Colonization of Mars

Mars

Mars is one of the most interesting objects when contemplating on whether we should conquer the space. Its located close to the Earth and it has many other interesting properties, that make it a good candidate for the next Earth. Colonizing Mars might be possible even in near future.

Properties

Physical properties

Mars is quite smaller than the Earth. The mass of Mars is only about 11 percent of the mass of the Earth, and its radius is about 3 380 kilometres, which is about the half of the radius of the Earth. Gravity on the surface of Mars is about 38 % of that experienced on the Earth, which is probably enough to keep the settlers healthy.

Mars can be structurally divided in to three parts, like the Earth. Mars has a core, that consists mostly of iron, nickel and sulfur. The mantle covering the core consists mostly of silicates. Mars has a crust that is thicker than the one on Earth. Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field that would protect it from solar winds.

Orbit and rotation

Mars is the fourth innermost planet in the Solar System. Its located next to Earth, before the asteroid belt and gas giants. A year on Mars is considerably longer than a year on Earth, as it lasts for 687 days.

Mars rotates around its own axle quite similarly than the Earth. One day on Mars lasts for 24 hours and 40 minutes, which means that for humans and other Earth-life it should be quite easy to get used to it. Mars has an axial tilt of around 25 degrees, which is also quite similar to Earth. Because of the axial tilt, Mars has distinct seasons.

Moons

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. The larger of the moons, Phobos, has a diameter of 22 kilometres, and the smaller, Deimos, has a diameter of just 13 kilometres. Moons aren’t really important when trying to colonize the planet, but Phobos can be seen from the surface, giving the colonizers and interesting object to look at.

Geology

The exact composition of the Martian soil isn’t known yet, but we have very reliable estimations. The soil consists mostly of silicon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, aluminium, lime and potassium. These substances form most of the soil on Mars, and also the rocks on it. The red tone of the planet is caused by oxidized iron that can be found from the soil.

When comparing to Earth, the soil of Mars has a lot more iron, potassium on phosphorus. It would probably be possible to use Martian soil to grow plants, especially with fertilizing the ground, but larger modifications to the ground composure might be needed.

Mars also has small amounts of water ice on the ground. Most of the water ice reserves are located in the poles, but its also available elsewhere. Water ice will be important when colonizing Mars. Running water has also been located in Mars, but in very small quantities. The temperatues are usually too low and atmospheric pressure too small for liquid water to exist.

Atmosphere

Mars has a very thin atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure on the surface is about only 0.65 percent of that experienced on the Earth. Because of this, humans wont be able to roam on the surface of the planet without pressurized suits. Because of the large amount of dust in the atmosphere, the view is quite foggy.

About 96 percent of the atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide. There is also 2 percent of nitrogen and 2 percent of argon. In addition, there are trace amounts of oxygen, carbon monoxide, water and methane, with other gases.

Climate

Mars has a climate which resembles the climate on Earth in many aspects. Because of the axial tilt, Mars has distinct seasons, just like the Earth does. Seasons cause variances in temperatures, except in the equatorial region.

The average temperatures on Mars are lower than those on the Earth. According to one estimate, the average temperature on Mars would be -55 °C. The temperatures can drop as low as -150 °C. The temperatures can rise to a comfortable 20 °C on equator at the daytime. When thinking of locations for the base, equator would be ideal because of the higher temperatures.

Colonization

Transport

Mars is located quite close to Earth, so traveling there doesn’t consume a lot of energy. Its only possible to travel to Venus with smaller fuel consumption. With current spacecraft, the trip would last from eight to nine months, on average, if traveling with minimal fuel consumption. By using more energy, the trip can be done in six months.

When the spacecraft technology progresses, the trip can be done much faster. It has been estimated, that nuclear powered spacecraft could travel to Mars in just two weeks. At this point, though, we still have to use traditional rocket engines.

Exiting Mars is a lot easier than exiting the Earth. Because Mars has a smaller gravity than the Earth, leaving the planet doesn’t consume as much energy. This makes it possible that the resources mined from Mars could be exported back to Earth. The smaller gravity makes building a space elevator easier, and it could be already done with current materials we have in use.

Habitats

One thing that should be carefully considered is that how should we build the habitats for the settlers. The habitats could be large modules that people could live in and grow food, for example. The base could be also dug underground, and according to some sources, there are already caves in Mars that could be used to house settlers in.

There are multiple possible locations for bases. The polar regions have most water, but large differences in temperature might pose a problem. Also, there are long periods of time in the winter when the sun doesn’t shine at all. Therefore, lately the interest for other areas has increased.

The composition of the soil varies by the region. We need to examine the composition of soil near possible locations to find the best one. In some areas it might be possible to use geothermal energy, so this is also something to consider about.

A Mars base could survive quite autonomously, after it has been set up. In the beginning, it would require a lot of resources from the Earth. The largest problem might be the supply of water, which might be scarce on Mars. Transporting water from the Earth is very expensive, so the water should be recycled efficiently.

When living in Mars for a longer time, the smaller gravity might pose a problem. Having a no gravity at all will cause harmful effects on humans, but we don’t have enough knowledge if gravity of Mars is strong enough to prevent health problems. It is very likely, though, that the gravity is strong enough to prevent any harmful effects.

One option would be to build large domes on Mars, instead of modules. These high domes filled with air would have their own atmosphere and climate, and plants could be grown comfortably. Meteorites might pose a problem, as they could destroy the dome when striking it. If we’re colonizing Mars permanently, these domes are probably a step before terraforming the whole planet.

Energy

Solar energy could be utilized on Mars almost as well as on Earth. Mars is located farther from the Sun, but its atmosphere doesn’t stop as much light as on Earth. Therefore, solar energy is a potential way to secure the energy needs of a Mars habitat.

Another option that has been suggested is nuclear power. The starting costs will be higher, but a compact nuclear reactor could be within the realm of possibilities. The fuel could be imported from the Earth, if Mars doesn’t have fuel in readily useable form. Nuclear power could also be used efficiently when heating up the habitats.

Communications

Depending on the location of Mars and the Earth, it takes from three minutes to over twenty minutes for the messages to be delivered. At times, the planets are located on different sides of the Sun, and communications will be cut for about two weeks. A communications satellite could help with this problem.

Because of the long delay, using real-time communications, such as video calls and internet would be impossible. Sending video messages and email would be the most efficient ways of communication. If a Mars colony would grow large enough, parts of the internet could be mirrored to servers on Mars, so some websites could be used.

Resources

Mars has most likely many resources, that can be used when building the base. In later stages, valuable resources could be exported back to Earth. In the beginning, efficient resource collection and refining will be problematic, as well as transporting them back.

Iron and nickel area readily available on the surface, on form of meteorites that have fallen on the planet. There are probably many other valuable minerals also, but what they exactly are, is not yet known.

Terraforming

Besides colonization, Mars is one of the most potential planets for terraforming. Terraforming wouldn’t be easy, and with current technology it would be slow and cumbersome process. Because controlling climate is hard, tries to terraform Mars with our current knowledge might even make its climate worse.

Mars has two problems that make it hard to terraform. On the other hand, its atmosphere is very thin, so we would need to enforce it greatly. Also, as Mars has no magnetic field, radiation would be harmful to humans, and solar winds would blow the renewed atmosphere away.

It has been estimated that the easiest way to terraform Mars would be to create an artificial greenhouse effect. Mars has plenty of frozen carbon dioxide, especially on its poles. Warming up the poles would release some of the carbon dioxide, which would warm up the planet, and release more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Warming could be done with mirrors, or bringing strong greenhouse planets to the planet.

The best option for a strong greenhouse gas would be nitrogen trifluoride, that could be brought from some other object on our Solar System. Nitrogen would also work as a buffer gas, which is compulsory, as breathing pure oxygen for long periods of time is harmful to humans. Warming would also melt the frozen ice on the poles, and it has been estimated, that if all of that would melt, the planet would be covered with oceans, averaging ten meters deep.

With current technology, we can only speculate how magnetic field could be created. One option is to build huge network of strong magnets on its orbit, which would protect the planet. The best option would be to start its natural magnetic field creation process in the core, but we currently do not have the knowledge to do this.

Not having a magnetic field wouldn’t pose a huge problem, at least when thinking in small time scales. Venus does have a strong atmosphere despite not having a magnetic field, and the effect of solar winds blowing away the atmosphere could be seen only after thousands or millions of years. Earth has also experienced disturbances in the magnetic field, but it has survived them. This would mean, however, that the people on Mars would have to wear protective suits, and they could not roam on the planet freely.

Overall, terraforming Mars could be possible with current technology already. Terraforming is a process that takes time, and mistakes could happen. Therefore, we will probably have to wait for long before Mars will be terraformed.

Summary

By many experts, Mars is the best option for first extraterrestrial human base. Mars has all elements needed for life, including water, and it is also located close by. The temperatures in the equatorial region are suitable for humans, and the length of the day is almost equal to day on Earth.

Cons of the Mars include its lack of thick atmosphere and magnetosphere. These are, however, small problems, that are not enough to hamper the efforts to colonize Mars. This would still mean, that people would need to wear protective suits when staying on Mars.

Even though colonizing Mars could be possible, bases there would still be dependent on Earth for long. With time, the Mars colonies could become self sufficient, and terraforming would mean that Mars could be the second Earth, albeit a bit smaller.