Humans, since the dawn of time, have always sought to push the boundaries of their knowledge, strive for the seemingly impossible and explore what lies in the unknown. In the past few decades, technological advancement has allowed us to extend our conquests beyond the confines of our rocky home planet and into the endless cosmic abyss filled with mysteries, that is space. First, we sent satellites, then humans, then marvellous space stations and now we shall possibly colonize our neighbouring planet Mars itself.
So why Mars? At an average distance of 140 million miles, Mars is one of Earth’s closest habitable neighbours. Mars is about half again as far from Sun as Earth, so it still has decent sunlight. With a terrestrial landscape and a temperature which can be adjusted, by possibly inducing an artificial atmosphere, it is the only planet in our solar system which shows promise for colonization, in the near future at least. Colonization of Mars opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities. It is one of the few ways through which we can solve the population crisis on Earth, and hence ensure a better future for humanity. It will also allow access to the various resources on Mars and more in-depth observational research.
Diving into the history of Mars exploration, although the stars were looked upon by the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and others but, it was not until the invention of the telescope in the 17th century that Mars was studied in depth. The first attempt at sending a probe to the surface of Mars, nicknamed “Marsnik 1,” by the USSR did not happen until 1960. However, this was a massive failure. It was not until after a few more failures and another decade that the first successful Mars mission materialized, with the Mariner 4 entering the orbit of mars in 1971! NASA started the MARS exploration program in 1993, to explore the possibility of inhabiting MARS by sending in spacecrafts, landers and rovers. Most recently the Curiosity rover was sent to Mars in 2011 and in 2020 NASA will send the next Mars rover to continue seeking the signs of life on Mars. The Mars 2020 rover mission will collect rocks and soil samples that a future mission could return to Earth for study. The famous businessman and profound thinker of our times, Elon Musk has also recently garnered headlines for his visions to colonize Mars. Musk aims to send his Starship transportation system to Mars which will be to launch each of SpaceX’s reusable Starship rockets to transport humans to Mars and create habitual conditions.
So the next question we can ask ourselves is how can we bring humans to Mars and sustain a human civilization over there? What are the various possibilities through which this can be achieved? The main challenge over here is the extreme thinness of the atmosphere that does not allow it to retain heat on the planet. This results in extreme temperatures making it impossible for human life to survive here. So how can this challenge be overcome? One is to artificially pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, warm up the planet and make it viable for human use. Some have proposed that an underground habitat can be created by building a series of underground tunnels. The next possibility is to use orbital mirrors that could deliberately heat the surface and another is to impact the surface with comets.
This ever-developing field of exploring Mars continues to hold immense promise and inspires the younger generations towards this endeavour. Hopefully one day we will look upon the bright red dot in the sky and wave at fellow humans in residing beyond our home planet.
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great — and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” -Elon Musk