on the surface within the next few decades. It is hard to get an estimated timeline for when it would be possible to colonize Mars.  


This is especially true since we don’t have the technology to even attempt a manned exploratory mission at this time. But one thing is for sure, there are a lot more problems remaining than have already been solved when it comes to colonizing Mars. So, if you are hoping to be one of the first people to live on the red planet, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

 

Also Read: Elon Musk - Mars Colonization.

 

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