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Can Mankind Survive as an Interplanetary Species? by@allan-grain
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Can Mankind Survive as an Interplanetary Species?

by Allan GrainOctober 19th, 2022
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Man first ventured into space in 1961 when Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth. In 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon. We have machines roving about the surface of Mars, learning about the planet to enable a possible human presence there in the future. But do we have the technology to land on Mars and sustain life there, perhaps indefinitely? We need to find a solution to growing plants on Mars with the help of technology.
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There is no way for mankind to actually build another habitable planet that resembles Earth, so if climate change, nuclear warfare, or some other catastrophe does affect our environment to the point that it becomes uninhabitable, we will all need to have an alternative place to live and survive.


This is where the idea of becoming an interplanetary species becomes valuable. Of course, without technology, this would be impossible. So, it is important to understand where we stand today - in terms of what technology we already have, and what we would still require to have a chance at surviving on another planet that does not provide us with the same protections as Earth.


First, it is important to acknowledge the great lengths air travel has gone to since its beginnings on a North Carolina beach in 1903. Man first ventured into space in 1961 when Soviet Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, orbited the Earth, and then just eight years later, in 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon.


Now, nearly 120 years later, we have machines roving about the surface of Mars, learning about the planet to ascertain the possibilities of human habitation there in the future.


It is clear that we have the technology to send machines to other planets and conduct a wide array of experiments. But do we have the technology to land on Mars and sustain life there, perhaps indefinitely?


Let us assume we have already resolved the issue of traveling 39 million miles through space for nine months just to reach Mars as it orbits nearest the Earth (called Mars Close Approach) and landing safely on the surface.


Since Mars’ atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide, the first challenge is ensuring a safe and lasting supply of oxygen without which we would die within about 15 seconds, as we either freeze or asphyxiate; our blood boils and our lungs rupture.


So oxygen is our number one need.


NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, which continues to persevere in its quest to explore the red planet, has a lunchbox-size instrument onboard called MOXIE, which has successfully converted carbon dioxide to oxygen. Scientists believe a much larger version of MOXIE could be used to produce oxygen in quantities sufficient for human survival on the planet.


The second challenge is ensuring a lasting water supply. Mars has two polar ice caps made of water ice clouds, CO2 ice clouds, and solid water ice. Water also exists as permafrost in the in the planet’s soil at mid- to high latitudes across the planet. It does snow on Mars, on occasion, but the tiny Martian snowflakes are made of carbon dioxide rather than water.


NASA is developing an excavator device named RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) designed to mine water, fuel, and ice from Mars’ planetary soil. A water extractor will then be used to heat the soil and capture the evaporated water, which can then be condensed and stored for future use.


Food is the third challenge. Astronauts are limited as to how much they can bring with them to Mars. The obvious answer is to find a solution to growing plants on Mars with the help of technology. Smithsonian Magazine published an article in 2019 detailing some of the challenges including how much land could be practically used. “…when you think about land, you’re really talking about building an enclosed structure. You have to pressurize it, you have to heat it, and you have to light it to protect against the Martian environment. There’s almost no atmosphere. It’s very cold. So, the land turns out to be the most important driver. The more land you have to use to grow food, then the more construction, the more power, et cetera.”


The author of the article notes that humans on Mars will likely need to live off lab-grown meat, products made with insect protein, and vegetables grown on Mars. This leads us to the fourth challenge. Without a magnetic field, Mars is bombarded by radiation, which makes it highly dangerous for humans. All of the technical aspects of traveling to Mars and surviving with food and water are irrelevant if we cannot protect ourselves from deadly radiation. Galactic cosmic rays damage DNA and increase our risk for cancer. So, without a protective magnetic shield and a thick atmosphere like we have on Earth, we are dead meat on Mars.


NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, carried an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD). Its purpose was to learn about radiation on the planet and prepare scientists for future human visits and habitation there. RAD has helped scientists determine that there are ways to reduce the risk of radiation exposure. The central idea as of now is to burrow 15-20 feet into the ground and build shelters there.


These shelters will protect inhabitants from extreme radiation as well as the extreme cold that permeates Mars. Temperatures average -81 F but could reach as low as -220 F. Regardless of where they spend most of their time and sleep, Mars’ inhabitants will need to venture out at least occasionally so the need for radiation-proof spacesuits and vests is paramount.


Many more challenges exist of course and there will need to be many layers of contingency for emergencies, but most people seem to agree that the challenge is conquerable and Mars is inhabitable.


One day and that day will come, mankind will become an interplanetary species. Famed science fiction writers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, among others, will be proud.


The next Mars Close Approach will take place soon on Dec. 8, 2022. Look up in the sky. It may very well be the future home for your great-grandchildren.