Where is Humanity’s next home?

By: Madaline Meagher

More and more in the media, the topic of going to Mars and establishing base in the next decade has a been a prevalent one. If Humanity is planning to make a permanent residence on Mars there is lot consider. Currently there are not many theories to solve the problems of making Mars Earth two. Which is where my concerns that we are jumping the gun on this endeavor.

Let’s say humanity found somewhere (a planet) we want to go. We’ve chosen to leave and we have some people who want to go there. Unfortunately the conditions on that planet aren’t exactly what we need to survive. People who are familiar with a lot of real-time strategy and science fiction probably have heard the term terraforming; the idea that you can change a planet to make it better for you. Making an imperfect place, perfect.

Global warming has been damaging our planet and making it warmer since the eighteen-hundreds. Nice job humans. Let me tell you a crazy idea, why not put carbon spilling factories on Mars to thicken and warm up it’s atmosphere like a little warm blanket? Not a completely bad idea, however we can’t just pop over there because it’s kind of far. Mars’ lacks a thick atmosphere and a planetary dynamo(magnetic field) to hold a thicker atmosphere in place. Mars’ also has weak gravity and host of other problems. Still, scientists are thinking about this stuff really seriously.

So let’s talk about Mars. Mars, it’s probably our best bet for a lifeboat planet, even though it is pretty void and desolate. Basically we would need to cut the UV rays, the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere to be more earthlike, and introduce water. Mars’s atmosphere is 100X thinner than the earth and is composed of is 95% carbon dioxide, almost 3% nitrogen, a <1% argon, and very little oxygen. Mars’ atmosphere is so thin, if you were to walk onto Mars without a spacesuit the low pressure would make your blood boil. Not in a hot way but your blood would become a gas and that’s not too fun.

Recently experts were thinking of terraforming Mars by freeing heat trapped carbon dioxide from the Martian crust back into the atmosphere. Essentially creating global warming on Mars because it is really cold. It actually seemed pretty feasible until you look at the results from NASA’s MAVEN Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution mission from late 2015. I’m sure you’ve all looked at the results. MAVEN showed that the CO2 levels on Mars went up after its atmosphere was stripped away. Mars’ atmosphere was stripped away by the Sun’s solar wind. Mars does not have an electromagnetic field like Earth does, generated by the core of the earth spinning. Mars’ also didn’t have enough gravity to hold on to all of those atmospheric molecules. According to the principal investigator of the NASA MAVEN mission, Bruce Jakosky, those molecules have been removed from the solar system entirely. It’s not possible to bring Mars’ atmosphere back.

So why not another planet, what about Venus? Venus is closer than Mars, at 26 million miles from Earth at its closest point and 160 million at its furthest. The shorter distance makes it easier to send help if something goes wrong. Venus is also 80% the mass of Earth and has 90% the gravity vs Mars which is 10 times smaller and has 38% the gravity. Venus is often considered to be Earth’s twin but it has a surface temperature of 864 degrees F, hot enough to melt lead. Another concern is Venus’s surface pressure being high at 92 bar, compared to the Earth’s average surface pressure of 1 bar. 92 Bar would be about the same pressure as going 1000ft deep into the Ocean. That’s far beyond the crush depth of most military submarines. Every lander or probe sent to Venus’ surface has had a fairly short life, with the longest one lasting only 2 hours before being destroyed by the environment. Go upward 31 miles above the surface of Venus it isn’t as bad with similar pressure, gravity and radiation protection to Earth. Which is why NASA has HAVOC, the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept, a floating city science lab or cloud city from Star Wars.

But the general consensus is that the other planets are uninhabitable due to temperature, distance, or a lack of a surface to stand on. So, in terms of planets in our solar system, Mars becomes the obvious destination. So what about are closest neighbor, the moon? Nasa has published a study that colony could be dug under the Moon’s surface and still be okay or in an existing craters. There is still the of cosmic radiation because the moon lacks an atmosphere. Luckily dirt is actually a pretty good reducer of radiation and nuclear fallout can be blocked by like a foot and a half of dirt or concrete packed the right density. In 2008 study by nasa’s lunar Science Institute found that lunar regolith can also do that it can also block radiation. There is still no solution to gravity issue but a controlled inclosed moon base could be a possibility.

Overall I think a moon base could be great test run for a enclosed base on Mars. I would want to get right the first time with Mars because it takes eight months to get there where the moon only takes three days. This makes help more readily available if something goes wrong. For now I think we should hold off on making Mars Earth two and use a moon base as a test run. This way we will have more time to work on the issues of Terraforming Mars.

Sources:
https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/branches/space-mission-analysis-branch-smab/smab-projects/havoc/
http://esseacourses.strategies.org/EcosynthesisMcKay2008ReviewAAAS.pdf
https://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/colonizing-the-moon/
http://www.space.com/31044-mars-terraforming-nasa-maven-mission.html
http://www.space.com/16875-how-far-away-is-mars.html
http://www.universetoday.com/127311/guide-to-terraforming/

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