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After Earth, Mars is place in the Solar System that might support humans. It has many of the things we need to survive, and many ways to kill us. Let’s see what it would take to do some planet Mars living.
At its closest point, Mars is located about 55.7 million km from Earth. The way the orbits work out, Mars and Earth make their closest approach to each other every 26 months. Because of the huge distances involved, a trip to Mars takes 10 months to a year depending on how much fuel you want to use. And the way the orbits work out, you could only send people and supplies once every 2 years, and they have to survive a flight time of 10+ months.
If you can actually make the trip, the planet itself has a lot going for it. A day on Mars is only a few minutes longer than an Earth day. This wouldn’t mess up our day/night biology and plants would be able to adapt to the lightly longer days. Another benefit is that the Martian axial tilt is very similar to Earth’s. Mars experiences seasons like Earth and we’d be able to adapt to that as well.
Mars also has many of the resources we need to survive. People living on Mars would have access to carbon dioxide in the air, water ice locked underground, and iron-oxide soil that could be used to create bricks and concrete. Future colonists would be able to fashion their own air, drinking water, construction material and even rocket fuel from resources on the planet.
But Mars has an inhospitable environment as well. The atmosphere is incredibly thin, just 1% the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s also comprised of mostly carbon dioxide. You couldn’t breathe the atmosphere, and your body would suffer bruising if you tried to go out without a spacesuit. Furthermore, the temperatures are freezing cold across the planet. Temperatures at night can get down to -100 ° C, even in the height of summer at the equator.
One last problem is Mars’ lack of a magnetosphere. Here on Earth, radioactive particles from space are channeled away from the surface, but there’s no protection on Mars. Colonists on the planet would need to limit their time outside exposed to that radiation, and would need to live under concrete structures most of the time.
Although there are no detailed plans to send humans to Mars, and no plans at all for a permanent colony, there are several groups thinking of ways to start living on Mars. One of the best examples in the Mars Society, based on the Mars Direct idea proposed by Robert Zubrin in his book, the Case for Mars. Zubrin has also written How to Live on Mars.
We’ve written many articles about living on Mars for Universe Today. Here’s an article about how we could send a one-person, one-way mission to Mars, and here’s an article about Mars is still a good place to go next.
If you’d like more information on groups actually trying to send people to Mars, check out the Mars Society homepage.
We’ve also recorded several episodes of Astronomy Cast about Mars missions. Listen here, Episode 94: Missions to Mars, Part 1 – Scientists.