Monday, February 14, 2011

The Colonization of Mars

The quick answer is yes and no. Yes because we can technically send people there now and set up shop on Mars. No because we can't ever have a livable atmosphere on Mars without spending huge amounts of resources. But hey, nothing the taxpayers on Mars wouldn't mind paying, right?

Let's think about this. Would we even want to live on Mars? What could be there that wouldn't be here? I don't know, but there are some reasons that I can think of. But before we get into that, let me talk about the possibilities of getting there in the first place.

If you ask NASA and the powers that be, they will all say that Mars expedition could be an option in 20-30 years. They claim the technology isn't quite there yet, the funding would be enormous, and the need isn't there yet. But why do we need to worry about these factors?

During the 60's we were in the midst of the space race and one day President Kennedy declared we would put a man on the moon. Not too long after that (relatively speaking since we haven't been to the moon since) NASA safely sent 3 men to the moon, and they repeated the expedition several times. There was no need to get to the moon and there certainly wasn't adequate technological standards to achieve the feat, yet somehow we got there.

I'd like to argue that traveling to Mars wouldn't be that much different. The biggest difference would be the length of the trip. Depending on when we took the trip, Mars could be 36 million miles from Earth (whereas the moon is about 239,000 miles). We would have to account for food and accommodations for the astronauts during the trip.

With that aside, the aspect of arriving on Mars and leaving from there may not be all that different from landing on and departing from the moon. Of course there would be some atmospheric effects that come with arriving (whereas the moon has no atmosphere) a lot of other variables would be similar. For instance, both the moon and Mars have about the same mass, meaning the escape velocity of both is pretty similar.

We don't need a giant fancy spaceship with room for luxury, we would just need something that is suitable for a 6 month trip (that is figuring traveling at 1/3 the escape velocity of Earth at 11 km/s) with enough food and water to last at least twice as long (with some for being on Mars).

I think we could do it too! After all, we built huge rockets that could propel a few men to the moon. We could build a similar system with enough fuel to escape Earth, enter orbit around Mars (with a module to land on Mars and return from Mars), and return from Mars. It wouldn't even have to land back here, it could simply crash into the oceans like the old Apollo rockets.

But would we even want to go there?

We could never terraform Mars. Mars has a low atmosphere because it has low gravity. Heavier gasses may be able to be maintained in the atmosphere, but oxygen and nitrogen (key to our air supply) would just fly out into space. We would spend infinite amount of money just pumping the planet full of oxygen. We could setup permanent habitats though. We would need to pressure seal buildings and maintain a suitable atmosphere indoors.

After all the effort just to set up shop there, is there anything useful? I suspect not for everyone. There certainly isn't enough water to cultivate population growth, unless there are thousands of underground wells. On the other side though, Mars is made up of a lot of the same materials as Earth. It did spawn from the same swirling dust cloud as the Earth. While there may not be water, there could be gold, silver, uranium, plutonium, iron, copper, and all the other useful members of the periodic table. So while it may not be suitable for easy living, perhaps it would be perfect for big business.

Instead of waiting for 2040 to come around we could make the push to go now. In the past 60 years transportation efficiency has greatly increased which could make the trip a little more affordable. After initial efforts to travel to Mars, perhaps the first settlers would arrive much like the efforts to settle North America. Maybe even a little after that, we could have the next gold rush.

If I'm alive I'll be moving to Mars in the gold rush of 2089.

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