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Plans are being developed to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars within the next 20 years. If you’re anything like me (a science nerd trying to maintain a cool image in everyday life) you may have had an initial response along the lines of “wow, cool, I wanna be an astronaut and go live on Mars”. However, upon realisation that the move to Mars involves an eight month one-way trip and a big “catchya c*nt” to all the good food and great people here on Earth, I have come to accept that I am not likely to receive a Martian passport anytime soon.
The two big players in the quest to colonise Mars are NASA (as expected) and an organisation named Mars One. Mars One is currently accepting applications from members of the public wanting to be one of the first settlers on the red planet. If you have just the right combination of heroism, adventure and insanity, and a space adventure sounds like a bit of you, then here Salient provides you with MART101: An Introductory Course to Life as a Martian.
To begin this learning experience we outline a number of challenges one should expect to encounter on Mars due to its differences to Planet Earth:
- You will be cold. The average temperature on Earth is a balmy 15°C compared with the -63°C in Mars.
- You will be thirsty. The thin atmosphere on Mars means that life-giving water doesn’t stay on the surface long.
- You will be sunburnt. A lack of ozone layer means astronauts could be exposed to extremely harmful solar ultraviolet radiation.
- You will be confused trying to arrange a Skype date. A day on Mars lasts 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than on Earth, so if you wanted to talk to someone at home at 9am, you would have to do so at your 9am one day, 8:20am the next day, 7:41am the following, then 7:01am, 6:22am, 5:42am and so on.
If these don’t scare you off and you still want a new space postcode, then the next step is training. A key factor in the training process is ensuring that you can manage living both in isolation for long periods of time and also living in close confinements with a small number of people. Training is expected to take around eight years, and will involve studies in medicine, electrical engineering, and a range of other disciplines necessary to sustain human life.
NASA and Mars One are taking two very different approaches to colonising the dusty planet. Mars One have claimed that they will fund the mission through stimulating public interest and running the project as a reality TV series; however, the feasibility of this plan has been questioned by a number of scientists. NASA are taking things slower, and are currently analysing the environment on Mars and the potential to build water using robotics.
In each case, the goal is to unite humankind through space exploration and to gain insight into our solar system and the origins of the universe. NASA’s Curiosity rover has recently discovered that liquid water does exist on Mars, albeit only for a short time before it evaporates, which suggests that Mars and Earth have more similarities than we previously guessed. Through colonisation of Mars, scientists would be able to gain greater insight to the history of the planet, and hence understand how Mars could have previously housed life, and what this could mean for the future of our planet and others. Mars is a stepping stone in our voyage into the universe, and as with the Apollo Moon landings, this mission will inspire generations to believe that anything is possible.
The task to leave Earth for a foreign planet may sound daunting, and even a little crazy, but remember that at one stage New Zealand was unknown, and it was only through the departure of our first ancestors from their homelands that we have the Aotearoa we do today. Who knows who our next brave explorers will be, and what the Mars could have in store for our ever expanding society.