Could We Colonize Mars?

Yes. There are no show stoppers. The main problem is how to get there fast, cheap and safe. That, in turn is an energy source problem. We need to go beyond chemical rockets (which were invented in China nearly a millennium ago).

Mars is a tempting prize. Mars colonization will double the extent of land humanity live on. Indeed the Red Planet is endowed with nearly as much surface area as all of Earth’s land surface combined (145 million square kilometers for Mars, 149 x 10^6 sqkm for Earth’s continents).

Mars’ rotation axis, over the eons, wobbles impressively. Right now, it’s half way (same inclination as Earth’s). But when the axis is fully inclined, my bet is that the poles melt. Then Mars has got to become much warmer, and wetter: the atmosphere would be full of H2O, water, a powerful greenhouse gas. Maybe life blossoms. Hence Mars is even more interesting than it presently looks (one could imagine life adapted to these super-summers).

Smaller, But Inhabitable Even Before Terraforming

Smaller, But Inhabitable Even Before Terraforming


Could we conquer the seas instead? Sure, we have to. However, it’s more difficult. How could it be more difficult to conquer the ocean? The average terrestrial ocean is 3,688 meters deep. This means that we have to handle, to live there, a pressure difference of 370 atmospheres. On Mars, as it is, the pressure is 1% of one atmosphere; that is just one atmosphere difference. A light spacesuit can handle Mars. But just going down 20 meters in Earth’s sea doubles the pressure problem we have on Mars.

Radiation on Mars, and getting there, is a problem: a year stay, with the trip, would augment the probability of getting cancer by 5%. NASA, and radiation workers’ limit is 3%. The average smoker doubles his cancer habit from his gaseous drug habit. Thus, by only sending smokers to Mars, and thus preventing them to smoke (the fuel debris smokers smoke clog air filters), one would vastly diminish their probability of them getting cancer.

The problem with Mars is how to get there. Getting in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is already (very) difficult, expensive, chancy, and will stay so, barring huge advances in material science. We need better engines, better airframes, and, or, a space elevator. Work is going on, in a number of ways, from perfecting launching rockets from planes, to airbreathing reaction engines, to the simple Ariane 6 solution of switching to solid rockets (French and American ballistic missiles are 100% dependable, as they sit in submarines stuffed with thermonuclear bombs).

Some hope that space tourism (one day in LEO for $50,000, say) will provide incentives for cheaper ways to leave Earth. Maybe, but university departments working on materials built atom by atom, better get lots of money (such materials, for example nanomaterials such as graphene, can be hundreds of times stronger than steel; we need to make them work on a large scale).

Given energy, rocket fuel can be made on Mars in a number of ways. Thus, plenty of energy, plenty of fuel. There is plenty of water on Mars (the Curiosity rover found between 2% and 3% in the soil). At least, at the poles (and perhaps all over). Some universities are already bioengineering mosses and other plants to survive on Mars.

With existing technology, and materials, we (or, rather, robots) could build a Space Elevator on Mars. So Mars could turn into a very convenient outpost, while terraforming proceeds.

To get to Mars fast, and to have the plenty of energy we need there to fuel robots, which, in turn, will be able to dig in the ground and make vast caverns and the like (etc.), we need a concentrated energy source.

The only one imaginable energy source would be from small thermonuclear reactors. A number of companies and universities are working on these.

There should be a crash program  on these (while pursuing steadily ITER).

Mars had life and an ocean, for probably at least a billion years. Not having a core nuclear reactor, hence a protecting magnetic field and plate tectonic, Mars lost liquid water, warmth and most of its atmosphere (Venus has the same problem, although Earth sized). Mars is waiting the human touch to smile with exuberant life again. Colonization can expand diversity as it most often does (will cynics add perfidiously). Besides, a Mars polis would be an insurance policy.

The only way to not being able to colonize Mars? If civilization collapses first, it won’t happen. Unlikely? This is exactly where abusing fossil fuels is leading us.

Patrice Ayme’

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7 Responses to “Could We Colonize Mars?”

  1. gmax Says:

    When can we get there, in your humble opinion?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      We have the technological capability to get there now. But, for colonization, we will need to have the trip down to at most two months or so. Hence the need for thermonuclear fusion. Although we could also do it somewhat and more primitively by putting special stations in eccentric elliptic orbits… And get on those for the transfer…


  2. dominique deux Says:

    Why bother with providing Mars with an atmosphere, seas and the like? As it is, it’s a perfect parking ground for plutocrats and Jihadists. Add a few Obamas and there’ll be enough hot air to go by.

    Re colonizing the oceans: you seem to assume it means colonizing their bottoms. Most such proposals, however, target their shallowest parts, close to the shore, or their surface. The main objection, IMHO, is that as a global ecosystem, they’re both critically valuable and extremely vulnerable. Leaving them alone should be the default option, to which we should revert before it is too late.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Agreed about the oceans: they are being ravaged. I propose to go do the ravaging on Mars.
      With existing tech, assuming thermonuclear power, that is, Mars can be colonized. No need to require terraforming first (that may require to crash very very carefully a number of comets, which is outside present capability).


  3. Gary Sullivan Says:

    Its just a fantasy for people seeking an extreme adventure. Amazes me that people are volunteering to colonize such a misserable place as Mars.
    There’s a billion + sq. kms here on the perfect blue planet that will be (is) habitable with new technology such as solar power for hot water and steam. Wind and solar for electricity. But you have a good point, Mars would be the place for those bums that have been screwing up our world. Space travel will not be practical until the unknow power source is discovered and controlable. Then large habitats can be built that are self contained housing structures , made of these extremely light and strong materials as Patrice mentioned above. Structurally designed to hold this power source in its central axis And most important is a thrust source that is so powerful that the space ship can hover at (a of 1 g) over Earth’s surface without making a mess, then accelerate gradually over a minute or two to 2g and adjust its thrust to suit the comfort of home, so that as it leaves Earth’s gravity behind it continues at one g accelertion. With a@g and a distance of, for example, 2.08 AU, it would be a 100 hour trip; the 1st 44.35 hours traveling forward, then close the power source, go weightless for 10.85 hours while rotating 180 derees, then with the floor in front of you slowly open the power source to decelerate gradually to 1 g for 44.35 hours as you adjust to Mars g and hover, then lightly settle down, or cruise around with your habitat/get away vehicle.
    so long as space vehicles have exhaust pipes and have to orbit Earth to get up speed or slow down or land like a rock, its just a fantasy.
    Mars is currently 33×10^7 km and closing in at 42.5 km/s. So get ready, it would be a blast, all we need is the structure suitable for the vacuum of space, designed around that great power at its central axis, energy food and water, the comforts of home and whatever you can imagine. Then I would go; It could be a nice two week trip. And getting back home, wow, that could re-enforce a person’s love for this Big Blue Earth.
    Just make sure your trajectory meets the rondevu point in both directions; get back home so you can smell the roses. Constant acceleration at one G reaches near C in just under one year.
    Warp drive will only happen in fiction stories.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      My main point is that, given a new extremely powerful energy source, Mars is colonizable now. It could even be terraformed quick: crashing comets in the ice caps ought to be relatively easy, with existing tech (comet gravity assist?).
      The only imaginable source is thermonuclear fusion (although I have discovered, and explained in an essay, the general principle for extracting vacuum energy).
      Accelerating towards C could not work, even if it could be done, because of collisions with stuff, even Hydrogen atoms.

      Statuting on “Warp drive” is a bit early, as we don’t understand space (see Dark Energy). Cosmologists do NOT understand space, at all. There I introduced a new piece of math, EMBEDDING. I sent comments to physics sites, but did not compile an essay. Maybe I do this today, I had forgotten… Thanks for the inspiration.


      • Gary Sullivan Says:

        Always mentally stimulating reading your site. I think the agenda for going to Mars is not so much about developing human habitat, but may be more about searching for valuable elements. I can just imagine industry using the public trust and money to serve their desires to enrich themselves.
        I agree, its all about the power source. Fusion in the core of the Sun is to hot to imagine, but it may be feasable. And collissions are a hazard at high speed. That is a problem to be solved with what we don’t know. Objects would have to be broken and absorbed and neutralized. Turning at the speed is not an option.
        My trip to Mars, above, reaches a velocity of 1,565,779 m/s so its a slight fraction of c. About (25 x 10^-4) x c.
        It is fun to vissualize, but to fast for our existing materials. Thanks.


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