Okay, so there are people out there who claim that the Mars One colonists are basically going to either die a quick if grotesque death on Mars, or have a slow and agonizing death without much in the way of medical care. This is one case where I could almost see either, even if asphyxiating in a thin, Mars-like atmosphere does NOT look like that one scene in “Total Recall.” However, people who claim this sort of thing seem to imply that we’re basically going to Mars to die. My typical answer is: “No, we’re not. We’re going to live on Mars. There’s a difference.”
Tell Me About It.
Mars One is planning the interplanetary equivalent to sending people to the wild frontier to build a new life far away from home. The only caveat: If you decide you’ve had enough, you can’t just hitch your oxen up to your wagon and head back east. The one-way trip is rapidly becoming the defining element of the plan to colonize Mars and where the “You’ll all die!” kick is coming from. The fact is, I see it as being no different from moving to a distant place that happens to look inhospitable to most people with no intention of returning to my hometown. The differences are primarily ones of distance and the level of technology we’ll need to survive on Mars, as opposed to the old frontiers of Earth.
Some Ways We Could Die
- Radiation: This seems to be a favorite among the kinds of people who try to talk us out of going to Mars. We could die quickly and painfully from a massive radiation burst or die slowly as an increase in our radiation dosage mutates our DNA and causes runaway cancer. Take your pick. Of course, there are ways around this. Pick your favorite radiation shielding: Water, garbage or human waste while we’re in transit between Earth and Mars. Layers of dirt on top of the habitat once we’ve reached Mars. Do it right, and your radiation risks will be no worse than getting the occasional sunburn during a summer day at the beach when you forgot to bring the sunscreen.
- Loss of Atmosphere: The Martian atmospheric pressure varies between 6 and 10 millibars, depending on the season. Compare this to about 1,000 millibars at sea level on Earth, and the problem becomes obvious. You would simply asphyxiate if you were exposed to the Martian atmosphere. That means constantly making sure your spacesuit is well-maintained and maintaining your inflatable habitat to ensure that it doesn’t develop any weak spots in the outer skin. Whatever you do, don’t EVER cause an accident that is going to tear your spacesuit or leave a big gaping hole where you don’t want it. As long as you maintain due diligence and also make sure your preferred oxygen and nitrogen generation systems are up to snuff, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Starvation: If the crop in your greenhouse fails, you have a choice between dying of starvation and taking the long walk out the airlock, right? Not if you plan properly. Make sure you have a sufficient emergency food supply and a backup supply of seed, and you should be all right if you lose a crop. If you don’t mind doing a little processing of the Martian regolith, you should be able to get most of the nutrients you need to grow crops.
Martian Food Production Research
What would a Martian diet look like? Basically, vegan.
Just ask this team.
- Dehydration: My favorite. Well, not really, but people who claim that we are going to die from lack of water obviously don’t account for the fact that it’s possible to extract water from the Martian soil and also recycle water we already have. If Martian colonists don’t mind cutting back on showering, we should have enough for drinking and also use in our hydroponics bay.
Extracting Water On Mars
For those who believe it isn’t possible
- Freezing: Nights can get awful cold on Mars and temperatures can dive as low as -140 degrees Celsius (220 Fahrenheit) in some places. That’s enough to make popsicles out of people who are unfortunate enough to be exposed to the Martian atmosphere. Basically, this means always make sure you have a source of power handy to plug your spacesuit into and some insulation to wrap around your extremities if you get caught outside at night. Make sure you always know where you are in relation to your base and don’t wander off so far that you’re going to run out of power and/or oxygen before you can make it back. If your base power gives out, it’s very likely that your heat source will go out with it, so make sure you keep up with maintenance and also know what to do if an emergency that knocks out your heater and/or power source happens.
- Fire: This is a scary one for anyone who has ever lived and worked in space. Most everybody thinks of the Apollo 1 fire, and there was also a bad fire on Mir that fortunately killed no one, though they had to deal with a smoke smell for weeks. Basically, dealing with this situation requires cool heads along with very good flame suppressants that can starve fire of the oxygen it needs to burn.
Oxygen Masks on the ISS
Brought to you by Chris Hadfield and the CSA
- Medical Conditions: The Mars One colonists will all be in good health when they leave for Mars, but that won’t necessarily remain the case. Besides dealing with the debilitating effects of the zero-G transit (read: lots of exercise and possibly finding a way to simulate gravity), the colonists will face the possibility of contracting a serious disease or becoming injured in a serious accident without access to a hospital’s emergency room. Make the whole thing sound like a game of chance, doesn’t it? However, the entire crew will have training in first aid and/or medical techniques that should help in most of the anticipated situations. Some medical equipment will be available for use. Medical care won’t be extensive enough to treat the most serious conditions and there’s no possibility of an airlift to the nearest hospital, but the crew will know what to do in any situation.
I will admit that Mars is not for wimps. If you think it’s easy, you’ve got another think coming. However, any problem that could kill us all can be solved with a little advance planning along with keeping a cool head when an emergency occurs. I tend to be pretty philosophical about the idea that I volunteered to live out the rest of my life on Mars. I’m going to die eventually anyway. It’s just a matter of what finally gets me. I could die of a heart attack. A madman with a gun could pick me as a target completely at random. A drunk driver could plow into a car that I’m riding in. There are a million and one senseless deaths I could have right here on Earth. So the idea of leaving a good-looking corpse on Mars doesn’t alarm me much. If I buy it on Mars, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that others will learn from my experience. I just hope that they learn the right lesson and do what it takes to build a thriving colony on Mars.
Some Books To Read
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