Destination Mars: colonizing the Red Planet

Haleigh McGill

Haleigh McGill
Haleigh McGill

Up until recent years, commercial space travel and establishing the human race on other planets only existed within the realms of science-fiction. Now, with organizations such as SpaceX and Mars One, the idea of colonizing the Red Planet is more possible than ever before.

The most prominent organizations currently working toward a way to colonize Mars want to see this happen in the next 10 to 20 years. I believe this is plausible, but there are a number of things to consider before signing up to build your white picket fence on Martian ground.

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Don’t get me wrong, I have been waiting since I was a young child to hear that something like this could really happen — that space travel isn’t just for the astronauts. The following points are simply ideas to consider regarding the colonization of Mars, now that the once-fantasized future of space travel is upon us.

The Red Planet is over 100 million miles away and it could take over a year to get there or back to earth, though both of those numbers fluctuate depending on the planet’s orbit. If something were to happen to civilians on Mars that called for evacuation, an idea that carries a large risk factor, there isn’t exactly a clear option to send help in a timely or cost-effective manner.

Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to make a quick visit to Earth and then back to your new life on Mars whenever you felt homesick or alienated (pun intended). The distance would create a barrier that separates you from everything you know and are comfortable with, which would likely cause some emotional distress on top of all the uncertainty. Modern technology that continues to evolve offers the best solution to staying connected to those back on Earth, but an interstellar Skype call could only do so much.

As if being away from your family and friends across time and space isn’t intimidating enough, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, reminds us that the first settlers might not return to Earth.

“The first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth … I call it a ‘permanence’ … You want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that should be done. Some people even consider it distinctly a suicide mission,” he noted.

Another practical aspect to consider is how democracy or the law would work on Mars. It could be difficult to enforce certain ideals and leadership styles from millions of miles away, especially since many of those hypothetical colonists might be looking to live life in a different way. New planet, new rules. Of course, the best intentions are there. This is an opportunity to further our knowledge and exploration of space, and it fosters the American pride that is found in that kind of progress. But there are always those what-if scenarios, and they can be especially tricky when dealing with the distribution of power.

Other important considerations for this project include figuring out the long-term health effects that living in an alien atmosphere might have on humans, and how we would ensure the survival and success of a population on Mars. In an article published in DiscoverMagazine.com relating to colonizing Mars, author David Warmflash brings up an important point about our health in outer space.

“For long-term effects, which in weightlessness involve not only bone demineralization, but also muscle atrophy, immune system effects, and other complications throughout the body, there is no way to replicate partial gravity on Earth … Until we actually send animals to those environments, we can’t really be sure what will happen to various systems, including reproduction,” he said.

The idea of colonizing another planet is revolutionary. It is an amazing vision and there are a lot of brilliant, capable minds currently working towards this goal. But if we initiate the colonization before all relevant research is conducted, before the foreseeable potential downfalls have a backup plan, then there could be catastrophic consequences. The future is fast approaching, and it would be incredible to be able to say that we saw the beginnings of colonizing the Final Frontier within our lifetime.

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Collegian Columnist Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @HaleighMcGill