choice of project topic
SOLAR program 2020
A project made by Maxim Frolov
All of you have probably heard about such person as Elon Musk and his grandiose plan to colonize Mars. Skeptics and practitioners trampled his idea in the dust.
As for me, I’m not a PhD in physics and I’m definitely not a skeptic. When I think about colonization of Mars whatever comes to my mind is science-fiction novels, 80s posters and some excerpts from films. So, Musk's ideas inspired me to study a possible way of implementing his mission, since this theme is such a flight of imagination.
However, in my research I decided to be a little more grounded (sorry for the pun), because colonization is not just sticking a flag into the land, taking a picture and flying away — it’s something much more complicated.
Welcome on board! There will be no stops!
First consequent question.
Why Mars, when there is the Moon or Venus. They are closer to Earth than Mars, so it’s easier to colonize them — argumentative, right?
But closer doesn’t mean easier. Yes, distance plays a significant role choosing the planet. However, colonization involves the foundation of a self-sufficient base that can function autonomously.
On Venus, there are truly unbearable conditions. Its surface pressure is 93 times that it is on Earth and the average temperature is 460 ℃!
So, we have instantly deleted Venus from our colonization list.
About the Moon, things aren’t so clear.
On one hand, it’s only 360000km away, which is 147 times less than from the Earth to Mars. This facilities a number of aspects.
On the other, our dear satellite isn’t very attractive as a subject of colonization. It doesn’t have any atmosphere to protect us from meteorites and radiation. Plus, it is difficult to produce all necessary elements for the life circle from lunar resources.
And besides, this little Moon — it has been explored backwards and forwards and has already become old-fashioned, hasn’t it?
But Mars is different. It's intriguind and tempting! What’s the red planet hiding?
OK, so we decided with the planet choice.
But what do we have to cope with on Mars?
> The Martian day is very close in duration to Earth's. A solar day on Mars is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds.
> Mars has water in the form of water ice on the polar caps.
> Mars is rich in mineral resources and they are more diverse than on other celestial bodies near the Earth. Moreover, the extraction of these resources can be much more productive than on our planet. For example, thermonuclear charges can be widely used to open ore rocks, as there’s no biosphere on Mars.
> Mars has an atmosphere. Despite the fact that it is only 0.7% of the Earth’s, it still gives protection from solar radiation and meteor shower.
> Parameters of Martian soil are close to Earth’s. It can theoretically provide a possibility to cultivate plants, as there’s a large amount of carbon dioxide (95.32%) in the atmosphere.
> Mars has no rain and virtually no clouds, so although cold, it is permanently sunny. This means solar panels can always operate at maximum efficiency on dust-free days.
hOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET TO mARS?
Thus, you are a tough guy if you got here through the flight. But, wait to get too comfortable, the best part is yet to come.
As we already found out earlier - the “launch window” for flying between the planets opens once in 26 months. Taking into account the time of flight, it is obvious that, the Martian colony won't be able to receive an operational assistance from Earth.
As a result, in order to survive on Mars, the colony must have a guaranteed autonomy period of at least three years. A variety of emergency situations, equipment accidents, natural disasters could happen during this time. So, it’s necessary to create a base that can protect the colonists and produce all essential resources for living.
The first thing that comes to mind is the electrolysis of water. However, the Martian conditions are almost perfect to receive oxygen directly from the planet’s atmosphere with lesser energy consumption.
The matter is that carbon dioxide could be decomposed into oxygen and carbon monoxide by an ionized gas — the low-temperature plasma. Sounds scary, doesn't it?
On Earth, this method isn't effective, since the temperature here is usually relatively high. In terrestrial laboratories, carbon monoxide is quickly oxidizing back to CO2. But on Mars, where the average temperature is -63 degrees Celsius and the pressure is 160 times less, the reaction of re-oxidation will occur very slowly. This will allow to separate the resulting products into different containers and supply the colony with enough amount of oxygen.
Secondly, water on Mars is a concentrated saline solution. Without purification and saturation it with mineral elements, this “water” would have no value.
In addition to placing our base near the polar caps, you will need to handle with these two challenges.
Therefore, water on Mars is worth its weight in gold.
If you read my article carefully, you will probably say: “There is ice on Mars, what’s the problem?” Well, true, but it's not that simple.
Firstly, you can’t just melt the ice from polar caps and get the necessary water. Water doesn’t exist on the surface of Mars as a liquid, even at temperatures above 0 °C. Because of low pressure, it sublimes, i.e. it passes from a solid directly to a gaseous state.
North polar cap
South polar cap
Obviously, food supplies won’t be able to provide colonists a three year stay. The base must have its own “farms”, in our case they will be inflatable greenhouses.
Such a system imitates the terrestrial conditions for the plants, which will allow for colonists to engage in agriculture far from home planet. It will be possible to grow only spinach, beans, lettuce. However, this is enough to get energy for the body, but you’ll have to refuse your food excesses. Yeah, this is harsh Martian reality without your favorite dessert in the evening.
By the way, don’t forget about the solar radiation. There will be no beautiful glass domes on the surface of Mars. Greenhouses will be placed underground, like the living compartments.
So, if you completed all these steps to create a colony, have launched the production of resources and miraculously survived under such conditions, which are absolutely unusual for the human body, then my congratulations! You are the first person from the new Martian race and you can already think about expanding your newly minted state, plan its policy and economy. Eh, jokes, jokes…
And now, the sad part. It’s not even about the difficulty of the mission, because the project itself in theory is even feasible. The main problem is money, as always. According to SpaceX estimates, it will take 5 trillion dollars to complete the project. Well, these are already the sky-high numbers. You could buy all free islands on the Earth, establish a new country and you’d still have 2 trillion dollars left. So there can be no question of any financing by an individual state or private companies. That’s why all skeptics and analysts say that this mission is a waste of time and money.
However, here I bet. Why do we fly to space then? Why do we build BAC and discover new particles? Why do we even explore this world? It all costs enormous amounts of money and human efforts. But, these are elements of human progress and knowledge acquisition. What if there is a unique resource on Mars that has the same properties as the philosopher's stone or something else? We can never know for sure.
I believe that the colonization of Mars is one of the stages in the development of mankind and it will open a new era of space explorations to us. The key to its implementation, oddly enough, is unity. It can’t be realized without unification of leading countries and associations. But, how can there be any disagreement and disunity when it comes to the contemplation of our universe? We are so powerless in space alone because it’s so vast and unknown. Imagine, if we worked on it as a single mechanism, I’m sure Mars would already have been colonized, and not only Mars. And all those beautiful drawings that you could see in my article would be common for us.
Aren’t they all worth the effort?
This line is under construction
The author didn't come up with another amazing animation for the transition.
Please, just continue scrolling.
Don’t even think about futuristic structions as in the picture above. As you may have noticed, Mars is not a friendly planet. The created shelter should be simple and aimed at fulfilling its direct function. So, our new home is likely to look like the one on the right.
The construction will be carried out by means of 3D printing technology from Martian soil. Such a build promises to be durable and airtight and, in the complex with special plates, it will provide sufficient protection against radiation. Plus, placing the base below the surface gives an increase in heat conservation and solves a problem with constant dust storms on Mars.
Another important aspect is gravity. On Mars it is almost 2.5 times lower than on the Earth. In addition to the detrimental effect on the human body, it is not known how reduced gravity load will affect other factors of the colony's life - plant growth, storage of drugs, etc.
You will have to recreate the analogue of gravity in the shelter to avoid these possible troubles.
The most important aspect in the construction of an autonomous shelter is energy. The entire production and sphere of life support will urgently depend on the obtained amount of electricity.
For this purpose, solar panels with a total area of about 3,000 square meters will be placed. It should be enough for all devices on the first days of growing colony.
Further, the energy will be derived from special plants working on methane fuel, since It could be synthesized from CO2 and water.
Well, this is the end of our journey.
Hope you enjoyed exploring Mars with me.