MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: What are the chances of humans actually living and surviving on Mars?

Date: Wed Mar 29 15:59:41 2000
Posted By: John Haberman, Space Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt MD
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 953334066.As

Hello Allison,

  It appears unlikely, at this moment in time, that a large number of 
humans can live on Mars in the near future. The conditions on the surface 
are very hostile. It is clear that domed or underground cities would have 
to be built. This construction alone would require many launches of large 
cargo vehicles simply to get the necessary initial life support supplies 
and construction equipment to Mars.  This is, obviously, VERY costly.

  One plan is to land a number of robotic vehicles on the surface of Mars 
to study the planet. Once we better understand its chemical composition 
and the dynamics (e.g., weather) of the planet, we will be better able to 
address the question.

  With respect to a long-term plan, 'terraforming' Mars (make it more Earth-
like) has been proposed. Initially a small colony would be established on 
Mars for the purpose of mining and processing the soil. The raw materials 
necessary to build additional structures (metals, glass and concrete) can 
be obtained in this way.  Also water and oxygen can be extracted to 
support life and continued development. Excess oxygen would be released 
into the atmosphere to begin the 'terraforming' process. Additionally, 
plants would be grown in domed structures in the Martian soil.  These 
plants would be useful for food and to release oxygen into the atmosphere.

  How long would this 'terraformation' process require?  There is much 
debate about this question. Some groups believe that it can be 
accomplished in a few hundred years.  Others believe that this will take 
tens of thousands of years to achieve.  We don't really know even how to 
understand the question. Certainly many things, both expected and 
unexpected, will happen before we can answer this question.

  For additional information I suggest that you search the internet for 
information using the key words 'terraform' and 'Mars'.  You will find a 
number of individuals and organizations that have very strong ideas about 
this question. You can also find information about survival and problems 
in a 'closed system' by searching the key word 'biosphere' (and 
especially 'biosphere 1' where a number of unexpected problems occurred.) 
You can find NASA information regarding 'teraforming' at
and entering the key word 'teraform' in the "Search" box at the top of 
the page.

  This is not an easy question to answer and there are many ideas about 
which approach is best.

John Haberman

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