Mars - the next home of mankind?

The Mars One project has plans to establish a human settlement in Mars by 2023, will this even be possible?

A question which most of us want to ask is surely, ‘is this possible?” According to Mars One, yes it is. They are not the first company who has wanted to establish a human settlement on Mars either. The company says the reason they will succeed where others have failed can be explained with these:

  • Emigration – The Mars One astronauts will depart Earth with the assumption they will never return. This radically changes the mission requirements, reducing the need for return vehicles associated with currently unavailable technologies and far greater costs.
  • Solar panels – Through the use of this simple, robust, and plentiful energy source, we do not require development and launch of a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns for use of a nuclear power source.
  • Simple rovers – Through the use of relatively simple rovers designed to conduct basic settlement construction prior to human astronaut arrival, saving both time and cost.
  • No new developments – Our entire plan revolves around using existing, validated technology
  • No politics – Suppliers are chosen on a balance of price and quality, not through political or national preferences.

Emigration to Mars

A central point to Mars One Mission is the emigration of the human astronauts. Mars becomes their new home, where they will live and work for what will likely be the remainder of their lives.

While it is possible that within the lifetime of the early settlers on Mars there will be opportunity to bring one or more back to Earth, it cannot be anticipated nor expected. Consider the following: to return a human to Earth, there must be a fully assembled and fueled launch vehicle (rocket) capable of escaping the gravitational field of Mars, with ample, on-board life support systems and supplies for up to a seven months voyage, and capability to either dock with a space station orbiting the earth, or perform a safe re-entry and landing on this planet.

Not one of these is a small endeavor, each requiring substantial technical capacity, weight, and cost.

Furthermore, there is a point in time after which the human body will have adjusted to the 38% gravitation field of Mars and be incapable of returning to the Earth's much stronger gravity. This is due to the total physiological change in the human body which includes reduction in bone density, muscle strength, and circulatory system capacity. While a cosmonaut on-board the Mir was able to walk upon return to Earth after thirteen months in a weightless environment, there may be a duration on Mars after which the human body will not be able to adjust to the higher gravity of Earth upon return.

By assuming human astronauts are permanent residents on Mars, the challenges are reduced to providing the astronauts with the foundations for a new life: safe living facilities, clean air and potable water, food rations until plants may be grown in greenhouses and hydroponic facilities, and the essentials for intellectual stimulation on a planet which is otherwise cold, desolate, and without many life giving qualities.

While complex, the Mars One Mission is possible now. The science and technology required to place humans on Mars exists today. Much of what we have learned from the Skylab, Mir, and the International Space Station (ISS) have given us imperative data, experience, and know-how--all of which are applicable to living on Mars.

In addition, the basic elements required for a viable living system are already present on Mars, resulting in the need to send more tools and machines than raw elements. For example, the location Mars One has chosen for its first settlement contains water ice in the soil which can be extracted through the application of heat. This water may be used to drink, bathe, raise food crops, and through electrolysis create oxygen. In addition, Mars has ample natural sources of nitrogen, the primary element (80%) in the air we breathe.

Certainly, for a long, long time there will be need for new supplies such as computers, clothing, specialty foods (chocolate, coffee, and tea), and complex spare parts which cannot be readily reproduced with Mars based 3D printers and computer aided mills. However, soon after the first humans arrive, it is expected the astronauts will be able to create their own habitation using local materials.

Solar panels

The Mars One settlement will be powered by solar (photovoltaic) panels. This is possible because Mars One does not require the production of fuel for a return journey to Earth. The solar panels selected for the Mars One mission are thin film, which, while slightly less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, are extremely light and easily transported. The first Mars One Settlement plans for approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.

As Mars is further from the Sun than Earth, the solar gain is reduced. But as the atmosphere is far thinner, the amount of solar radiation that reaches the surface is greater than if Mars contained a thicker atmosphere. As a result, the average total solar gain on the surface of Mars is 500 Watts per square meter, which is roughly ½ of the average 1000 Watts on Earth.

In the early years of the project the solar panels will be placed directly on the ground, as this reduces the materials brought from Earth and requires minimal effort from the rovers prior to arrival of the humans. When the build-up of dust and sand reduces the total power output, a rover or astronaut will clean them accordingly.

Simple Rovers

Mars One has opted for the deployment of relatively simple rovers which require the astronauts to continue to wear their pressurized Mars Suits. While a pressurized rover, one that offers breathable air and a small living quarters for longer surface exploratory missions is ideal, the cost of transport to Mars is currently prohibitive. Furthermore, there exists at this time no transport vehicle which can carry such a rover to Mars.

While the rovers Mars One has selected are capable of more than 200 kilometers range, the comfort of the astronauts suits will likely limit total travel to 8 hours / 80 kilometers per day. As such, the rovers are able to drive across the Mars terrain at roughly 10 kilometers per hour when under the direct control of a human, and slower when driving autonomously. While not an incredible distance, this does equate to an immediate area surrounding the settlement of roughly 5000 square kilometers.

No New Development

Mars One has designed a mission that uses components made exclusively by existing suppliers, and has confirmed all major components through letters of interest. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications required, there is at this time no need for radical modifications to the current component designs. All suppliers have confirmed their ability to build what is required--and they can do so now.

No Politics

Mars One is a non-governmental company and apolitical in its function. Mars One is choosing to work with the best suppliers the world has to offer independent of their geographic location or national affiliation. Mars One is concerned only with the quality of the products and fairness of the price used to make the Mars One Mission possible. The astronaut selection process will engage tens, even hundreds of thousands of applications from dozens of countries worldwide. Each team selected for settlement on Mars will be comprised of four people, each from a different nation on Earth. From start to finish, from Earth to Mars, Mars One is dedicated to an international, intergenerational effort to take the human species on an incredible journey.

All components required to complete the mission can currently be built by existing suppliers. Mars One has visited a variety of companies that together can deliver the complete package. Among the companies we visited are: ILC Dover, MDA Information Systems, Paragon Space Development, Space Exploration Technologies, Surrey Satellite Technology and Thales Alenia Space. Mars One has received letters of interest from each one.

To finance the mission, Mars One will create an international media event around the project. The audience will help decide as the teams of settlers are selected, follow their extensive training and preparation for the mission and observe their settling on Mars once arrived. The astronauts will share their experiences as they build their new home, conduct experiments and explore. The mission itself will provide scientific and social knowledge that will be accessible to everyone. Mars One is looking for corporate sponsors and investors.

Bas Lansdorp, M.Sc, co-founder: “Since its conceptualization, Mars One has evolved from a bold idea to an ambitious but feasible plan. Just about everyone we speak to is amazed by how realistic our plan is. The next step is introducing the project to the world and securing sponsors and investors. Human exploration of Mars will be the most exciting adventure mankind has embarked upon in decades. It will inspire a new generation of engineers, inventors, artists and scientists. It will create breakthroughs in recycling, life support and solar power systems. It will create a new generation of heroes – the first explorers to go to Mars will step straight into the history books. Finally, we expect it to capture an audience of millions, culminating in several billion online spectators when the first crew lands on Mars.

Mars One has support and backing of several well-known and respected ambassadors:

Professor Dr. Gerard ‘t Hooft, 1999 Nobel Prize winner of Physics: “This project seems to me to be the only way to fulfill dreams of mankind’s expansion into space. It sounds like an amazingly fascinating experiment. Let’s get started!

Paul Römer, inventor of Big Brother: “This mission to Mars can be the biggest media event in the world. Reality meets talent show with no ending and the whole world watching. Now there’s a good pitch!

Gerard Blaauw, Chairman of the Netherlands Space Society: “Mars One’s visionary idea to combine media and aerospace in such an innovative way means it is possible! True breakthroughs come from interweaving divergent domains, and that is what is happening here!

Mary Roach, Writer: “Even before the Mars One team wrote to me, a manned Mars mission had struck me as the ultimate reality television event, and thus an unbeatable funding opportunity. For unlike so much of the "reality" television that exists now, here there would be no need to make up events to add drama, duress, and psychological tension. This mission on its own provides all of that.

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