We look at the challenges Martian colonies would face and the exciting possibility of making Mars a home.
Mars is the easiest planet for us to visit, explore and colonise. It is the nearest planet to us and has a thin atmosphere composed of 95.3 per cent carbon dioxide. A Martian day is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than an Earth day and temperatures average about -65 degrees Celsius (-85 degrees Fahrenheit).
Besides the cold, the Martian surface receives twice the radiation levels experienced at the International Space Station (ISS). You’ll feel lighter on Mars as its gravity is 0.38 of Earth’s, which is likely to cause muscle wasting and brittle bones.
By any Earth standards, it is not a very hospitable place, however, it does have huge deposits of frozen water beneath its surface and there is the possibility of finding large quantities of raw materials such as iron ore, cobalt, copper, gold and tungsten. These natural resources could be processed by colonists to help build their bases and export back to Earth.
Bases could be built in caves to protect the colonists from the effects of radiation and the harsh Martian conditions. Another option is to build geodesic domes made from panels attached to a metal structure, which could be linked together. Any base will have to be pressurised, heated, supplied with oxygen and have radiation shielding.
The colony could obtain its power from solar panels, though a nuclear power plant would better serve the colony in the long-term. The colonists would have to learn how to grow bacteria and crops to produce food, and learn how to process the raw material available on Mars to manufacture new structures and technology needed to improve the life and expansion of the colony.
In the long-term, Mars could be terraformed to become an Earth-like planet. This would involve releasing the carbon dioxide locked under the polar caps by heating it with orbital mirrors. The creation of this ‘greenhouse gas’ would liberate water to fall as rain and raise the atmospheric pressure. Eventually, microbes and plants would grow and further transform the environment until it could sustain larger forms of life including humans.