Colonizing Mars

By notamarsbar at 2018-04-01 • 0 collector • 16 pageviews

Colonizing Mars
Getting to Mars is the first step. A rocket will normally take about 7 months, traveling on an elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars. That is the most economic way. However, it is not the best. A lot of fuel is needed to get the mission into the right orbit. What of most of the craft needed for the space travel was already in the right orbit? You’d launch in a smaller rocket, dock with the craft, live in it, and undock at the end. It saves a massive amount of fuel. This was devised by Buzz Aldrin, Apollo-11 astronaut, who proposed a Mars Cycles: a space craft on a perpetual orbit connecting Earth and Mars. All you need to do is hop on board. It can even travel a bit faster than the 7 months.
Landing on Mars is hard. There is enough atmosphere to be bothersome, but not enough to land like the space shuttle did, with wings and parachutes. Landing on airbags has been tried, and sometimes worked, but is not recommended with fragile humans on board.  Here, Space-X has the advantage. They have perfected ways to land using rockets, ideal especially if you would also like to take off again!
Energy will be an important commodity on Mars. Fossil fuels are not expected, for obvious reasons. Nuclear energy would be best but we do not yet know whether there is enough uranium near the surface. Solar panels will be important. There is less solar energy on Mars, but that can be compensated by using larger acreage of panels.  And solar panels are made of sand, which is plentiful, so can be manufactured on Mars. Back-up supply will be needed, not just for the long nights, but also for the frequent dust storms which will reduce sun light for weeks or longer. And the heat can never be turned off!
The habitat is of course essential. It has to protect its inhabitants against the cold, the unbreathable atmosphere, and the radiation. Major parts of the habitat will be below ground. Everything is doubly protected. Space will be in short supply and  Martian colonists will need to get along living in very close proximity. Design of the habitat will be essential to people’s well being.
Air needs to be harvested. The Martian atmosphere is mainly CO2, useful for plants but not for us. Oxygen can be obtained by hydrolysis of water. Water was once through to be scarce, but is now known to be plentiful, frozen below ground. It will be mined.
Food is an issue. Growing food is attractive but will be difficult. We do not know yet whether Martian dust (soil is the wrong word) can be used to grow plants, or the rest of the complex ecology plants depend on. Recycling of everything is essential!
For transport, the lack of roads is an issue. The current  rovers have shown that aluminium tracks get damaged by the sharp rocks. In the Martian chronicles, Henrik proposed airships. These can be made to work in the thin air but need to be huge. They need to be anchored to the ground because of the winds, which limits the travel speeds, but they seem a very good option to getting around.
For manufacturing, as much as possible needs to be found on Mars. We need to find the mineral deposits, the rare earths, the lithium, the helium. Volcanic regions are the most likely to have these.  Much time will be be prospecting the planet.
And finally, the journey home. The rocket that landed will also be the one that returns, but the fuel will need to be manufactured on Mars. That is possible: the air contains everything that is needed, but mining the air for fuel will be a slow process.
The first journey to Mars will bring everything that the people on board need, including for the return journey. Much of the developments needed for actual  living on Mars will be done over the years.  Frequent supply trips from Earth will continue to be needed for a long time.
But once we can live on Mars for a long time, that is when the exploration will begin. A planet lies waiting, with its history, its geography, geology, perhaps, just perhaps, its biology, its volcanoes, it ancient dry rivers. There is so much to learn.

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