Hello fellow Earthlings. With NASA trying to relive their late 60’s era of sending astronauts to the Moon with newer, advanced technologies and an astronomically high budget, Elon Musk and his team of ingenious scientists are looking forward to making Mars as a planet suitable for humans. Well, it comes without a surprise that there are a lot of challenges to be faced before making it possible. But, there’s no harm in knowing what would be the case if human beings formed a colony in Mars while still not being concerned about protecting and preserving what our planet has to offer. Let us experience what Mars has to offer as we visit the Martians that made Mars human compatible. The future is now. Let the imagination begin.
Let us board ‘Benatar’ and relax as it gives its best shot to commence our journey to Mars, which might take anywhere from 40 days to 9 and a half months depending on the position of Mars and Earth. We were lucky enough to enjoy the 56 million kilometre journey in the duration of 40 days compared to the 401 million kilometres one. As we bid adieu to Earth, we were on a turbulent launch from the Elon Musk space centre. After leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, it was a waiting game. I was reminded of what Frank Legweak, the first person to step his foot on Mars said, “All that for a dry and lifeless planet”. Yet, he had the vision of a Mars inhabited by humans. I still remember what we were taught in our science classes. The Martian atmosphere was very thin and it used to be comprised of 95% carbon dioxide. So the first challenge that Frank’s team faced was to figure out how to produce oxygen. Not only would that provide us and other Martian settlers with breathable air, but also supply us with liquid oxygen propellant, the stuff we would need to lift a rocket off Mars for a return journey to Earth. The next challenge was to grow food – with the absence of soil on Mars. They implemented ‘Hydroponics’ which allows for the cultivation of crops in a mineral and nutrient solution instead of soil. Of course, without running water on the surface, the colony can only grow about 20% of the food compared to Earth.
Apart from all this, Frank’s team had to live below the surface of the red planet as Mars has no global geomagnetic field, and since its atmosphere was so thin, solar radiation levels in the orbit above Mars was too much for humans to bear. And if you wanted to go outside and return alive, you would need a spacesuit to make up for the near-absent atmospheric pressure and to block radiation. The suit would also keep you warm, which is important because temperatures on Mars are very low. Overall, the first 70 people, including Frank were the people responsible for ‘Terraforming’ Mars i.e to make it just like the planet they came from.
As we approach halfway through our journey, we could finally have a decent look at the planet, covered in clouds and not as red as we thought it would be. As we got closer and closer, we could observe rivers of water flowing and Olympus Mons, the tallest planetary mountain in the Solar System. Well, a crucial step involved in the Martian terraforming was to create a stable atmosphere and the idea that was suggested by the then scientists was to import ammonia ice from the atmospheres of other planets to heat Mars a little. Thankfully, traces of ammonia were found beneath the surface of Deimos and Phobos, the 2 moons of Mars. The heat helped in converting the dry ice at the Martian north pole into gas and gave the planet an atmosphere. Still unbreathable for us, but at least it would be enough to create atmospheric pressure so that we could finally take off our spacesuit. Then, they would extract water from the vast reserves of ice locked away beneath the Mars’ surface. Water vapour would make the atmosphere thicker and thicker. Eventually, we would see it raining and snowing on Mars. after maybe a thousand years, there would be enough oxygen for humans to breathe. By then, the planet re-engineering would be complete for a so-called ‘New Earth’.
The daunting task that the early settlers of Mars had to go through was to protect themselves from the dramatic variation of temperatures which often resulted in powerful dust storms. But with the terraforming under progress, the threats and thus, the dust storms have reduced for the good. We are all set to touch the Martian atmosphere and unlike previous re-entries, the future ones will only get difficult as the Martian atmosphere gets thicker. The touchdown was a bit jolting. We were finally able to witness the civilization that humankind had created on Mars. Not only do you feel light headed after the 40-day journey, but you also feel light weighted as the gravity in Mars is only one third compared to Earth. The colonies were connected through thick iron rods carrying electricity to run the equipment and provide light and a heat source for the cold weather. When I asked Prof. Richard, the lead scientist of one of the power plants about how electricity is produced, he said that they used a large collection of ‘Stark Cells’ which produces a potential difference of 3000 volts due to the chemical reaction between ammonia and rusted iron. It’s a great feat that humans are able to convert a planet that was initially filled with rovers into a planet that can support the survival of human beings, away from Earth. But it is still a concern on why humans could not keep their original home safe.
P.S. Opportunity rover was finally given a new life and there is a museum dedicated to it which we might visit soon. Till then, stay humble and most importantly, get down to Earth.
Image Credit: https://mocha2007.github.io/mars.html