Imagine Earth as a planet where life can no longer thrive and grow. The human population is facing extinction, and the only hope for survival is to relocate the human race into space. There are three possible settlements that could potentially be the next human habitat. The first possible settlement is a large space station, the second is establishing a homestead on Mars, and the final option is forming a settlement on the moon. Jumping back to reality where earth continues to support life and the idea of traveling further into space and forming new colonies is thrilling and exciting, but it is also challenging. If, however, sometime in the future humans do in fact have to leave Earth; can any of these settlements be plausible? After researching and reviewing all three settlement choices, a settlement off of Earth can be possible with the right resources and technology. The best settlement option to sustain life off Earth would be to create a colony on Mars.
To begin with, Mars is known for its rusty reddish color and massive dust storms. This planet at first may seem questionable for a human colony, but this planet features many beneficial factors. The first reason Mars would be the best option for human relocation is the numerous natural resources that exist there. For instance, basaltic rocks are found on Mars and contain metal oxides like Iron II Oxide (FeO), Silicon monoxide (SiO), and Aluminum (AlO). According to Planetary.org when these oxides are broken down, they can be used to “produce structural metals and optical-quality glass” (1). In addition to basaltic rocks, there are also nitrates and perchlorates found in the regolith. Perchlorates are a salt or ester of perchloric acid.
Nitrates are a salt or ester of nitric acid. If the right procedures are taken these chemical compounds can be quite useful when it comes to fuel and fertilizer for plants. This is important because having the materials to plant plants and develop fuel make Mars a resourceful and useful habitat. Another helpful resource found on Mars is Fluorine. Fluorine is a chemical element that is highly reactive, and it is also the most electronegative element. Fluorine is a useful factor on Mars because it can be used to reinforce something known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is significant because while on Earth it may be dangerous, but on Mars, it is actually very helpful in regulating the temperature and building the atmosphere. These precious assets found on Mars make this planet a good contender for a future home for human life because if we can develop structures, fuel, and a comfortable atmosphere, humans are one step closer to life safe in space.
Another reason Mars is the most plausible option for human settlement is the discovery of a possible water source. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) revealed in the past that Mars had water, but were hesitant to release if water still existed on the red planet. Studies done by the Mariner 9 in 1971 captured images of “Valles Marineris canyon system and the massive outflow channels found nearby, carved by catastrophic floods that were of [a] magnitude larger than anything ever observed on Earth. Other images showed smaller ancient valleys with shapes hinting they were carved by rain or snow.” (1.) These images were exciting and informative, but the photographs also diminished hope for life on Mars because of the lack of a water source.
However, on July 25th, 2018 in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) article written by Mary Halton, reveals that in a recent study a frozen lake had been discovered on the surface of the red planet. This lake is located under the planet’s south polar ice cap and is about 12 miles across according to Prof Roberto Orosei from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, who led the study. The research conducted, found the frozen lake is 1.5km under ice and the depth of the water mass is unknown. Even though the frozen lake on Mars has obstacles regarding extraction and whether or not water can hold a liquid state on the red planet, the discovery of ice extends a hope that a colony could be possible on Mars.
Comparatively, this recent study on Mars is groundbreaking, but may also dampen hope for a settlement on the moon or a vast space station. According to NASA, the moon so far does not have any possible water sources and “the [m]oon has no atmosphere, any substance on the lunar surface is exposed directly to vacuum. For water ice, this means it will rapidly sublime directly into water vapor and escape into space.” This statement means the moon has little to no hope of a direct water source and water would have to be transported at a large cost. In addition, a space station also does not have a direct water source, and correspondingly water also would have to be transported and carried everywhere the spacecraft traveled.
The cost of transporting materials in space is expensive, but the price to ship water into space would be exorbitant. To illustrate, compare a “launch cost of $10,000 per pound for space shuttle cargo” and the cost of $25,000 per gallon of water. According to the USGS Water Science School on average each person uses 80-100 gallons of water per day which would mean that if one person went to space and consumed the same amount of water as they did on earth, it would cost roughly 2 million dollars per day per person to transport water into space.
Not only is 2 million dollars per person economically straining, but the weight of all that water is also heavy and poses an extra risk when taking off from Earth’s gravity. In addition, not having a direct water source on a space station or on the moon is dangerous. There are always uncertainties and unplanned issues that will naturally arise and complicate situations. Imagine a colony of humans on the moon awaiting a transport of water, but the transport never comes. Now the colony is in deep trouble for survival and perhaps could face extinction. A direct water source like the one that may be on Mars allows for a greater chance for human survival.
Furthermore, another claim that Mars is a superior option for future settlement is the atmosphere that surrounds the planet. Unlike the moon and a space station, Mars has an atmosphere that protects the planet and regulates the temperature. The atmosphere on the red planet is not as strong or thick as the atmosphere on Earth, but it is still there. The atmosphere of Mars is 100 times less than the atmosphere on Earth. While that is surprising and slightly alarming, it still is a good sign when it comes to making a possible settlement on Mars. Space debris and meteors are a common occurrence in space, and they can be dangerous to the planet’s surface.
Planets with thick and heavy atmospheres usually have a better chance of avoiding meteor strikes and radiation rays because the atmosphere surrounding the planet acts as a shield and develops a level of protection. For example, Earth has a strong and thick atmosphere, and not many asteroids or meteors have hit the surface of the planet. The moon, however, is a different story. The Moon according to Robert Frost, Instructor and Flight Controller in the Flight Operations Directorate at NASA declared that the moon on average gets struck “by about 2800 kg of meteor material per day.” This means that every single day something in outer space is hitting the surface of the Moon which makes a settlement on the moon risky because essential structures, resources, and materials potentially could be hit by space debris and become damaged or destroyed.
Coincidentally this is also a problem for a space station because space crafts are not built with a personal atmosphere, and these vessels are vulnerable to asteroids, meteors, and debris just like the moon. Visualize a populated space station floating through space when out of nowhere a meteor moving at the speed of 25,000 miles per hour comes crashing into the space station the odds are not in favor of the spacecraft. This is why the atmosphere on Mars is so crucial because even though it is not as forceful as the atmosphere on Earth, the Martian planet still has a form of protection from outer space.
Moving forward, the gravity on Mars plays a significant role in why Mars is the best option for colonization. Space is cold, dark and very barren which makes replacing Earth difficult. However, on the positive note Mars has a gravity that is more adaptable for human life. The red planet has a gravity of 1/3 of the gravity on Earth while compared to the gravity on the moon which is 1/6 of the gravity on Earth. Gravity is according to NASA “is the force by which a planet or other body draws objects toward its center.” Gravity is the invisible force that holds objects down and regulates how and where the planets rotate around the sun. This is why on Earth humans are walking on sidewalks instead of floating through the air. In addition, gravity comes from the weight of mass. The more mass an object has the more gravity there is, and the heavier things are. For example, a person who weighs 100 pounds on Earth would weigh 253 pounds on Jupiter or 114 pounds on Neptune because there is a greater mass on those planets.
Pushing forward the weight a person may weigh on a different planet may scare or excite someone, but gravity goes beyond the scale. In space, there is little to no gravity at all, and the effects it has on human bodies is not beneficial. According to the conversation.com gravity affects the brain, bone and muscle mass, and the immune system. When a human leaves the gravity of Earth, the human body begins to react to the instability and tries to adapt to the surrounding environments, but begins to deteriorate. In the 1980s scientists conducted research to see if there were effects when there is an absence of gravity. These researchers discovered that the “absence of gravity leads to enhanced blood retention in the upper body, and so increased pressure in the brain” (1).
Increased pressure in the brain is risky business for the health of the person because a spike of compression in the brain according to John Hopkins school of medicine, can lead to strokes, seizures, neurological damage, and death. In addition, when astronauts return back to Earth many return with cognitive issues. Plus, a second effect low gravity has on the body is the degeneration of muscle and bone mass. The conversation.com reported that each month a person spends in space more than 1% of bone mass per month is lost, and the cells in charge of bone production are repressed. This means that the more time a human spends in a low gravity environment, the more their body will deteriorate and weaken which is problematic for potential colonizers in space. In addition to brain, bone and muscle concerns there are also problems with the immune system when humans leave Earth.
During the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 astronaut, Fred Haise became infected with bacteria known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacteria usually only attacks a body with a frail immune system and when Fred Haise was discovered with the illness researchers went to the lab to find answers. The scientists began comparing blood samples from before astronauts went up into to space and after they returned down to Earth. The blood samples proved that a low gravity environment falters T-cells which can be very harmful to a human body. According to Cardiff University T-cells are “white blood cell[s] that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections.” Which means these special little cells move around our bodies looking for diseases and fight them off, so humans are healthy.
When T-cells are not functioning correctly the host of the body usually is ill quite often and may face harmful consequences. Even though when comparing Mars’s gravity to Earth’s gravity and reading the above concerns of a low gravity environment, when speaking in terms of leaving Earth, Mars is the best settlement option because it has a higher gravity than a space station and the moon. A space station is out in space where there is little to no gravity, and the moon has 1/6 of the gravity of Earth which means the deterioration of the human body is greater because of the lower gravity. Of course, Mars also has a lower gravity, but it is higher than both the moon and a space station which is better for the health of a human body.
Lastly, while Mars exhibits many viable traits for life, this settlement option also has downfalls in areas the other two settlements do not. These obstacles would need to be considered before a concrete decision is made. For example, one downfall of a Mars settlement would be the distance between Earth and the red planet. NASA declares that the minimum distance between Earth and Mars is 33.9 million miles. The first issue involving the distance between the planets is how long it would take to reach Mars. The average time depending on the orbital lobes of Earth and Mars can take anywhere from 6 to 9 months. This travel time is a problem because as discussed earlier the longer a body is in a low gravity environment, the more the body deteriorates and weakens which is problematic for colonizers. Another issue that is consistent with distance is the communication delay between Earth and Mars.
The communication delay time between Earth and Mars can be anywhere from 3 minutes to 22 minutes. This is concerning because communication is vital not only in casual everyday life but also in professional aspects. When American astronauts first landed on the moon, we knew they arrived because the astronauts communicated with the command room and told them. This is important to a new settlement because in order to successfully create a colony the first settlers are going to need to be able to communicate with command about essential concerns. However, while distance is a factor to consider NASA and other space agencies continue to work on technology that could make the travel time between Earth and Mars considerably less.
To close the points above, there are downfalls to everything in life and a settlement on Mars is not an exception. Yes, Mars is farther away, and the communication delay is large, but the difference is that in this situation the benefits outweigh the costs. The option to colonize Mars is risky, but it is also very rewarding with the numerous resources and materials found on the planet. Fluorine, basaltic rocks, Iron II oxide, and Aluminum are all natural resources found on Mars that will make life on Mars a simpler transition. In addition, Mars has features that protect and shield the planet while also containing a gravity that is safer for human existence.
The moon and a space station do not have a level of protection like Mars does, and the low gravity is dangerous to the health of a human body. Plus, Mars may have a direct water source that could potentially sustain life while the moon and a space station do not have a direct water source which is problematic. The benefits of having water is limitless but not having water is dangerous, risky and costly. Mars is the superior option for settlement because it has a level of protection, potential water source, contains useful resources, and is equipped with an atmosphere and safer gravity.