Why it is so Difficult to Colonize Mars?


Why Is It Hard To Colonize Mars? Being the second-smallest planet in the solar system and named after the Roman god of war, Mars is considered to be a desolate, frigid and inhospitable rock whose colonization is one of the biggest challenges in our century. Mars exploration and colonization have been a fantasy and a really hard challenge for Humans in the current century. However, Scientists are working to make this dream a reality where NASA is planning to put humans on Mars by the end of 2030. One of the biggest challenges is transporting astronauts and payload across the 34 million miles of space that exists between Mars and Earth, however, upon their arrival; humans will have to face many other challenges during their mission. For instance, they will have to find solutions for life-threatening problems such as the lack of water, thin atmosphere, high levels of radiation, toxic soil, cold temperatures, and low gravity. In this video, we’ll talk about each factor of these serious problems in detail. 1- Lack of Water, As we all know, water is the most important and essential factor when it comes to the lives of humans and their survival. However, Mars does not contain water or at least it does not contain water in a form suitable for human usage. There were signs of water on the red planet illustrated in some images sent by The Mariner 9 and Viking space probes back to the 1970s. Moreover, in 2018, a study was published in the science journal reporting that approximately 12 miles in width lack; had been found and it’s located about a mile below the south pole of Mars. Additionally, scientists had found eight regions on Mars where soil erosion had uncovered huge areas of ice deposits below the Martian surface. In 2019, the American Geophysical Union reported that they located layers of ice and sand buried a mile beneath Mars’s north pole. All of this information demonstrates that Mars does contain water on its surface, however, the technology required to extract this embedded water is not available to us, Yet. NASA is working on this problem by forming partnerships to advance its mining technologies for use in space exploration. The results of these partnerships are very promising where in July 2019, along with Honeybee Robotics and the University of Central Florida, NASA showed off a prototype spacecraft that is called “The World Is Not Enough” or WINE, for short, it is a prototype of the size of a microwave oven specifically designed to mine soil on asteroids, extract water from this soil and then use it to generate steam to propel itself to its next mining destination. It’s a truly promising technology but it can be adapted to harvest water for Mars exploration. 2- Thin Atmosphere, an atmosphere is one of the most important factors that a planet must acquire to support human life and survival. However, Mars’s atmosphere is very thin and it’s made up of all the wrong combinations of gases. For example, it’s mostly composed of carbon dioxide, approximately 95.3% of Mars’s atmosphere is carbon dioxide which is a very high ratio compared to less than 1% on Earth. Moreover, Mars’s atmosphere has barely any oxygen, around 0.13% compared to 21% on Earth, which is very unfortunate because humans need oxygen to breathe. In addition to this, Mars’s atmosphere contains a very small ratio of nitrogen, around 2.7% compared to 78% on Earth which is also very unfortunate due to the fact that plants need nitrogen to survive. Besides the wrong combinations of gases in Mars’s atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure is unfortunately quite low, around 6.1 millibars compared to 1,013.25 millibars on Earth. To fully grasp this, the atmospheric pressure is crucial to the survival of humans and without it, the trapped air pockets inside the human body would expand, the eardrums would rapture and the water ratio in the body would boil. All of these life-threatening obstacles will face any crew members during their mission on Mars due to the extremely low pressure of its atmosphere. Therefore, in general, astronauts must wear pressurized suits to survive in space and they have to wear them all the time on Mars as well or even live in pressurized habitats. This will limit their freedom of moving around to collect data or samples and transporting the equipment necessary for performing their experiments specific to their mission. Having a thin atmosphere leads to many catastrophic consequences as well, for example, the martian thin atmosphere allows the heat provided from the sun to escape into outer space; which makes the martian nights very cold with temperatures reaching minus 285 degrees Fahrenheit or even below. Although numerous solutions regarding engineering an atmosphere on Mars have been proposed, None of them can work, unfortunately. To elaborate, these proposed solutions suggest engineering an artificial atmosphere on Mars that would produce the necessary gases and worm the planet. Moreover, they suggest stimulating the greenhouse gases that include carbon dioxide and water vapor which already exist on the planet to rise into the air and create a thick atmosphere. However, according to a study published in Nature Astronomy in 2018, Mars does not have enough of these elements on its surface to create such an atmosphere necessary to sustain human life. Thereby, the optimum solution is that; astronauts traveling to Mars will need to bring all of the life-support systems with them. 3- High Levels Of Radiation, we all know that the Sun, like any other star, is a fusion reactor that emits enormous amounts of electromagnetic energy with all different types of the spectrum including X-rays, Gamma rays, and ultraviolet radiation. Moreover, the sun also emits high energy protons, atomic nuclei, and many other subatomic particles which have significant risk on the human body. For example, it can affect the central nervous system, increase the lifetime risk for cancer, cause sickness, and degenerative diseases. Fortunately, Earth’s strong magnetic field forms an invisible barrier against most of the incident radiation and diverts the electrically charged particles back into space, additionally, the remnants of the radiation are absorbed by the thick atmosphere of our planet. Thereby, astronauts outside our protective atmosphere are at risk since they are directly exposed to high levels of radiation. Moreover, according to the European Space Agency “ESA”, the martian thin atmosphere absorbs radiation doses up to 700 times higher than on Earth. However, the ESA agency is collaborating with some particle accelerator labs to develop new technologies that can help mitigate the exposure. In particular, they try to recreate rays of cosmic radiation and then build shields that can protect astronauts against it. Moreover, to track the radiation exposure outside the Earth orbit, the ESA agency has collaborated with NASA to send radiation sensors on the upcoming Orion test launch during their mission to the Moon. Fortunately, an experiment has been conducted, recently, onboard the international space station, the results of this experiment have shown that astronauts are able to mix cement in microgravity conditions. These results can be extended in the favor of Mars colonization; more specifically, concrete is a protective and sturdy material that is already used on Earth at nuclear facilities to help protect people from being directly exposed to nuclear radiation. Thereby, It’s possible that people colonizing Mars can use the Martian soil to make concrete that would help them construct habitable structures that would help protect them against the high levels of radiation as well. 4- Toxic Soil, It’s highly likely that the Martian soil is toxic to the living cells which implies that we would not be able to grow food on Mars. According to scientists at the University of Edinburgh; the martian surface is less inhabitable than we had previously thought. This means that they need to develop new methodologies to be able to grow food on Mars before human colonization on Mars becomes a reality. Their findings were based on a study and an experiment conducted on soil that contains perchlorates which are believed to exist in the martian soil. When perchlorates are exposed to UV light, they form a toxic cocktail of by-products. Recall that there are high levels of radiation on Mars and the short-wave ultraviolet radiation is one of them and this exactly the type of radiation used in the experiment. Moreover, there are additional chemical materials that interact with perchlorates which further increases the soil toxicity. Scientists believe that these chemical materials are iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide. According to Simon George, who is a professor of organic geochemistry at Macquarie University, “ There’s no Ozone layer on Mars, so UV rays penetrate down to the surface and they are very toxic, they give you really bad sunburn if you’re on the surface. But what happens is this UV radiation interacts with perchlorates and produces side products, Probably chlorite, and others, which are the things that are toxic to life”. Although these findings seem to be pessimistic, there’s still a possibility that we will find life on Mars but we need to search deeper and if NASA is going to send a human mission to Mars by 2030, then they must know whether Mars is a suitable home for microbial life and if it’s going to be safe for humans. Astrobiologists are working on new methods and technologies via which there's a possibility to treat the Martian soil with enzymes to put the perchlorates to good use and release considerable amounts of oxygen. 5- Cold Temperatures, since Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere that is around 100 times thinner than Earth’s atmosphere, there’s no thermal blanket that can help retain any thermal energy on the surface. The average temperatures on the Martian surface can reach about minus 60 degrees celsius. Now you may wonder why temperatures on Mars are cold even though its atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide? And to understand the answer to this question, you need to know that four major factors that control the temperature of any planet’s surface; these factors are atmospheric composition, atmospheric density, water content, and the distance from the sun. What makes Earth a habitable planet is a balance between these four factors and any disturbances or changes in this balance lead to significant effects on the climate on a planetary scale. The greenhouse effect is one example of these planetary-scale effects. Where the gradual increase of the planet’s surface temperature is because of the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide, sulphur hexafluoride, and many other gases. Surprisingly, we have raised carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere by a very small fraction of a percent since the 1950s and it has already been causing several changes in our climate. Moreover, water plays a crucial role in the surface temperature of any planet, it helps make heat currents move slowly which helps retain the thermal energy inside the atmosphere. When it comes to Mars, it has a very thin atmosphere that is about 96% carbon dioxide, moreover, it’s also extremely dry because it lacks any water content and it’s located further away from the sun. All of these factors cause Mars to be an extremely cold and harsh world which would make it harder for us to colonize it one day. 6- Low Gravity, Martian gravity is approximately 40 percent of that on Earth which means that humans exposed to this partial gravity are very likely to experience muscle atrophy which will not be a good thing especially if they are going to stay for long periods of time on Mars. To sum it up, Any crew mission on Mars will experience many harsh and life-threatening conditions from the lack of oxygen and water, the deadly radiation, the low gravity, toxic soil, and the extremely cold surface temperatures. This means that if we want to send a mission to the red planet by 2030, then we have to find solutions and develop new technologies to help make human colonization on Mars viable. 

Thanks For Reading Everyone!! 

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