Monday, 12 May 2014

Colony on Mars in 2020s is Unfeasible                 


The Mars One project, is an ambitious plan to establish a permanent human settlement on the planet beginning in 2025. It is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Landorp. The $6 billion project calls for the use of existing technology and will be funded through sponsors and private investors. Many have also criticized the project's US$ 6 billion budget as being far too low to successfully transport humans to Mars. A similar project study by NASA estimated the cost of such a feat at US$100 billion.


There was a global search for the first humans to set foot on Mars and make it their permanent home. More than 200,000 men and women from around the world responded to the first call for astronauts. Last December, the organization, which is based in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, picked 1,058 candidates to enter the second round of its selection progress. One-third of those potential Mars settlers have been eliminated after a review of their personal and health profiles, leaving 705 candidates, including 54 Canadians, moving to the next round. After the interview round, candidates will be narrowed down to several international teams consisting of two women and two men each who will take part in an extensive training program.

The current plan is for a crew of four to depart and arriving on Mars in 2025. On its website, the Mars One group says the first four settlers would be followed by more groups, every two years. At first, the home base would be limited to provisions, oxygen and water, but would eventually expand to everything the settlers might need, including solar panels.

In an extensive training period, the chosen ones will have to learn the skills they will need on Mars and their journey there. The combined skill set of each astronaut team member will cover a very wide range of disciplines. Obviously there would have to be a doctor in the selection, along with a communications technician. There would also have to have a geologist who would conduct tests with respect to finding the water hidden below the surface. Also a qualified astronaut will be needed to fly the one-way rocket to Mars. And naturally, there will also have to be a biologist in that small community.


In my opinion, it is much too early to seriously consider human settlement on Mars at this time in history. The proposed one-way trip that is planned for the beginning of the next decade is pure folly for a number of reasons.




The air on Mars is extremely thin so without earth-like air for them to breathe, the space travellers will be doomed and their deaths by suffocation will be horrible. Of course they will bring oxygen with them but that won’t last long and then what?


Any humans on Mars would have to contend with the lack of oxygen that is only about 0.1% compared to Earth’s 20%. Water vapor in the upper atmosphere of Mars could break into hydrogen and oxygen by incoming ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet rays from our sun. Researchers investigated water photolysis, which happens when a water molecule is torn apart by high-energy photons from the sun. Usually the water (two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom) is broken into two parts, OH and H. The H escapes to space because it is so light. Over time, more oxygen molecules would build up until eventually O2 (molecular oxygen) form as well. Oxygen and Hydrogen combine to form water. These are probably the most critical element required in large quantities to sustain human life such as oxygen to breath and hydrogen to form with the Oxygen to make drinking water.


Most of Mars's carbon dioxide is actually not in the atmosphere, but instead it is locked up in the polar caps in the form of dry ice.  There is considerable quantities of water-ice permafrost that may be present in the subsurface of the polar regions just a few tens of centimeters down—permafrost that was finally discovered in 2002 by JPL's Mars Odyssey mission.

The habitants would have to bring equipment that can extract oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air and the dry ice from the surface respectively and then pump the oxygen into the pods.
With the right equipment, it is possible to extract breathable air into the pods but how long it would take to do that, I have no idea.


However humans cannot simply live on oxygen alone.  Oxygen only makes up about 21% of air.  About 78% of the air you breathe is made up of another gas called nitrogen.  There are also tiny amounts of other gases like argon, carbon dioxide and methane. The latter is a gas that emanates from humans and animals.


Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93% (9,300 ppm), making it approximately 23.8 times as abundant as the next most common atmospheric gas, carbon dioxide (390 ppm). Nearly all of this argon is radiogenic argon-40 derived from the decay of potassium-40 in the Earth's crust. I don`t know if it exists in the crust of Mars. The Martian atmosphere contains 1.6% of 40 Argon which is 5 ppm of Argon. The carbon dioxide can be extracted from the dry ice and the atmosphere.




Water on Mars exists today almost exclusively as ice, with a small amount present in the atmosphere as vapour. Current knowledge suggests there is plenty of frozen ice at the Martian poles. This means that the habitat will have to be very close to the frozen ice. It gets cold enough at the poles for carbon dioxide to freeze out of the thin air. Abundant water ice is also present beneath the permanent carbon dioxide ice cap at the Martian South Pole and in the shallow subsurface at more temperate latitudes.  More than five million cubic kilometers of ice have been identified at or near the surface of modern Mars, enough to cover the whole planet to a depth of 35 meters.  Equipment can be brought to Mars to extract the water from the dry ice and pump it into a large tank that is connected to the pods.


Low Atmospheric Pressure

The most serious immediate effect on the humans on Mars would be from the low atmospheric pressure that is nearly a vacuum compared to Earth.  Chris Webster from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Curiosity rover roaming Mars, said in an email, Within minutes the skin and organs would rupture, outgas, and produce a quick, painful death.” That is why they would always have to wear space suits when they are outside of their living quarters or any other structures that contain air. 


 The criticism


Mars One has received a variety of criticism, mostly relating to those going on that Martian venture, medical and technical feasibility.




What kinds of people are prepared to leave Earth and spend the rest of their lives on a planet that is bare and environmentally hostile?  According to Norbert Kraft, the chief medical officer and head of the astronaut selection program, the aspiring Martians should have five qualities—resilience, adaptability, curiosity, empathy, and creativity. But there has to be more than that.  I think they would have to be adventurers, risk takers, have the desire to be the first humans to live on another planet and most importantly, to leave their mark in history. 

Here is a real contentious question. What kind of person would leave his or her spouse and children forever simply in order to leave his or her mark in history? Such persons could say that they are sacrificing themselves in the name of progress but the truth is; they are sacrificing their families in the name of fame. 


I don’t believe that any of these people wishing to go on that trip who are already married should be selected for that venture. Think about it for a moment. There will be the same number of woman as men flying to and living on Mars at this initial venture. Naturally they will pair up and have sex together and no doubt, eventually have children. Those Martian pilgrims who are married on Earth will in effect be committing adultery.  And surely, the love of their spouses on Earth will fade as they gradually grow more attached to their spouses on Mars.  That in my opinion, is not treating their spouses on Earth fairly and in essence, is a depraved way to begin Man`s exploration into space.


Cabin fever is an idiomatic term, first recorded in 1918, for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.


The first team of Martian pilgrims will comprise of only four persons—two men and two women. I don’t know if the women will live in a different pod than the men or if the four will pair up as couples living in the two pods.


Imagine if you will, you and your spouse are sharing a cabin that comprises of only two small rooms in a desert.  The four of you cannot meet in any of the rooms since the rooms are not large enough.


Now I know what you are thinking. The four Martial pilgrims can meet in the lander that landed on the planet. But if they do that, they will have to always wear their space suits since the oxygen brought with them will have to be used for the pods, the narrow enclosed walkway that connects the pods with one another and their space suits.  Quite frankly, I don’t believe that they will be socializing in the lander even though there would be space enough for them to do it as the various items such as food, water, building material are gradually removed from the lander.


I suppose there would be some form of socializing between the two couples as they work together and even when the couples are in their own pods but each couple would only be able to communicate by onsite radio if they are in their own pod. On couple could stand in the hallway outside the other couple’s pod and further, the women could temporarily share a pod as so could the men. By doing this, it would increase the communications potential between the four of them.


One thing you would have to be sure of and that is that the four of you get along well with each other and more importantly, you and your Martian spouse get along with each other. If there was friction between any of you, Hell on Earth will seem like Heaven compared to Hell on Mars since on Mars, there is nowhere else where you could go to get away from the person you hate.


When experiencing cabin fever, a person may tend to sleep and have distrust of anyone they are with. This means that in order for the couples to live harmoniously, they would have to pair up for at least a year before they leave Earth to go to Mars. That would be a real problem if they are already married to someone else. There was a married couple who were considered for the trip but later it was determined that one of them wasn’t eligible.


 One therapy for cabin fever may be as simple as getting out and interacting with nature. Research has proven that even brief interactions with nature can promote improved cognitive functioning and overall well-being. However, it is one thing to wander about in a beautiful forest with a lake close at hand and quite another thing to wander around a desert in a space suit. If anything, it would increase the symptoms of cabin fever.


Cosmic radiation

The radiation environment of deep space is very different from that on the Earth's surface or in low Earth orbit, due to the much larger flux of high-energy galactic cosmic rays along with radiation from solar proton events and the radiation belts. Mars lacks a thick atmosphere, ozone layer, and magnetic field, allowing solar and cosmic radiation to strike the surface unimpeded.


Galactic cosmic rays create a continuous radiation dose throughout the Solar System that increases during solar minimum and decreases during solar maximum (solar activity). The inner and outer radiation belts are two regions of trapped particles from the solar wind that are later accelerated by dynamic interaction with the Earth's magnetic field. While always high, the radiation dose in these belts can increase dramatically during geomagnetic storms and substorms. Solar proton events are bursts of energetic protons accelerated by the Sun. They occur relatively rarely and can produce extremely high radiation levels. The damaging effects of ionizing radiation on cellular structure is another one of the prime limiting factors on the survival of life on the surface.


Astronauts on Apollo and Skylab missions received on average 1.2 mSv/day and 1.4 mSv/day respectively. (measure of the health effect of low levels of radiation on every human body each day) Since the durations of the Apollo and Skylab missions were days and months, respectively, rather than years, the doses involved were smaller than would be expected on future long-term missions such as the one scheduled to go to Mars.


Because humans have not been on Mars so far, the only known pathology associated with space radiation exposure is a higher risk for radiation cataract among the astronauts. It has been known for many years that large doses of ionizing radiation, (very much larger than background levels) can cause a measurable increase in cancers and leukemia’s (cancer of the blood) after some years delay. Therefore, the best potential locations for discovering life on Mars may be in subsurface environments. But Mars One hasn’t planned for that. Further, they don’t even have the tunneling equipment to build subsurface environments. And if they did, who would be qualified to handle such equipment?




In January 2014, German former astronaut Ulrich Walter strongly criticized the project for ethical reasons. Speaking with Berlin's Tagesspiegel, he estimated the probability of reaching Mars alive at only thirty percent, and that of surviving there more than three months at less than twenty percent. He said about those backers and leaders of the Mars One project, “They don't care what happens to those people in space.”


It is my sincerest belief that this venture is doomed to failure. And what makes the Mars One project really obscene is that those who fly to Mars on this futile mission will have no way of returning home if they realize that they are going to have an early death if they remain on that barren planet. The project leaders and backers know this.


It is conceivable that some day,  perhaps near the middle of this century,  a team of construction workers will go to Mars and work in 30-day shifts before returning permanently to Earth and build subterranean housing units so that pilgrims going to Mars can work and live there and do so without suffering from any harm to their health. If that happens, it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to do this.


Should Mankind enter such a venture?  Well we all know that Mankind on Earth will finally be wiped out when the sun expands but that won’t happen for several million years from now.  Quite frankly, I think we as mature thinking human beings should work on much more important endeavors in this era that we are currently in. 


Our human race is ever expanding and more living space where vegetation can grow is in my opinion more pressing than attempting to colonize another planet. I think that the financial backers of Mars One should donate their money towards turning some deserts into living areas. They did it in Nevada when they turned desert land into Las Vegas.  


Folly loves those who martyr themselves for fame.  If those chosen to go to Mars do so and die shortly thereafter, the fame they will be remembered in history will be that of their folly.

No comments: