The base of Mars' Mount Sharp - the rover's eventual science destination - is pictured in this August 27, 2012 NASA handout photo taken by the Curiosity rover. The image is a portion of a larger image taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mast Camera on August 23. Scientists enhanced the color to show the Martian scene under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain. (Photo : Reuters)
Part I - Humans On Mars: When Will We Arrive, 2021, 2023, 2040 or 2060?
Part II - Humans On Mars 2: Utilizing Mars' Natural Resources
Part III - Humans on Mars 3: Mars Race Sped Up by Private Sector but Delayed by Governments
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Now that Mars is back in the spotlight thanks to the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission, Latinos Post has decided to further explore the age old question of putting people on Mars and how we could one day be inhabiting.
In our first article of the series titled "Humans on Mars," we took a look at how humans could be setting foot on Mars by the 2030's. Now, in this second article, we will be looking at the next step needed for humans to settle Mars: utilizing the planet's natural resources.
Entrepreneur Joseph Palaia, an MIT graduate who currently works with 4Frontiers Corporation - a company "focused on the settlement of Mars" - recently spoke to LatinosPost about settling Mars.
When asked about the current Curiosity rover mission he replied, "We need to understand the scientific data that is coming back from Curiosity. The more we learn about the local environment, and the mineral resources on the surface, the better prepared we will be to go to Mars with humans."
NASA's fact sheet about the Curiosity rover mission states that the main, overarching purpose of the journey to Mars is to figure out whether the planet "has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life, both its habitability and its preservation." The rover is also equipped with a laser to "blast" rocks in order to study their compositions.
One of the most fundamental drivers of human interest into Mars seems to stem from the growing reality that Earth will not be able to (if it can't already) support the exponential human population. Resources will dwindle, and mankind will have to start looking elsewhere to fill the void and Mars, our closest rocky neighbor, looks like a good place to expend our efforts.
The abstract for a study titled "The resources of Mars for human settlement" published by the Boulder Center for Science and Policy reads:
"Spacecraft exploration of Mars has shown that the essential resources necessary for life support are present on the martian surface. The key life-support compounds O2, N2, and H2O are available on Mars. The soil could be used as radiation shielding and could provide many useful industrial and construction materials. Compounds with high chemical energy, such as rocket fuels, can be manufactured in-situ on Mars. Solar power, and possibly wind power, are available and practical on Mars. Preliminary engineering studies indicate that fairly autonomous processes can be designed to extract and stockpile Martian consumables. The ability to utilize these materials in support of a human exploration effort allows missions that are more robust and economical than would otherwise be possible."
However a a key point to all this remains: ferrying supplies between Earth and Mars which will not be a large-scale program in the beginning. Thus, humans living mars will need to be able to build their own sustainable communities from the Red Planet's natural resources.
"We need to develop the tools and systems that will allow a small group of people to be highly productive in the Martian environment. The tools and systems needed to extract local resources (mining), process these materials into useful consumables and building materials (refining) and constructing habitats and other infrastructure using them (manufacturing and construction)," Palaia also told us.
Mars could very well be a gold mine for human resources. There's already talk of mining asteroids, but the logistics of setting up a permanent, communicable settlement on Mars is better in the long term.
"As I have said for many years, we need to work on developing the surface systems that will allow humans on Mars to survive and thrive, living off the land and making use of the resources available to them there. We need to do that in parallel with the efforts of others (Elon Musk with SpaceX, etc.) at developing the transportation technology and infrastructure," Palaia added.
Utilizing Mars' natural resources and developing the technologies to utililze them such as drills and construction equipment is a very important incentive for Mars settlement. Governments, strapped by red tape, might end up conceding this large effort to the private sector.
>> "The resources of Mars for Human Settlement" abstract
>> NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Mission Fact Sheet