How to build a house on the red planet: Mars One claims to have solved how humans will survive in a space colony

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  • Dutch company Mars One has revealed its plan for Mars colonisation
  • An independent study was carried out on its proposal for human missions
  • It surmised that the overall proposal is ‘ultimately attainable’
  • However the company has not yet seemingly started any development 

Mars One, often ridiculed for their overly ambitious proposal to send humans to Mars, have revealed how they plan to ensure their astronauts survive. Arizona-based company Paragon Space Development Corporation studied Mars One’s proposed habitat, and say it sees nothing that would prevent the mission from happening. However, Mars One has yet to show any signs of development, while it still needs to find a way to raise billions of dollars in funding.

Overview

Mars One’s Surface Habitat Environment Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) is the infrastructure that the company says will keep its astronauts alive. Among its goals, it will create a breathable atmosphere for humans in a habitat, recover water from Martian soil, process waste and manage the temperature. Mars One said the ECLSS is ‘one of the key systems required to support a human settlement on Mars’. Paragon, which has previously worked on Nasa’s Orion programme and Boeing’s upcoming CST-100 manned spacecraft, was asked to perform an independent study of Mars One’s concept. Grant Anderson, President and CEO of Paragon, said the study ‘led us to believe that it is an attainable goal.’ He added: ‘If the will and the means are provided, we will see humans begin to explore and even colonise other planets in our lifetime.’

However, most of the criticism towards Mars One centers on their ambitious time scale, their lack of adequate funding and the absence of any actual development so far, apart from studies like this. The company needs billions of dollars of funding, which they have not yet secured. It also plans to launch a lander to Mars in the next few years, but they have not yet shown any signs of it actually being built yet. Nasa, for comparison, builds and designs spacecraft many years in advance. Nonetheless, Mars One says that their latest study is proof that, if their mission ever does get off the ground, its astronauts will be able to live out the rest of their days on Mars in relative comfort. And, for other future missions that are more likely to happen, such as a joint international effort led by Nasa, some of the findings of the study could prove useful.

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Conditions

The study by Paragon looks at a number of factors that could affect the survival of a human Mars habitat. It notes that, while the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide (95 per cent), the ‘ability to utilise CO2 as a source of O2 may be considered.’ The habitat itself will require ‘protection from CO2’, while it must be able to prevent CO2 enteringt when the astronauts use the airlock to go outside. The low pressure on Mars, one per cent that on Earth, will require the habitat to maintain a higher pressure. Mars One wants to place its habitat at an altitude of 2.5 miles (4km), which would increase atmospheric pressure. Swings in temperature could also pose a problem, so the habitat must be able to ‘reject heat from the surface habitat to the external environment.’ Mars, meanwhile, can be dangerous in the form of dust storms. ‘Materials of construction and designs must be evaluated for abrasion, wear, and durability against wind-blown regolith [dust],’ the study noted. ‘This is of particular concern for solar voltaic power production as the electrical power that runs the ECLSS must be supplied continuously.’ Some sort of shielding will also be needed to protect against radiation, which could be dust on Mars or other material, such as water. Finally, the gravity on Mars – about 3/8 that of Earth – will have to be considered with regards to how liquids in the habitat move and behave.

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The Habitat

Among the most difficult aspects of creating a habitat on Mars, the study noted, are the size and shape of the structure. It suggests focusing on ‘robustness and simplicity,’ which would increase reliability and minimise develop costs. For example, the habitat should be almost entirely autonomous, which would reduce the workload on the crew. ‘Once switched on, most operations such as pressure and temperature control should be automatic with crew alarms and some automatic responses to wear, breakdowns, and emergency conditions,’ said the study. The crew should have the ability to fix and operate the ECLSS as needed, while continuous monitoring by Earth is said to be ‘not realistic.’ However, the need for maintenance should be kept to a minimum, as should the items that may need to be replaced. ‘It may be possible to eventually manufacture some replacement components on Mars,’ the study notes. One of the biggest criticisms of Mars One has been that their goal requires frequent resupply missions from Earth, approximately every two years, to keep the astronauts alive. The study said, though, that this would just require ‘an adjustment to the sparing philosophy and quite a bit more engineering design rigour.’

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