Mars is the talk of the town; here’s what life would be like there

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Rachel Mirakova | The Ticker

Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

For several years, the idea of colonizing Mars has been a fixation for many people with some even suggesting they would be willing to spend the rest of their lives away from Earth.

Despite the constant excitement surrounding the idea that has been bolstered by the discovery of ice on Mars’ surface, and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk’s lofty aspirations of sustaining a human population there, progress in making the red planet inhabitable has gone stagnant.

This however has not stopped Musk from continuing to speculate how his company SpaceX  can make the dream of voyaging to and colonizing Mars a reality.

In a series of recent tweets from Musk, he revealed that he plans to establish a population of 1 million humans on Mars by the year 2050, a total that Amanda Kooser of CNET notes Musk has aimed for in the past.

Although Musk backed up his profound tweets with seemingly intuitive calculations and hypotheticals, going as far as reassuring Twitter users who replied to his initial comments with concerns over his idea’s practicability, Caleb Scharf of Scientific American highlights “there are some very serious scientific hurdles to setting up humans on Mars.”

There are several potential issues with Musk’s plan, such as the lack of natural resources, oxygen levels and differences in gravitational force and temperature that are being taken into consideration. Scharf mentions a separate problem that has not been properly acknowledged in conversations about the future of mars — radiation.

Thanks to the Curiosity rover currently roaming the surface of Mars with the help of its Radiation Assessment Detector attachment, scientists have obtained a substantial amount of information on radiation levels surrounding the planet, commonly measured in Sieverts.

Scharf explains “that the extremely thin atmosphere on Mars, and the absence of a strong global magnetic field, [would] result in a complex and potent particle radiation environment.”

This, coupled with cosmic rays that “generate substantial secondary radiation” can make for relatively dangerous living conditions.

Scharf continued, “if we consider just the [radiation] on Mars, the rate of exposure averaged over one Earth year is just over 20 times that of the maximum allowed for a Department of Energy radiation worker in the US.”

If Musk’s aspirations of colonizing mars with a population of over 1 million people ever comes to fruition, it is likely that a majority of those people will remain on the surface of Mars, exposed to the dangerous radiation for a substantially longer amount of time.

If humans inhabit Mars for the average span of a lifetime, they could be exposed to approximately 18 Sieverts, an amount that is likely to be highly detrimental to one’s health.

Considering 8 Sieverts simultaneously could result in death, 18 sieverts spread out over the course of a lifetime can have unprecedented effects.

While it is all hypothetical at this time, there are some foreseeable consequences in regards the health that may occur if the problem of radiation is not taken into consideration before the colonization of Mars begins.

It’s been understood by scientists that increased exposure to radiation can increase the risk of cancer, but recent discoveries have revealed it can also be detrimental to our nervous system.

Additionally, Mars’ high-radiation environment is unlike Earth’s and is a completely new variable that could pose unforeseeable health problems in the future.

For these reasons, the expedition to Mars appears as an even more dangerous investment.

While it is exciting to know that humans may be close to approaching a new frontier in our solar system, there are still several issues unaccounted for that need to be settled before planning could be finalized.

However, as Scharf points out, it is unlikely that SpaceX won’t take all these variables into consideration before making significant strides to starting the expedition. It’s important to approach the topic Musk fervently speaks about in a pragmatic way.

With radiation as one of the many challenges Musk and SpaceX have to face, the 2050 date the billionaire visionary promises may be too optimistic.

If solutions are found to several of these problems in the near future, however, it will be interesting to see how SpaceX handles the process of selecting who travels to Mars and becomes a part of an expedition that will have a lasting impact on mankind.