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With many space programs looking towards eventually sending astronauts to Mars, it is only natural to think of the next step which is colonization. However it is an endeavor that would take a lot of resources and manpower to accomplish. However, technology continues to advance at a rapid pace and new materials are being discovered that could be perfect for such a task. The process of colonizing Mars would be a complicated and involved process that would outstrip the efforts put into building the International Space Station.
However one needs to understand what are the advantanges and challenges of starting a colony on Mars. Mars has many advantages for setting up long term settlements. First it has an atmosphere. Unlike the Moon, gases can exist in its environment. This makes it easier to extract important elements such as nitrogen and oxygen. The next advantage is that Mars has a similar mineral composition to the Earth’s. All the metals and minerals needed for manufacturing and industry also exist on Mars. Mars also has a similar sidereal rotation and and axis tilt to the Earth. This means that a day on Mars is as long as a regular Earth day with slight differences. The tilt of the axis gives Mars seasons similar to that of Earth. These conditions would help prospective colonists adjust to life on Mars.
However, there are still many challenges that would stand in the way of successful colonization. First is the distance. It costs a great deal of money to launch a rocket with a payload. The cost would exponentially increase when including colonist and the materials they would need to get started with. The next problem is the atmosphere. It is too thin to be breathable. That means that colonist would have to carry oxygen for the initial settlement and use a process to draw it from the Martian environment. Also gravity would be a another issue to address. The gravity on Mars is weaker than that of Earth. So humans living on Mars would have to deal with bone loss and other ailments associated with weaker gravity.
Either way a colony on Mars presents many opportunities. It will give humanity room to expand and help us to find new resources without depleting the Earth’s. This makes it a worthwhile endeavor. However it would require a unified effort of national government, the private sector and scientists to make it possible.
If you enjoyed this article there are several on Universe Today that you can enjoy. There is a great article about what makes Mars red. There is also an article about Martian statistics.
There are also some great online resources. There is an article arguing for the colonization of Mars on the National Space Society Website. There is also an article on Wired.com about one groups plan for a Martian settlement.
You can also listen to Astronomy Cast. Episode 95 Humans to Mars Part 2 talks about Martian Colonization.