By Amanda C. Lee
Life on Mars has been a frequent subject under the Hollywood spotlight, with high grossing movies such as The Martian and The Space Between Us reeling in big bucks. But are these movies backed by science, or will life on Mars remain a Hollywood fantasy?
We can’t live on Earth forever. There, I said it. When the Sun eventually dies, it will expand, engulfing planets one by one into a fiery incinerated death. That is, if we’re lucky. There are plenty of ways in which the Earth could be destroyed before the Sun gets to it, including black holes, asteroids, and collisions with rogue planets. With this in mind, scientists have been looking for ways in which we could outlast our scheduled extinction, one of which being to inhabit Mars.
Passing over the possible physical and psychological trauma of the 260 day journey, and the logistics of landing, we still have to meet our basic necessities on a whole other planet. Although Mars shares many similarities with Earth, they share more differences, making it difficult for scientists to declare that Mars will be our new home. In order to overcome these differences, we would need to create adaptable technology that combats the multiple ways in which humans could die on Mars.
The Necessities: Drinking, Eating, Breathing
At first glance, Mars looks like a desert; however, plenty of water has been found on the Red Planet in the form of ice. Ice can be found everywhere, from underneath the soil, to concentrated on the surface; the trouble comes with trying to remove it. Scientists have considered digging, drilling, and microwaving, but the method that seems the most feasible is extracting the water from the air. At night, humidity levels reach between 80 and 100 percent, and researchers at the University of Washington caught on. In 1998, they came up with a device that will extract enough water from Mars’ atmosphere to sustain human life as long as the humidity remains high.
In terms of food, although the topsoil is quite toxic, the soil underneath does actually contain the essential nutrients needed to grow plants. However, Martian soil also contains a harmful salt called perchlorate that would have to be chemically removed in order to grow food that is safe enough to eat. Additionally, since the atmosphere on Mars is too thin to protect the surface from solar radiation, plants must remain under artificial lighting in sheltered environments at all times. Although this may not be the final solution, it seems safe to say that we won’t starve in the meantime.
As for oxygen, NASA has already figured out how to sustain human life using the 95% of carbon dioxide that makes up Mars’ atmosphere. NASA developed a device (MOXIE) that electronically splits up carbon dioxide into dioxygen and carbon monoxide. After purifying the oxygen, it expels it into the atmosphere for humans to enjoy. In 2020, NASA plans to send MOXIE to Mars, not to produce lots of oxygen, but to test its competence. If the results bear success, this would be a significant leap towards our residence on Mars.
Given all of the promising research and results, it seems as if our Martian future is fast approaching success. However, the process of transforming Mars into our new Earth will take several years, and lots of hard work. Ultimately, the question “could we live on Mars?” still exists, and is becoming more and more prevalent as time passes. As of today, scientists have proven that it is possible to live on Mars; the question is, “do we want to?”.