Human evolution, Mars the next step
Living on Mars
Not that I will ever be able to step foot on the red planet, but with all the news about planned flights to Mars, I started to wonder what it would be like.
Size for size Mars is just over a third the size of Earth (surface area) and has a gravitational force of approximately 1/3rd of that on Earth. The effect of this can be quite dramatic.
Out bound flight to Mars
On the flight to Mars, the people will suffer from no gravity. In these conditions muscle mass can vanish at a rate of up to 5% per week.
We take the effects of gravity for granted, but the body converts the pressure of this force into the requirement for muscles which keeps us upright. Once the gravitational force is removed, the body thinks that the muscles we use on Earth are no longer required.
Astronauts, who have spent long periods in space often require being stretchered away on return to Earth and can spend a long time recovering from the effects of muscle loss.
Bone loss can also be problematic as the atrophy rate may be around 1% per month with a possible total loss reaching 60%.
The effect of gravity on the blood causes blood pressure in our feet to be higher than that in our brain. Removing gravity evens out the pressure which visually makes the face fill with fluids and ‘puff’ out, where the lower parts of the body, and the legs due to the loss of fluids become thinner.
The indication to the brain is that the body has too much blood and within a couple of days in space we could lose over 20% of our blood volume. This reduction of blood then tells the brain that the heart does not require to beat (pump) as hard which starts the atrophy of the heart muscles.
The effects of long term space travel (approximately three months) on the human body returning to Earth would require a recovery period. Typically, the blood volume would return to normal within a few days. Muscle would return within a month, although could take longer to fully recover to pre space flight condition.
Bone loss could take up to three years to regrow; that is if all of it would grow back.
Scientists are still working on specific exercises and various machines that enable exercise in a zero gravity environment to help slow the process of atrophy. Reducing these losses would enable longer space flights and lessen the recovery period on Earth.
These are just some of the physical effects on the human body from space flight, but if the human body did not return to Earth, and stayed in space, it is probable that the body would adjust to the loss of blood, muscle and bone. Unfortunately, the longer anyone stays in space, the harder it would be for them to return to Earth.
Psychologically, sleep can often be disrupted causing a drain on the astronaut. Unlike being on Earth, physical tiered helps rest and sleep, but without the pressure of gravity on the body and the weightlessness makes adjusting to sleeping in space sometimes difficult. Also, the body clock is no longer governed by the rising and setting of the Sun. The day and night are the same and only the regimental routine of clock watching with specific times for sleeping and waking is required to keep some form of normality.
The route to Mars
Flying from one planet to another is a little different to conventional travel as both the origin and the destination are constantly moving. This requires a lot of calculations to establish the best position for launch to reach Mars.
Mars has a slightly elliptical orbit and takes twice as long as Earth to rotate around the Sun. this means that once every two years the Earth and Mars are approximately only 55 million Kilometres (34.2 million miles) from each other.
Unfortunately, because space flight is not like flying within an atmosphere, and that both Earth and Mars constantly move, flying between the two planets at the point where they are close together is not possible with our current technology. This would require extremely high speed space travel and the ability to slow down quickly so as to not over shoot.
Using the technology available, the mission will take around 6 months. The launch will be at a point before both Earth and Mars are at their closest. The space craft will then travel in the same orbital direction towards the orbit of Mars until they meet. As the space craft and Mars will be travelling at a similar orbit, they should have a sufficient window of opportunity to land successfully.
Landing on Mars
The effects above are based on returning to Earth, but what of the effects of landing on a planet that has a gravitational force of approximately 38% that of Earth?
Due to the lack of gravity, the requirement of the full recovery of muscle, blood and bone may not be required; therefore recovery times should be less.
Having said that, the initial landing will require everyone to be as fit and active as possible as the success of the Mars landing will be based on the success of that crucial first few days.
The actual landing on the surface requires precision. As the planet has only a thin atmosphere the use of a parachute only slows the decent fractionally and is insufficient for a full landing. Once in the atmosphere the space craft will have to jettison the parachute and rely on thrust rockets to slow the decent to a landing speed. Although the use of computers will aid in the Mars landing, it will be up to the pilots to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Living on Mars
Okay, we build the space planes, successfully launch from Earth and land on Mars, now what?
Well, initially we will need to take everything we need with us; food, Oxygen and building materials. Don’t forget, the trip to Mars is a one way ticket; even if it is possible in the future to obtain a flight back to Earth, the chance of being able to re adapt to Earth’s gravity after a prolonged period on Mars is slim. And the chance of anyone who is born on Mars being able to return to Earth to live is even smaller.
The space plane will initially be ‘home’ until other structures can be built, and there will be no wandering outside without a suit.
Gravity will be the first thing to adapt to, and then we will need to establish a way to grow food, although I would presume there would be additional flights from Earth to supply additional provisions and additional materials to help the growth of the Martian community.
As for the weather, Mars is colder than Earth, even though the atmosphere is approximately 95% CO2, (so much for global warming on Mars!) with temperatures ranging from a minimum of -143°C/-255.4°F min to an average of -63°C/-81.4°F and a maximum of 35°C/95°F.
The surface atmosphere has what is called a low thermal inertia, which means that when the sun shines on the surface, the temperature rises quickly. Mars has a similar tilt to Earth and because of these seasons have been created and the surface temperature varies because of these seasons. The seasons on Mars are twice as long as those on Earth due to the Mars orbit taking twice as long to rotate around the Sun.
Dust storms are relatively common. In 1971, the probe, ‘Mariner 9’ observed a planet wide dust storm that lasted for over four weeks with wind speeds of 17 m/s (38mph) with gusts of up to 26 m/s (58mph)
Smaller individual dust storms similar to our tornadoes are also common. (Known as Martian dust devils).
Time adjustment should not be too problematic, because the rotation of Mars is just slightly longer than that of Earth (Approximately 24h 37m).
Here on Earth there have been many experiments to try and establish a totally contained biosphere in an attempt to simulate a possible self-contained living environment capable of sustaining life. Biosphere 2, owned by the University of Arizona, was probably one of the most successful, providing valuable information on the requirement or create an artificial living accommodation on a remote planet.
Resources of Mars
The two main resources required to sustain life are air and water. Large quantities of water are believed to be trapped within the surface, and the two polar caps are believed to covered in ice, although without further examination it is assumed that these ice formation maybe primarily solid CO2 (dry ice).
There is only 0.13% atmospheric Oxygen and 2.7% Nitrogen on Mars, but 95.32% CO2. By perfecting the extraction of Oxygen from CO2, we could produce enough Oxygen to sustain life.
The lack of Nitrogen is also a concern, but according to scientists it is the seventh most common element in the Universe. Finding Nitrogen on Mars and converting it to Nitrogen gas is possible.
If all goes well, the provision of air and water should not be too much of a problem for the Mars colony.
With the low temperature, heat would be required, not only for human comfort, but to enable the plant life that we export from Earth to grow. Solar panels would initially be used to provide heat, light and electricity for equipment, but these would be ineffective during a month long dust storm. Also the solar power on Mars is less than 50% of that on Earth. This means a 1KW solar panel would be equivalent to a 0.5KW on Mars. Producing power from the Sun would require a considerable amount of panels.
Initial reports indicate the possibility of subsurface Methane (Natural Gas). If Methane exists in a reasonable quantity, there is a possibility that an alternative source of heat and electricity can be provided during such storms or low solar output.
Permission to land
One would think that we could launch our space ship, fly through space, land on Mars, and start to colonise, wouldn’t you?
Well, it is not that simple. A little thing call red tape may cause a problem with landing on Mars as it is currently a category IV destination under COSPAR.
The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was established in 1958 by the International Council for Science, and as Mars is categorised IV, then it has to be keep free from contamination by living organisms, I presume that includes Humans.
Until the ruling is changed, which would probably involve a lengthy legal process, only non-surface landing manned space crafts, or unmanned surface landing space crafts may visit Mars.
In conclusion to this Hub, it appears that, although still not without risks, colonising Mars is not beyond possibility. However, if COSPAR modifies its ruling and allows manned landing on the surface, then Mars will never be the same.
Contamination of the surface has already started. Even though only machines have landed on the surface, bacteria and other organisms will have already been transported there. Research on Earth in Mars like environments has proven that microorganisms and some plants (lichen and algae) could survive, and possibly thrive.
Is it possible that the terraforming of Mars could create a second planet in our solar system that could sustain human life?
Maybe not at this moment in time, but the adaptability and resources of the human race may make it possible in the not too distant future.
Based on the current data, and for argument sake, we inhabited Mars. The effects on the human physiology will change the physical characteristics of those who live and are born there.
Due to the low gravity, and the known effects that have on the body, one can assume that the average height would increase. The lower extremes, the legs and feet would become thinner and longer as the muscles would not be required as much. The upper body may become fuller due to increased fluids, or could adapt by reducing the total fluids the body retains.
Physiologically, it is difficult to say how gravity, constantly living within a building or space suit, two moons etc. would have on the mind.
Whatever happens, I believe that within two generations, the differences between Earth Humans and Mars Humans will be quite extraordinary.
Here are a few statistics:
Mass (times 10 to the 24th)
Rotation around Sun
Planets rotational period
23 h 56 m
Distance from the Sun
150 million Km
230 million Km
1% Water Vapour
0.0002% Water Vapour
Living in a totally man made environment, with elaborate structures that could not be constructed in Earth’s gravity. Physically being part of the next step in human evolution. Imagine lying in bed, looking up at the night sky to see two moons, different star constellations… and Earth, a vision for poets, writers and story tellers.
Dreams are only the start of reality.