Is there life on Mars? The late, great David Bowie kept asking that question, and no one ever seemed to be able to answer him – we’ve tried to find out, we’ve sent numerous rovers and probes and cameras up and over to the red planet, but as yet we haven’t found a single living thing there.
That’s not to say there has never been life up there. Despite its incredibly cold temperatures (roughly -60C) and dryness which both add up to no water being possible on the surface of the planet, it has been noted that there are large polar ice caps up there – and in the past there may well have been some form of life. More recently, NASA found what looks like it could be liquid water on the planet, which has led to even more excitement – and the possibility that life could (or did) exist on Mars.
Setting up Home on Mars
And so, because of these maybes and possibilities, and because of the fact that the earth is slowly but surely being destroyed (or destroying itself, the jury is still wavering between the two on some levels), and because Mars is the most ‘Earth-like’ planet we’ve got in our solar system, the idea of colonising the red planet has started to gather momentum. It’s always been a popular thought, with sci-fi shows and books loving the potential behind the concept. Everyone remembers Matt Damon in The Martian, growing his potatoes. But now that it is becoming more than a pipe dream and scientists are actually beginning to do something about it, it’s time to get serious.
Because there’s a problem.
The thing is, even though it’s technically possible – or will be soon enough, by all accounts – no one actually really wants to move to Mars.
Cold, Lonely and Downright Inconvenient
Why? Well to start with it’s cold. Really cold. We’ve mentioned above that it can fall to minus 60, and that’s on a good day. On Earth we’re used to seasons, to changing weather, and yes, we’re even used to a bit of a chill, but with the temperatures on Mars falling that low it would be nigh on impossible to leave the house (it wouldn’t be a house, of course, but what are we going to call the… pods? Space station? Self-contained hub?) at all. And then what? Would all of humanity be reduced to staying indoors permanently? And even if we could adapt to that, what about the animals? We need animals for food on the most basic level, but nothing in nature would be able to live in those conditions.
Another reason for not wanting to go to Mars is that it would be hellishly lonely. At the beginning anyway. Colonisation would take some time, and there might be room for just a handful of people at once; if you went, most of your family and friends would remain on earth. It could be possible to keep in touch (in this theoretical situation), but not via the phone and human contact would be extremely limited. It doesn’t sound like much fun. This could be why NASA have been looking into how virtual reality could actually help astronauts; providing them with an escape from the loneliness of a desolate planet.
Thirdly, there’s a vacuum on Mars which means that every time you did step outside – assuming you wanted to in that terribly cold temperature – you’d have to wear a bulky, thick spacesuit (which could help with the cold…). Not ideal. Not that you’d want to be out there anyway – in the summer (and remember, a Martian summer lasts for two earth years) there are almost constant dust storms blowing up all over the place. It’s not exactly the kind of place you’d step outside in a bikini and hope to catch a tan.
It’s totally inhospitable.
So, the scientists say, let’s build a space station type thing and have everyone live inside all the time. People imagine it would be something like Star Trek and ‘tea, Earl Grey, hot’ would magically appear out of a special machine installed in every bedroom. But no. It wouldn’t be like that. Even if the technology existed, where would the raw materials come from? The water, the tea, the mugs? Everything would be severely rationed because once it’s gone, it’s gone. It takes so long to get things over to Mars, that rationing would have to be strict and it would hardly be the life of luxury – even in a posh space station.
And finally, colonising Mars would start wars. It’s a nice idea to have the world simply transplant itself onto a new planet and live on as though nothing had happened, but there is a lot of money riding on this project, and a lot of different nations wanting to be first.
That sort of unhealthy competition causes conflict. The kind of conflict that could destroy a planet…