Mars will be colonized and terraformed within 300 years if we get started soon putting humans there for exploration.
Figure 1. A couple of explorers on Mars an artistic conception of the Red Planet. Credit: Detlef van Ravenswaay/Getty Image
The possibility of permanent colonies on other planets, starting with Mars, is a strong message from my science fiction series titled 30th Century. As technology advances, we have the ability to colonize Mars and later terraform it, which could take a couple of centuries. Later, in the 27th century, other nearby solar systems will be explored. Among the reasons we will colonize, survival of the species is number 1, scientific research number 2, and curiosity is number 3. Yes, there are more reasons. What can you add?
Many researchers for all over the globe have conducted studies about where to locate a Mars colony. Government space agencies continue to refine these maps including NASA, Roscosmos, and China National Space Administration. Companies and non-profits also continue these studies such as by Mars One, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, to name a few.
Figure 2. The dark blue zones are considered the most favorable locations from all of the studies according to L. Schug, Washington Environmental Research, 2018. Newsweek Magazine, June 4, 2018, internet.
We need to have a rapid breeding program of humans to make a Mars colony successful. That means raising many children on a dangerous planet underground out of the radiation that strikes the surface. We must build underground for living quarters and even recreation. We will need nuclear energy and solar energy. We will need to send breeding pairs or utilize other breeding techniques to assure the population grows rapidly. We will need to train and educate the children.
To determine the best location for the first Martian colony involves a tradeoff of equatorial weather verses water in the form of ice near the poles. Scientists and engineers from the Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands have drafted three-dimensional maps highlighting various areas that would make ideal landing sites.
Ecologist Wieger Wamelink and his student Line Schug used data collected by the NASA and Arizona State University in a computerized information system discussed below
Figure 3. Artist concept of an underground Martian base with plants growing underground using artificial light. Credit Wikipedia.
A map of natural resources will help the first colony select a landing site, perhaps near lava tubes. Before selection, exploration to find water in these tubes is important. My calendar for Mars colonization is much longer that some current plans, but I think it makes sense to explore first and return with soils to study on Earth. That is the best way to learn how to grow crops in the native soil before we try to make a successful colony.
“The abundance of available data about Mars now makes this possible,” said Wieger Wamelink in an article for Wageningen University & Research (in Dutch). He mimicked Martian soil compositions in pots on Earth and grew crops from them and then tested to make sure the crops were safe and nutritious. He and his team have grown radishes, tomatoes, peas, potatoes, carrots and green beans.
The main scientific focus of astronauts on Mars will likely be water. “NASA wants to follow the water, follow the organics, to go places where you might find signs of current or ancient life,” Calef says. “You want to visit a past habitable environment, like remnant pond sediments or an old river delta, where water collected and might have preserved organic material.”
Astronauts will not only focus on ancient bodies of water, but also present water activity, such as recurring water flow evidence, water ice, and possible signs of underground aquifers, which “would be of high interest to the search for extant life on Mars,” Carr explained. Also lava tubes may collect water but need to be explored.
Geological features such as craters, outcrops, canyons and dune fields promise to open up some areas after initial human exploration confirms underground water sources and growth of plants in the nearby soil. Although such features may be challenging for astronauts to navigate, “these are usually the kind of features planetary scientists want to study,” Gallegos says.
Astronauts on Mars will not be limited to making discoveries only near their landing sites. “We expect crews to have significant mobility, to go up to 100 kilometers from where they land,” says Ben Bussey, chief exploration scientist at NASA’s human exploration and operations directorate.
Equator Or Elsewhere?
One of the main dividing lines between scientists at the workshop will be whether they propose human missions either near the equator or at higher latitudes.
“One of the primary advantages of landing at a high-latitude site is easy access to water, especially in the northern plains,” Viola says. “We know that there is water ice within the uppermost meter of the surface, which means that astronauts won’t have to dig deep into the subsurface. Since this ice is fairly pristine, it also means that they won’t need to exploit a large region to get enough water to support a human crew.
“Furthermore, I think that water ice is potentially an important science target,” Viola says. “It may preserve a record of the Martian climate from the time when it was deposited, sort of like how we can use ice cores on Earth to learn about our planet’s climate history, and it might even contain evidence for either past or present life.”
However, higher latitudes “would be an extremely challenging place to live,” Longo says. “During the winter, an astronaut crew wouldn’t see the sun for months, causing a negative effect on crew morale, and the base would have to be completely nuclear-powered because you would lose solar panels as an energy source.” The colder temperatures seen during the winters at high latitudes can also prove hard on equipment.
“An equatorial exploration zone will have, just like on Earth, more direct sunlight per year,” Gallegos says. “NASA’s concept for human Mars exploration utilizes nuclear energy as a main power source, but many small outposts and devices will need to be solar powered.”
Technically, the equator is better for launching vehicles because the spin of the planet is faster at the equator. We are not limited to the equator on Earth, as many of our launch sites are far from the equator, such as the Kennedy launch site in Florida, but it is an advantage.
Figure 4. A poster published by National Geographic shows many geological elements of the red planet. Credit National Geographic
The scientists and engineers identified multiple sites that would be suitable for human colonies on the red planet.
These sites show dark blue on the colored maps in Figure 2., mentioned earlier as potential colony sites. Some of these dark blue zones have been explored by American robots in previous Mars missions. One good site is Acidalia Planitia, which is near where Viking 1 touched down and Mars Pathfinder explored.
Wamelink has studied how to grow crops on soil mimicking the surface of Mars and the moon. During 2013 to 2016 he grew a variety of crops in the simulated soil with positive results. NASA needs to bring back real Martian soil from these areas to confirm these good results.
Who will be first to land on Mars? Who will be first to colonize Mars?. A new space race is on.
Elon Musk presented his first Mars colony plan in September 2015, published in New Space. It is now free on the internet.
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Dr. Levin was born and grew up in Vermont with many winters spent in Florida as a child. As a teenager he wrote poetry, served as a lifeguard and played football. He currently enjoys sailing, exploring underwater caves, snorkeling, writing science fiction and other pursuits. After working on the Apollo and Mars projects, he returned to school to study under Nobel Laureate Paul Dirac, obtaining his PhD in 2.5 years. Dr. Levin founded two companies and served the science policy apparatus in President Ford’s administration. He has been published over 44 times in scientific literature and was awarded over 32 US patents. The science fiction writer is now emerging with his first work, a trilogy entitled 30th Century. The first award-winning book, 30th Century: Escape, is currently available on Amazon. Book two in the series, 30th Century: Revived, should be released before the end of April 2018.