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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Colonizing Mars Is No Longer A Dream


The idea of colonizing Mars left the sphere of speculation a long time ago, and it’s taking long strides towards a reality. In fact, scientists are now at the stage of devising ways to make a Mars colony self-sufficient. According to one recent study, this self-sufficiency will depend on insects and high-calorie crops grown in tunnels.

Food, it appears, will be the biggest challenge, according to planetary scientist Kevin Cannon, who spoke to Space.com about the work he and his colleagues from the University of Central Florida are doing on Mars colonization.

The idea of colonizing Mars centers around making this colony self-sufficient rather than reliant on imports. While energy can be sourced locally—using solar installations and nuclear reactors, apparently—food would be more difficult to grow locally. Luckily for the future Mars settlers, technology has advanced sufficiently to make lab-grown meat one possibility. Not so luckily, insects will also have to be part of the menu.

"Bugs are the way to go, if people can get over the gross factor," Cannon told Space.com. Insects, according to the researchers, offer a very attractive ratio between the amount of calories they can offer and the amount of water and food they need. That’s why the team included cricket farms in their model for a self-sufficient Mars colony with a population of one million.

Besides the tiny six-legged packs of calories, Cannon’s team also factored in lab-grown protein: anything from chicken meat to fish and algae, according to Cannon, is now possible to grow in the lab and it’s not that expensive, either. In just two years, the cost of a hamburger patty has fallen from over $300,000 to just $11 thanks to generous investments in this particular technology for making meat substitutes. Related: This “Anti-Solar Panel” Could Generate Power From Darkness

Why not just transport some farm animals and keep them for milk, dairies, and meat? Because the transportation itself would be a challenge, and feeding them on Mars would be another challenge, according to Cannon. Mars’s soil is not like Earth’s, which is why even plants for humans may need to grow in tunnels rather than in greenhouses outside.

"If you want to feed a large population on another planet, you have to move away from the idea of watery vegetables and really think about the tremendous amounts of energy, water and raw materials needed to produce enough calories," Cannon told Space.com, noting that most research on Martian settlement has focused on food grown to feed astronauts, but has underestimated the amount of space, water, and sunlight that many plants need.

The team has estimated that with cricket farms and some 9,000 miles of tunnels for growing vegetables, a colony of a million people could achieve self-sufficiency within a century. While this happens, a lot of food would need to be imported from Earth and this would add to the total costs of colonizing the Red Planet. In the meantime, most Martian settlers would need to overcome the common human aversion to eating insects. Lab-grown burgers would certainly help.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com


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  • Bill Simpson on September 26 2019 said:
    The big problem will be the lousy quality of life on Mars, versus the quality of life available on Earth. There are many reasons why many people will never live on Mars besides that. Here are a few of them.
    Mars has virtually no atmosphere, so any work on the surface will need to be done by robots or by people in space suits. Space suits cost a fortune and require a lot of expensive maintenance.
    Machines are heavy, wear out, and need repair, which often requires a lot of parts to accomplish. Machines contain a lot of difficult to make parts.
    Solar power is weaker on Mars than on Earth because it is farther from the Sun. Solar panels are bulky and heavy. Transporting thousands of them to Mars would cost at least hundreds of billions of dollars. And they don't last forever.
    How is nuclear power doing on Earth these days? And Mars has no water or atmosphere to cool nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors, and the machinery needed to make them useful, weigh billions of kilograms. Getting that to Mars won't be easy. And it takes millions of hours of labor to construct them. Who will do all that work on Mars which has a vacuum outside?
    Mars has no oil, coal or natural gas. And windmills won't work on Mars.
    All the water on Mars is frozen, with no flowing water or clean water, like here on Earth. It doesn't rain trillions of liters of clean water on Mars. The frozen water is severely polluted with toxic chemicals, as is the soil, such as it is. Getting water clean enough to use won't be easy or cheap. By the time it is ready to drink, a liter of water on Mars might cost as much as a liter of gold on Earth. The soil on Mars is polluted with toxic perchlorates. Getting them out won't be easy.
    Plants need a lot of chemicals to grow. They need nitrogen and phosphorous. Sorry, but Mars has no nitrogen from the air like Earth has, with its 80% nitrogen atmosphere with plenty natural gas still available here to make ammonia for fertilizer. And all our wheat, rice, corn, and soy get free energy needed to grow from the Sun. Sunlight is much weaker way out there on Mars. Don't expect bumper crops out there, even if pressurized greenhouses could be afforded. Plants, like animals, die in a vacuum. Don't cut your space suit. Humans don't survive being exposed to the low pressure on the Martian surface for more than a couple of seconds.
    Mars has no magnetic field or ozone layer. That's too bad because they protect us, and most living things on Earth, from the deadly radiation emitted by the Sun. Like all H-bombs, the Sun emits some nasty forms of energy, like charged particles and gamma rays. Take away only our ozone layer and within a few months we have all starved to death, since all the plants on the Earth would be dead in a few weeks without the ozone layer. They didn't ban cheap ozone destroying Freon 12 refrigerant for nothing. I miss buying that stuff for $1 a can!
    So basically, the inhabitants of Mars will have to survive in underground tunnels. They will be dirty because water will be super expensive. Save yourself some money and just check into one of the supermax prisons, where you are in a concrete box all day. The food will be better than the food on Mars.
    There are many more problems with humans living on Mars, but my fingers are getting sore from banging on there keys like a chimp trying to type. Don't bring any of them to Mars as pets. They get quite mean when they grow up. Who needs pets, mountains, beaches, the outdoor sports, and all that other Earth stuff anyway?
  • Craig Davidson on September 26 2019 said:
    Mr. Simpson makes some good points. Also, he makes them in a forum not known for being science or environmentally friendly. So as someone who has worked on this topic for years, I would like to offer a contrary opinion.

    Lousy quality of life can occur here on Earth too. Global warming will produce summer temperatures in central New Mexico of 145 degrees F in 2045 to 2050 according to the most recent climate models which factor in arctic rapid heating. In fifteen minutes outside, without a spacesuit, you will also be dead. So you will be just as dependent upon robots and other machines regardless of which planet you live upon.

    Most thinking of bringing everything with you don't work. Smelters can turn the dust into metal layer cakes, which can be powdered and 3d printed. More complex objects can be built over time. There are more resources on Mars than on Earth. Don't bring what you can find locally.

    UNM has nuclear reactors that don't need water and can't melt down. If you can take the sand of Mars, melt it and make 3d panels, with more real estate than all the land on Earth, the lower sunlight does not make much difference. The Great Northern Ocean can be drilled, boiled, and distilled. Hexavalent chromium is ugly but can be vacuumed off suits. You then take a bath to get the rest of it off of you, in standard HazMat procedures. We will grow algae in great ponds for fuel, just as is done in Las Cruces today. Who does it? The oil and gas companies like Mobil and Exxon. They want to survive 2050 too, and while they may have been scoundrels in the last fifty years, they will be heroes in the next fifty years.

    There are magnetic shields that can protect our dwellings, and even be built into them. At least a third of the volume of our habitats will be devoted to growing our foods, in systems just like the container farms that we already use here on Earth. We won't have to live in tunnels, our habitats will start out as little villages and grow into cities. Some of the 3d printed home designs are incredibly beautiful, much better looking than anything you live in today.

    We will build great open parks, the size of football stadiums today, using the same construction methods. We will see great canyons, stride across great mountains, and make a new world our own. Plus everything we do will be the first time it has been done, as a down payment on mankind expanding throughout the galaxy. We don't have to give up Earth to claim the galaxy. We can always come back to visit. After all, by then, you will have to live like we do.
  • Russell Shute on September 27 2019 said:
    It is fun to imagine being on a spacecraft, member of a space-faring civilization,
    that is,
    unless you are a Delta or an Epsilon,
    spending your life supporting the greased social ladder which makes it all possible.
  • Joe B on September 27 2019 said:
    If we can't even get to the Moon, what makes anyone think we can achieve Mars?

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