Mars to Stay

terraforming mars by detlev van ravenswaay

Mars to Stay missions propose astronauts sent to Mars for the first time should intend to stay, with their unused emergency return vehicles recycled into settlement construction as soon as the habitability of Mars becomes evident to the initial pioneers. Mars to Stay missions are advocated both to reduce cost and to ensure permanent settlement of Mars.

Among many notable Mars to Stay advocates, former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has been particularly outspoken, suggesting in numerous forums ‘Forget the Moon, Let’s Head to Mars!’ The Mars Underground, Mars Homestead Foundation, and Mars Artists Community have also adopted Mars to Stay policy initiatives. The earliest formal outline of a Mars to Stay mission architecture was given at the ‘Case for Mars VI Workshop’ in 1990, during a presentation by George Herbert titled ‘One Way to Mars.’

Under Mars to Stay mission architectures the first humans to travel to Mars would typically be in six-member teams. After this initial landing subsequent missions would raise the number of persons on Mars to 30, thereby beginning a Martian settlement. Since the Martian surface offers all the natural resources and elements necessary to sustain human society—unlike, for example the Moon—a permanent Martian settlement is thought to be the most effective way to ensure humankind becomes a space-faring, multi-planet species. Through the use of digital fabricators and in vitro fertilization it is assumed a permanent human settlement on Mars can grow organically from an original thirty to forty pioneers.

In 2010 NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden introduced the ‘Hundred Year Starship’ initiative, a project to embark on a one-way mission from Earth to Mars by 2030. The astronauts would be sent supplies from Earth regularly. Controversy immediately arose over the name of the enterprise, given that Mars settlement could have begun within five years of the announcement — rather than portrayed as an exotic ‘100 year’ fantasy.

Also in 2010, the ‘Journal of Cosmology’ reprinted an article by Dirk Schulze-Makuch (Washington State University) and Paul Davies (Arizona State University) from the book ‘The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet.’ Highlights of their mission plan are: No base on the Moon is needed (given the broad variety of resources available on Mars, the long-term survival of Martian settlers is much more feasible than Lunar settlers); and since Mars affords neither an ozone shield nor magnetospheric protection, robots would prepare a modular base inside near-surface lava tubes and ice caves for the human settlers

Large subsurface, pressurized habitats would be the first step toward human settlement; as Dr. Robert Zubrin suggests in the first chapter of his book ‘Mars Direct’ these structures can be built as Roman-style atria in mountainsides or underground with easily produced Martian brick. During and after this initial phase of habitat construction, hard-plastic radiation and abrasion-resistant geodesic domes could be deployed on the surface for eventual habitation and crop growth. Nascent industry would begin using indigenous resources: the manufacture of plastics, ceramics and glass could be easily achieved.

The longer-term work of terraforming Mars requires an initial phase of global warming to release atmosphere from the Martian regolith and to create a water-cycle. There would be no cost issue associated to terraforming as it would be in the best interest of settlers to make sure that their daily activities positively influence the improvement of the environment. Three methods of global warming are described by Zubrin, who suggests they are best deployed in tandem: orbital mirrors to heat the surface; factories on the ground to pump halocarbons into the atmosphere; and the seeding of bacteria which can metabolize water, nitrogen and carbon to produce ammonia and methane (these gases would aid in global warming). While the work of terraforming Mars is on-going, robust settlement of Mars can continue.

The Case for Mars acknowledges any Martian colony will be partially Earth-dependent for centuries. However, Zubrin suggests Mars may be profitable for two reasons. First, it may contain concentrated supplies of metals like silver, which have not been subjected to millennia of human scavenging; it is suggested such ores may be sold on Earth for profit. Secondly, the concentration of deuterium–an extremely expensive but essential fuel for the as-yet non-existent nuclear fusion power industry–is five times greater on Mars. Humans emigrating to Mars, under this paradigm, thus have an assured industry; it is assumed the planet will be a magnet for settlers as wage costs will be high. Because of the labor shortage on Mars and its subsequent high pay-scale, Martian civilization and the value placed upon each individual’s productivity is proposed as a future engine of both technological and social advancement.

In the fifth chapter of ‘Mars Direct,’ Zubrin dismisses the idea that radiation and zero-gravity are unduly hazardous. He claims that cancer rates do increase for astronauts who have spent extensive time in space, but only marginally. Similarly, while zero-gravity presents challenges, near total recovery of musculature and immune system vitality is assumed once on the Martian surface. Back-contamination — humans acquiring and spreading Martian viruses — is described as ‘just plain nuts,’ because there are no host organisms on Mars for disease organisms to have evolved.

In the same chapter, Zubrin decisively denounces and rejects suggestions that the Moon should be used as waypoint to Mars or as a preliminary training area. ‘It is ultimately much easier to journey to Mars from low Earth orbit than from the Moon and using the latter as a staging point is a pointless diversion of resources.’ While the Moon may superficially appear a good place to perfect Mars exploration and habitation techniques, the two bodies are radically different. The Moon has no atmosphere, no analogous geology and a much greater temperature range and rotational period of illumination. It is argued Antarctica, desert areas of Earth, and precisely controlled chilled vacuum chambers on easily accessible NASA centers on Earth provide much better training grounds at lesser cost.

The time and expense required to send astronauts to Mars, argues Aldrin, ‘warrants more than a brief sojourn, so those who are on board should think of themselves as pioneers. Like the Pilgrims who came to the New World or the families who headed to the Wild West, they should not plan on coming back home.’ The Moon is a shorter trip of two or three days, but according to Mars advocates it offers virtually no potential for independent settlements. Studies have found that Mars, on the other hand, has vast reserves of frozen water, all of the basic elements, and more closely mimics both gravitational and illumination conditions on Earth. ‘It is easier to subsist, to provide the support needed for people there than on the Moon.’ In an interview with reporters, the second man to set foot on the Moon said the Red Planet offered far greater potential than Earth’s satellite as a place for habitation.

Dr. Krauss modifies the standard ‘Mars to Stay’ architecture by ‘restricting the voyage to older astronauts, whose longevity is limited. Here again, I have found a significant fraction of scientists older than 65 who would be willing to live out their remaining years on the red planet or elsewhere.’ This initial first generation of elderly astronauts would accept higher radiation doses while building eventual subsurface habitats, presumably, because the effects of increased radiation would not affect them during the remainder of their lives.

In a 2004 Op-Ed for the ‘New York Times,’ Paul Davies writes: ‘Why is going to Mars so expensive? Mainly it’s the distance from Earth. At its closest point in orbit, Mars lies 35 million miles away from us, necessitating a journey of many months, whereas reaching the Moon requires just a few days’ flight. On top of this, Mars has a surface gravity that, though only 38 percent of Earth’s, is much greater than the Moon’s. It takes a lot of fuel to blast off Mars and get back home. If the propellant has to be transported there from Earth, costs of a launching soar. Without some radical improvements in technology, the prospects for sending astronauts on a round-trip to Mars any time soon are slim, whatever the presidential rhetoric. What’s more, the president’s suggestion of using the Moon as a base — a place to assemble equipment and produce fuel for a Mars mission less expensively — has the potential to turn into a costly sideshow. There is, however, an obvious way to slash the costs and bring Mars within reach of early manned exploration. The answer lies with a one-way mission.’

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