The question of Mars colonization has attracted growing public interest in recent years, alongside an increase in SpaceX launches. SpaceX now boasts a multibillion-dollar net worth, and its famous CEO, Elon Musk, may become the richest man in the world in coming years. Popular movies and books such as The Martian and John Carter of Mars capitalize on the trend. Each new launch claiming to bring us closer to a Mars voyage triggers a corresponding media frenzy and surge in stock market activity.
It may be no surprise, then, that the number of degrees granted in fields such as aerospace and mechanical engineering has also increased in the past decade, as prospective college students sign on for their opportunity to help make space exploration a reality.
Perhaps a human population on the red planet is not as far-flung as we think. Engineers and scientists have divided the issue of Mars colonization into a few key domains, namely basic life support, food production, resource extraction and extraterrestrial communication.
So, is a move to Mars just another wish upon a shooting star? Let's explore the possibilities and take a look at the biggest challenges.
Life Support on Mars
At its most basic level, life support on Mars must consist of breathable air, food, water and shelter consisting of radiation protection with some form of climate control. Adding a new layer of complication, any equipment taken must be lightweight. Chemists, biologists, material scientists and engineers approach these problems by using mathematical modeling techniques, experiments and simulations to conceptualize living spaces where water and oxygen can be effectively recycled within airtight, well-insulated shelters, with greenhouses as their centerpieces.
Food on Mars
Besides providing oxygen, greenhouses also provide the simplest form of food production. On Earth, farming is readily assisted by heavy machinery. Agriculture occurs on a massive scale using equipment designed by ingenious manufacturing and mechanical engineers, miners, geologists and material scientists.
On Mars, however, these devices may need to be manufactured on-site. Early Mars visitors’ diets would likely consist of simple meals with robust, nutrient-dense plants, planned by botanists and agricultural experts, until large-scale farming becomes feasible.
Managing the Distance
Computer systems engineers and computer scientists would also be essential for prototypical Mars voyages, both for day-to-day operations and for communication with Earth. Every minute detail from the habitat temperature to the molecular composition of the greenhouse fertilizer would need to be logged and tracked to ensure that heat and water losses do not exceed safe levels. Furthermore, each sensor would also need regular testing and calibration to ensure they are functioning properly. When there is no possibility of finding spare parts, self-contained systems are of paramount importance.
Even more essential than computer repairs, however, are human repairs. When the nearest hospital is years away, simple accidents could be fatal. Basic medical equipment and training will be necessary for everyone wishing to make the trip.
Whoever our earliest Mars visitors will be, it is certain that they will need to possess strong backgrounds in mechanical and aerospace engineering, computer science, geology, medicine and other sciences. If Mars colonization does become a reality, it will surely be pioneered by talented individuals in STEM fields.
If the thought of exploring space or attempting Mars colonization sounds interesting to you, consider getting your degree from the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology at Grand Canyon University. GCU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology provides degrees in areas of computer science and information technology, cybersecurity, engineering as well as science and biology programs.