The November issue of National Geographic has an extensive article about our plans to send people to Mars. Elon Musk with his rather successful Space X plans to send people to Mars soon. NASA is working to perhaps colonize Mars sometime in the next few decades. Overall the article is quite extensive about what is happening and about its actually occurring. Given this last election there are probably more people ready to go and lots wishing them farewell.
My concern is that the article does not emphasize enough the real problems of actually getting to Mars and “setting up shop”. Let me lay out an analogy as to some of the problems.
Let’s say you are here in Virginia and you are going to travel with your family to Los Angeles. You are going to travel in a bus sized RV. But, there will be no gas stations along the way. You must carry all the food and water you need because there is no place to stop for supplies. Also, there will be no food or water when you get there, you will somehow have to make your own. If there is a breakdown, there is no place to stop for spare parts. Do you think you could make it? Would you try?
Now let me add some none Earth related effects. On Earth we are protected from high energy particles from space and the Sun by our magnetic field and our rather dense atmosphere. On the trip to Mars there is no protection, we have not figured out yet how to deal with that. There is a good chance you would die from radiation sickness. If you make it to Mars, there is no magnetic field to protect you and the atmosphere is too thin to provide protection, so you would still need protection. You would need to live underground. Mars is much farther from the Sun than is the Earth, so solar panels would produce much less electricity than here. Where would we get the water needed for human survival, so far we haven’t found any on Mars. Water purification is a problem on Earth where you can get spare parts from the factory. What would you do on Mars?
Without dragging on about the negatives, we need to be thinking about what makes a place habitable. The word I keep thinking about is infrastructure. Think about all the little things that keep our towns working: water, sewer, electricity, transportation, etc. We have problems keeping it all working on Earth, where it is easy. How would we do it on Mars?
I’m afraid that people going to Mars will have to wait until we invent the “Beam me up Scotty” among other things. My bottom line is that we should continue to invest in our dreams, but be realistic about what we can and can’t do. Also keep in mind that the spinoffs from chasing these dreams have been rather impressive.