Mars has been a topic of discussion in several books, movies, and TV shows. Even ancient generations showed a great interest in our rocky red neighbor. Today, Mars is the most sought-after planets in NASA’s space exploration program. So why Mars in particular, when there are other planets in our universe as well?
Well, for one thing, Mars is Earth’s closest neighbor. It’s the fourth planet from the sun and is visible even through the naked eye. Characterized by a thin atmosphere and features such as craters, volcanoes, deserts, valleys, and polar ice caps, the red planet is believed to be the only planet that could support life besides earth. The surface conditions and the presence of ice caps on Mars make it the most hospitable planet in the solar system.
So, is Mars habitable and colonizable? Well, Mars is more suitable for human habitation than any other planet. All the resources needed to sustain life are readily available on Mars. The planet is half the size of our earth but has enough land to allow humans to live and flourish. The temperature of the planet is frigid but the presence of ice in it means that we would have a water source. Mars’s oxidized soil implies that growing food is possible, and the presence of methane gas means that it is possible to create fuel.
It takes about 270 days to reach Mars from Earth. Reducing this travel time is possible but not with the chemical rockets used at present. Instead, the space propulsion technology would be needed. Yet another option is the use of constant-acceleration technologies such as ion drives and solar sails which can reduce the traveling time drastically.
Communication satellites have been placed in the orbit of Mars by the NASA and European Space Agency (ESA). These satellites act as a relay equipment for communication. As communication signals travel at the speed of light, it can take 3 to 22 minutes for the information to reach from Mars to Earth. Because of this time lag, the possibility of setting up routes of communication between the planets with the use of telephone lines seems unpractical.
A crucial thing to consider if we are thinking of colonizing Mars is to create a path to Mars for frequent traveling. Robotic systems that are being employed at present should prove to be significant for traveling as well as for carrying out further research. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, an ongoing robotic space mission sent two Mars rovers namely Spirit and Opportunity to Mars till date. These systems reduced transportation cost and greatly helped in finding ice and water on the surface of the planet. Forming the bases for landing spacecraft and setting up permanent bases on Mars’s surface can be done by using such space vehicles.
Currently, various regions of Mars are being studied and analyzed for habitation. Because of the presence of ice caps, the polar regions are seen as possible areas for settlement. The equatorial regions of the planet have natural caves where there is a possibility of the presence of water reserves. More research is being carried out on the surface of Mars as it is not fully explored.
An area of concern is the thin atmosphere of Mars. The planet’s atmospheric density is only about 1% of that of the earth which creates problems for the landing of heavy spaceships on its surface. For this reason, a specially designed braking and landing system are required. The robotic systems used for landing on Moon and Mars at present cannot be used in the case of Mars. Another area of concern for colonization are the dust storms which reduce solar radiations that reach the surface of the planet. The Martian gravity on human health have not been studied so far and therefore, its impact on human life cannot be analyzed currently.