Our obsession of being able to live on a different planet has lasted for a long time. We've seen movies showing the difficulties that we could face on a planet if we are not well prepared. There is one such aspect of colonization on Mars that has been overlooked and that puts a kink in Elon Musk's plans.
Remember being sad to learn that it wasn’t the moon that followed us while we were in the car? That was when we learned about the planets in our solar system and about the Sun and Earth’s moon. It all seemed a lifetime ago when we dreamed of being astronauts and exploring the big sky and everything beyond it.
The dream almost came true when NASA’s Perseverance Rover successfully landed on Mars on 18th February 2021. Why do we say almost? Because no human has landed on the Red Planet yet. When the rover sent back the images of the surface of Mars, we were given a lifeline of sorts that is helping scientists to examine the pictures and predict all types of strategies about starting a life on Mars.
The company that already has plans for colonizing Mars is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. They plan on launching three Starship rockets a day carrying 100-ton payload each. One thousand starships are said to be sent to Mars every day, making a population of 100,000 people on Mars. According to Elon Musk, one million people are needed to recreate life on Earth. He predicts this transport of humans from Earth to Mars to be completed by 2050, but an expert said that it might be difficult to do so.
Professor Serkan Saydam from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, applauds Musk’s efforts and plans of colonizing Mars but says that the key to the development of a colony on Mars depends on the robotic mining that can provide water and fuel.
Understanding The Challenges
The Perseverance Rover has the purpose of gathering and providing answers to the long-awaited question of whether life ever existed on Mars. But that isn’t its only purpose. Perseverance also has the duty to help in understanding the challenges that future human expeditions could hold.
Like sending astronauts to Mars, a deep space mission is not a day or two’s journey. A flight to Mars and back would be a 14 months journey, and that’s just the journey. The actual exploration of the planet can take up to three years. For a lengthy mission like this, the cognitive performances and teamwork must go smoothly so that there is no unnecessary delay and wastage of resources.
The Potential Adverse Effects of Mars
A study published in Frontiers of Physiology has discovered that the lack of gravity has a negative impact on astronauts’ cognitive skills and emotional understanding. The weightlessness in space brings about massive changes in the human body. Structural brain damage like the brain moving upwards in the skull. What exactly causes these changes in the human body is still difficult to pinpoint.
Therefore, NASA supported a study where 24 candidates were made to lay on the bed, on their back with an inclination of 6° angle, where the head is lower than the body for two months. They were given specific tasks to perform, which were relevant to what an astronaut does. It was found that the cognitive speed of the subject had slowed down. They also had difficulty in reading peoples faces and were biased towards negative emotions. They would identify people’s expressions as angry but were unable to identify their happy or neutral faces.
Before We Make It Our Home
Therefore, pre-flight psychological training and in-flight psychological support is a must for all astronaut’s involved in such deep space missions. Suppose astronaut’s who go through rigorous physical and mental training for months before their space expeditions can face such terrible issues. How can we expect common people not to have the same side-effects of the long journey to Mars without proper training, which takes months?
Professor Saydam says that the main focus in terms of colonizing Mars is finding water first and using robots to extract and process it before humans make it their home. He says that water can be used as an energy source by separating the Hydrogen molecules from water. It is crucial that when humans go to Mars, they take the help of robots and produce water and then find a way to separate hydrogen from it to provide energy to the people before they arrive on the planet.
The world of robotics has advanced, but at the moment, there is no robot with the ability to do the tasks. Efforts are being made at the UNSW under Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), but there is no consensus yet regarding the same.
Prof. Saydam thinks that the timeframe given by Musk is unrealistic as there is no source of water or energy available as of now. Humans are still being used for mining purposes because of the experience in mining that humans have. That is why United Launch Alliance has allied with Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who are invested in rockets that are are used to launch spaceships. This alliance has publicly announced that they will be paying $500 per kilogram for fuel derived from water supplied on the moon. The pay will rise to $3,000 per kilogram if the fuel is in a low-earth orbit.
A Potential Market for Water-Based Fuel?
The professor says that this creates a market for water-based fuel on the moon and Mars to find or produce water on the planet. He says that first, we can do these activities on the moon and use it as a petrol station to get to Mars. In such a way, we can go beyond Mars as well.
So, it wouldn’t be a completely terrible thing to leave the planet we live on right now and explore the red planet. But can we not try to repair Earth before we just give up on her and leave? The plans put in place by scientists are way ahead in the future. Who knows what we will find on Mars and if we will even survive till then? We know that Earth needs to heal from all that we have put her through, so let’s focus on that while the experts try to figure out life on Mars.