|MadSci Network: Astronomy|
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 www.nasa.gov 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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