Recent news of a Mars colonization mission slated for 2025 filled me with excitement and wonder, and also some questions. How feasible would it be? Could astronauts survive the radiation? What type of provisions would need to be included? The answers to some of these surprised me.
Since Mars does not have the atmosphere or magnetic shielding that Earth does, the degree of protection from solar radiation astronauts would have was one of my first questions. My assumption was that the structures they’d be living in would likely be fine, but what about traversing Mars’ surface? Surely the idea of a manned Mars mission was at least partially to explore, right? Would a space suit be sufficient for long term exposure?
According to information from Mars One’s website, the estimated amount of ionizing radiation they’ll be exposed to per year is 11 mSv (microsieverts) per year. For comparison, the IAEA estimates the average person is exposed to 2.4 mSv per year on Earth depending on location and occupation. Apparently this is an acceptable level as astronauts go, as Mars One’s site says that at that rate it would take 60 years to reach an astronaut’s career maximum sieverts.
Ok, so it’s possible to survive a two year mission living on Mars as long as they limit their surface exposure. What about while they’re within the shelter?
The Mars One website mentions a 10m by 50m proposed living space, which will include room for recreation, growing plants for food, and various life support systems. Water will be extracted from frozen Martian soil, and can be recycled thereafter to provide a daily supply of 50 liters per person. Plants can be stacked in multiple levels for space efficiency.
The habitat will run primarily from solar power, with additional storage available in anticipation of Mars’ frequent dust storms and the trouble that could cause for solar arrays.
The team will have access to the internet both for communications and entertainment, albeit with a 3-22 minute delay at either end of the connection (accounting for the position of each planet and their relative distance from each other). The idea of Mars colonists continuing to update Facebook and send emails is fascinating and a little funny, but I find the eventual reverse even more interesting. Think about web servers being started on Mars, with those on Earth potentially being able to access content created there. The birth of an interplanetary web is an exciting concept, and would probably go a long way to bridge the gap between distant worlds.
Would that take the place of the www prefix, something like mars.website.com? Even short of an independent Mars internet, I would be very interested to follow the blog of the Mars team after they arrive, chronicling their pioneering one post at a time.
Though it’s still ten years out and there are still a lot of challenges to overcome before any of this becomes reality, it’s quite something to talk seriously about something that otherwise might seem like wishful thinking. It’s an incredible commitment for everyone selected to go, as it’s slated as a one-way trip. While those in charge acknowledge the potential to return to Earth being possible as things develop and new technology is tested, each person going must accept that they otherwise may never step foot on Earth again.
I can scarcely imagine looking through a telescope at Earth, watching the world from an incredible distance. You’d know humanity is going about its daily business way out there, everything from wars being fought to people eating takeout in front of their TVs. It’d probably seem surreal and detached, like something you know is happening only because you assume it must be.