Colonizing Mars: Just How Far Away Are We?
February 19, 2013

Colonizing Mars: Settlements May Happen Sooner Than We Think

Rayshell Clapper for — Your Universe Online

Mars colonization has been a topic of discussion for decades. Especially since man landed on the moon in 1969, people from a variety of professional backgrounds — including astronauts, sci-fi writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, video gamers, academics and journalists — have pondered the possibility of colonizing Mars. But just how far in the future is the first Mars colony?

One particularly promising example of a possible Mars colonization endeavor comes from SpaceX, a private spaceflight company founded by the South African billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. In November of 2012, redOrbit reported about Musk´s designs for a Mars colony in the next 20 years.

“In his plans, Musk said [the initial Mars colonization effort] would start with a pioneering group of less than 10 people who would be transported through a reusable rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane.” This first group would literally build a sustainable colony from the ground up, including housing, crops, buildings and everything needed to sustain life on Mars. Eventually, Musk said he would like to have 80,000 colonists by the 20-year mark. Of course, at an estimated price of about $500,000, a one-way ticket to the Red Planet is still pretty steep.

Another group interested in colonizing Mars is a nonprofit organization from the Netherlands that is planning a settlement by 2023. Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp is leading a group of his countrymen putting together its plans for the Mars One settlement.

“Mars One will establish the first human settlement on Mars in 2023,” the group said in a statement on its website. “A habitable settlement will be waiting for the settlers when they land.” Then every two years thereafter, the group said a new crew will arrive on the Mars colonization to replace previous occupants.

Both of these groups are working feverishly to find funding, participants and suppliers. However, these are not the only hurdles that they face. Discovery explains five hurdles that must be conquered before colonizing Mars.

1. Terraforming: Colonizing Mars will require a great deal of scientific finesse in order to manipulate the Red Planet´s atmosphere, gasses, ecology and UV levels from the sun into conditions that would be hospitable to human life.

2. Cost: As the SpaceX plan has pointed out, given current technologies and energy requirements, a trip to Mars will not be cheap, which means that the issue of “equal access” may not apply to Mars colonization.

3. Health: A trip to Mars takes about seven months to a year — a long time to be aboard a small spacecraft. This means that the participants´ mental and physical health would have to be addressed before a group of humans could even make the trip to a hypothetical future Mars colony.

4. Finding willing participants: Because of the previous three reasons, it may be difficult to find willing interplanetary colonists.

5. Would colonizing Mars really save Earth humans?

One can´t help but think of Ray Bradbury´s famous “The Martian Chronicles” books. In the collection of short vignettes about Earth-to-Mars relations — which included Mars colonization —  things did not end well. Without giving away too much, let´s just say that this writer will not be saving up $500,000 for a trip to Mars “¦ at least not until a few others have tried it first. The prospect, however, has an undeniable allure.