Thursday, July 26, 2012

Martian settlers: A reality show?

The Mars One project has a goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars in 2023.  They've already planned out the various stages of the project and determined what would be needed to accomplish their goal.  How would such a venture be funded?  By making it into a reality show of course!  By creating a media sensation out of the various stages of the plan as well as ultimately having footage of people living on Mars, the project can be funded privately without politics getting in the way or the need for tax payer money.  The public would even get to be involved in deciding who the first people to go to Mars are.  Like a Martian edition of American Idol or something!

But there is a catch.  This project is not just intended for exploration.  The first four people to go to Mars wouldn't just be going as explorers; they'd be going as settlers.  So whoever would be chosen to go to Mars would have to be prepared to spend the rest of their life there.  Watch the video below to learn more.

Visit the website here.

Sounds like a really cool idea, but I don't think I will be volunteering to settle Mars.  If they are successful and develop a significant colony...then maybe I would consider going.  But even then I think I'd still want to have a way back.

Despite their planning and desired method of funding, I'm not sure how viable their project even is though. It may be too soon for a project like that.  A little more research of the red planet by robots would be a better starting point.  Preferably advanced, bipedal, solar powered robots that can walk the planet and extensively document it.  Of course, the problem with that is it would be harder to make a reality show media sensation about sending more robots to Mars.  The various probes and rovers we have sent so far to gather information about the red planet have provided some interesting information, but who really cares that much about the planning stages?  I think most of us are more interested in the data that is provided by such missions, not the planning of such missions.  So I don't know if they could get funding for an advanced robotic mission to Mars by simply attempting to create a reality show on developing robots for a Mars mission.  That might interest some people, but I doubt it would interest enough to actually fund such a mission.  Besides, people wouldn't be able to have the fun of voting for the favorite potential settler if they were just robots!

Sending people to Mars sounds a lot cooler.  But are we really ready for that yet?  And would four people really be enough to start an initial settlement successfully?  I think 40 people would sound a lot better.  That way you could have certified geniuses in a variety of fields to go there and be able to work together to accomplish the common goal and keep each other company.

But is there more to it than that?  Going to Mars isn't like going to Antarctica or the Sahara desert.  As inhospitable as Antarctica and the Sahara are, they are still part of the natural environment of earth.  And we are a part of the earth.  We can create artificial environments in space to suit our needs, but how healthy would it be for a human to live in an artificial environment for an extended period of time?  We've put astronauts in orbit in artificial environments, but only temporarily.  How healthy would it be to live in an artificial environment indefinitely?  And not only that, how well would humans be able to adapt to the difference in gravity on Mars?  Would adapting be simple, or would it ultimately become a long term problem?  I don't know that we can know that yet, since no one has been anywhere with a different level of gravity for an extended period of time before.

Another thing to consider is how well would people adapt to living somewhere where a day and a year would be a different length of time than what they are used to.  A day on Mars isn't really that much longer than a day on earth, but a year on Mars is about twice as long.  This might not be an immediate problem in the short-term, but would it be in the long-term?  The question would be whether humans could adapt to longer seasons or not.  If they can adapt, then that might not really be a big deal.  But what about the female menstrual cycle?  The idea is that Martian settlers would have children there.  But would being on Mars disrupt the natural female menstrual cycle?  Would the difference in the the length of days and the year affect it or not?    And what about the moons?  Would the fact that Mars has two moons cause a disruption?  Or would the female menstrual cycle naturally adapt to a new calendar?  If not, would they even still be able to have children there?  If they were still able to have children though, would those children be able to adapt to the Martian environment easier than the adult settlers since that would be all they had ever known?

So I don't really know the answers to those questions.  But who really does since no one has ever actually been anywhere outside of earth's orbit?  We got an idea about what visiting a barren, alien world might be like by visiting our own moon, but technically, that is still within earth's orbit and they were short visits.  What would it be like further away from our natural habitat for an indefinite period of time?  I think these are questions people should try to answer before actually sending people to Mars.  I think the first trip humans make outside of earth's orbit should probably simply be that, a trip outside of earth's orbit.  See how they do in a space station drifting in space outside of earths orbit.  Or maybe on an asteroid.  If they do fine, then bring them back home and then plan a trip to Mars.  Another possible test of human adaptability they could do here would be to have a colony of people live in an underground base -- or better yet -- and underwater base for an extended period of time....and by extended period of time, I'm talking like 5 to 10 years.  In an underwater base, people could experience living in and maintaining an artificial  environment all the time, and also be forced to wear a diving suit anytime they left the base.  If people can successfully adapt to living in an artificial environment underwater for many years, then maybe people could adapt to Mars too.  If people had trouble adapting underwater here, then they could always pull them out.  But if people had trouble adapting on Mars, they would just be screwed.

So are we really ready to settle Mars?  Maybe we are, but I think we'd do well to do a little more research first before attempting it.  As cool as going to Mars sounds, I wouldn't want to volunteer to be among the first settlers.  But I imagine that a lot of people would.  And if they went ahead and attempted it, I imagine I would want to follow the media sensation that surrounded such a venture.  Maybe the best test for how well humans could adapt to Mars is to just send some there to see?  Personally, I think we humans are very adaptable and could probably pull it off.  But it would be nice to actually confirm our level of adaptability to some degree ahead of time.  Either way, anyone willing to take the risk of being among the first people to settle Mars would be famous and would go down in history.  And they just might create a new civilization and their own history in the process.

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