Life on Mars - departure to new habitats

All humanity is threatened with refugee status. The term "emigrating" - we now count 7,2 billion - takes on a whole new dimension. Infrastructural, it could certainly cause problems. One thing is for sure: we can leave our chic, fossil-fueled cars at the latest at the latest - the road to the new home is not yet built.

Of course, there is still a lot of environment to destroy, but challenges have to be faced. Even those future exit strategies: what options remain when the air gets thinner and thinner? Option one: We stay and make ends meet thanks to new, technical achievements - for example under large glass domes. Option two: We pack our seven things and set off to new, distant worlds.

Reachable worlds

"I think that our time will be remembered as the one in which we set off to new worlds, like the late 15. Century at the times of a Christopher Columbus. We can assume that the person who will take the first step on the planet Mars, is already born, "astrophiologist Gernot Grömer moves the official entry on the 225 million miles away, red planet within a tangible time.

The chairman of the Austrian Space Forum OWF explores the future life circumstances on Mars and also knows the potential candidates for the new main residence of humanity: "The two currently best accessible celestial bodies are Moon and Mars. In principle, the Eiswelten in the Outer Solar System are also interesting, such as the Saturn moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europe. Currently we know eight places in the solar system where liquid water is possible. "

settlement planet

Mars is the fourth planet of our solar system seen from the sun. Its diameter, at just under 6800 kilometers, is about half the diameter of the Earth, and its volume is a good seventh of Earth's. Radar measurements with the Mars Express probe revealed deposits of water ice embedded in the southern polar region, the Planum Australe.

Enceladus (also Saturn II) is the fourteenth and sixth largest of the 62 known moons of the planet Saturn. It is an ice moon and exhibits cryovolcanic activity whose very high fountains of water ice particles in the southern hemisphere create a thin atmosphere. These fountains probably feed the e-ring of Saturn. In the area of ​​volcanic activity, evidence of liquid water has also been found, making Enceladus one of the possible sites in the solar system with favorable conditions for the creation of life.

Europe (also known as Jupiter II), with a diameter of 3121 km, is the second-smallest and smallest of the four great moons of the planet Jupiter and the sixth largest in the solar system. Europe is an ice moon. Although the temperature on the surface of Europe reaches a maximum of -150 ° C, different measurements suggest that there is an 100 km deep ocean of liquid water beneath the several kilometers thick water hull.
Source: Wikipedia

The space colonialists

As a visa for human refugees applies above all: technical know-how and patience. In the future, according to Grömer, the first, small outposts - such as a manned, permanent Mars station - will grow more and more, eventually becoming small settlements: "The technical effort to maintain a permanent base on the moon, for example, is considerable. The people there will be - as formerly the first settlers in the New World - primarily concerned with the maintenance of infrastructure and survival. "And facing new risks and dangers: radiation storms, meteorite impacts, technical infirmity. The astrobiologist: "But humans are incredibly adaptable - to look at the permanently populated Antarktisstationen, or long-term ship trips.

"As in the past, the first settlers in the New World will be primarily concerned with preserving infrastructure and survival."
Gernot Grömer, Austrian Space Forum OWF

As a first step, we expect scientific outposts, possibly followed by industrial applications such as ore mining in asteroids. However, we are talking about long-term projects that will be realized in the coming decades at the earliest. "Larger colonies will not become possible until centuries - provided that various technical challenges such as the development of new production processes and closed resource utilization can be mastered.

Prerequisites for planetary settlement

Unlike a flight to a space station or the moon, a journey to Mars or other within our solar system takes several months. As a result, in addition to habitats (habitable spaces) on the planet and the transport system and an orbital habitat plays an essential role.

Apart from the appropriate technology and accessibility, the corresponding basic requirements apply to enable life on other planets. First, it needs to meet physiological needs:

  • Protection against harmful environmental influences, such as radiation, UV light, temperature extremes ...
  • Humane atmosphere, such as pressure, oxygen, humidity, ...
  • Gravitation
  • Resources: food, water, raw materials

Cost of a Mars station
For a Mars base in the order of magnitude of the International Space Station ISS (5.543 tons) about 264 launches with Ariane 5 are needed. The total cost of transport then amounts to an estimated 30 billion euros. This is ten times the transport cost of an orbital station. Taking into account the theoretical transport cost shares of the ISS, such a mission would cost between 250-714 billion euros.
Of course, one must also take into account a remoteness of profitability, since the research of astronautics results in countless developments and technological inventions. This cost analysis serves only to show the approximate cost.

Terraforming in Earth 2.0

Also conceivable is terraforming, the transformation of an atmosphere to people's life-enabling conditions. Something that has been running on Earth for several hundred years already uncontrolled. In technical terms, however, terraforming involves enormous time, but is basically possible. Thus, explains Grömer, the polar ice caps of Mars, when they melt, could lead to an increase in atmospheric density. Or large-scale algae tanks in the Venus atmosphere lead to a reduction of the greenhouse effect in our hot sister planet. But these are also exercise scenarios for theoretical planetology. Mammoth projects that may need to be designed for millennia.

"In addition to the technical challenges, I find it exciting to see how companies will one day develop there. Many of our rules and conventions are based on the environmental conditions in which we live - that is, we may see new forms of society emerging here, "says Grömer, looking to the distant future of humanity.
But the lengthy colonization of distant worlds and moons is a clear question of the use of resources. Grömer: "For an outsourcing of humanity that would not make much sense, because the effort to preserve the earth as a habitat is easier than to enable large-scale emigration movements."

Life in biospheres

Whether on distant planets or on an ecologically damaged earth - A crucial need for the future is the scientific understanding of eco-systems and their preservation. In many cases, large-scale attempts have already been made, such as the Biosphere II project, to create distinct, independent ecosystems and to maintain them over the long term. Even with the clear goal to enable future habitat for humans under a dome construct. So much in advance: So far, all attempts have failed.

Biosphere II (Infobox) - the largest experiment so far - was highly ambitious. Numerous international scientists have been preparing the project since 1984. Initial test runs were promising: John Allen became the first human to live in a fully enclosed ecological system for three days - with air, water and food produced in the sphere. Proof that a carbon cycle can be established resulted in an 21 stay for Linda Leigh.
On the 26. September 1991 it was time: eight people dared the experiment two years in the dome construct with a volume of 204.000 cubic meters to survive - without any influence from outside. For two years, the participants had prepared for this enormous challenge.
A first technological success, a world record, was already published after a week: Biosphere II has been able to construct a hitherto unimaginably dense construct despite extensive glazing: with an annual leak rate of ten percent 30 times denser than a space shuttle.

Biosphere II

Biosphere II was an attempt to create and maintain an autonomous, complex eco-system.
Biosphere II was an attempt to create and maintain an autonomous, complex eco-system.

Biosphere II was built from 1987 to 1989 on an area of ​​1,3 acres north of Tucson, Arizona (USA) and was an attempt to establish a closed eco-system and to maintain long-term. The 204.000 cubic meter dome complex included the following areas and associated fauna and flora: savannah, ocean, tropical rainforest, mangrove swamp, desert, intensive agriculture and housing. The project has been financed by US billionaire Edward Bass at around 200 million US dollars. Both tests are considered failed. Since 2007, the building complex has been used by the University of Arizona for research and teaching. Incidentally, the name is an indication of the attempt to create a second, smaller eco-system, according to which the earth would be Biosphere I.

The first attempt took place from 1991 to 1993 and lasted from 26. September 1991 two years and 20 minutes. Eight people lived in the dome complex during this period - shielded from the outside world, without air and material exchange. Only sunlight and electricity was supplied. The project failed due to the mutual impairment of the most diverse factors and inhabitants. For example, soil micro-organisms have unexpectedly increased the amount of nitrogen, and insects have become extremely widespread.

The second attempt was 1994 for six months. Here, too, essentially air, water and food were produced and reprocessed in the ecosystem.

Climate & balance

But then the first setback: The environmental phenomenon El Nino and the resulting extraordinary cloud cover caused an increase in carbon dioxide levels and greatly reduced photosynthesis. Already, an overpopulation of mites and fungi had destroyed large parts of the harvest, the food supply was moderate from the beginning: After one year, the participants had lost an average of 16 percent of their body weight.
Finally, in April 1992 the next terrible message: Biosphere II loses oxygen. Not much, but at least 0,3 percent per month. Can the biosystem make up for that? But the equilibrium of simulated nature finally got out of hand: the oxygen level had soon dropped to a worrying 14,5 percent. In January 2013 finally had to be supplied with oxygen from outside - actually the premature end of the project. Nevertheless, the experiment ended: on the 26. September 1993, at 8.20 pm, subscribers left the biosphere after two years of drawing. The conclusion: apart from the problem of breathing air, vertebrates used by 25 had survived only six, most insect species had died - especially those that would be necessary for pollinating the plant blossoms, other populations such as ants, cockroaches and grasshoppers had increased enormously.

Despite all the first findings: "At least since the Biosphere II experimental series, we begin to understand complex ecological relationships in the approach. The bottom line is that even a simple greenhouse already has amazingly complex processes, "concludes Gernot Grömer.
In that sense, it is amazing that a huge ecosystem like Earth works - despite the influence of man. How long will it be up to its inhabitants? One thing is certain: the new living space will not be there for a long time, neither under a glass dome nor on a distant star.


Astrobiologist Gernot Grömer on the Mars simulations, the preparations for future expeditions to the red planet, technical obstacles and why we should travel to Mars at all.

In August, astrobiologist Grömer & Co tested the exploration of a Mars glacier on the Kaunertal glacier.
In 2015, astrobiologist Grömer & Co tested the exploration of a Mars glacier on the Kaunertal Glacier.

"We have been carrying out Marssimulation for years and communicate this in numerous publications and specialist congresses - in Austria we were able to occupy a research niche at an early stage, which is developing very rapidly. The quintessence is quite simple: the devil is in the detail. What do I do if a critical component fails on a circuit board in the space suit? How exactly does the energy demand for spacecraft look and how much can you expect an astronaut? For future missions we have to bring with us - even for space travel - exceptionally high levels of redoubt, quality and ability to improvise. For example, 3D printers will surely be part of the standard equipment of lunar stations.

Simulation at the Kaunertal Glacier
We are currently working on a Mars simulation in August 2015: At 3.000 meters above sea level on the Kaunertal Glacier we will be simulating the exploration of a Mars glacier under space conditions for two weeks. We are currently the only group in Europe to do research on this, so the international interest is correspondingly high.
We have numerous "construction sites" - from radiation shielding, efficient energy storage, water recycling, and most of all, how to use a small set of equipment and laboratory instruments to do science as efficiently as possible on Mars. What have we learned so far: In a large-scale Marssimulation in the North Sahara, we were able to show that (fossil, microbial) life under space conditions is detectable. That may not sound like much, but it shows that in principle we are slowly learning to understand the tools and work processes under which a safe and scientifically successful mission can be targeted.

"Because it's there".
There are many greens to travel around to Mars: the (scientific) curiosity, for some maybe economic considerations, technological spin-offs, the possibility for peaceful international cooperation (as it has been practiced at the International Space Station as a peace project since 17 years ). The most honest answer, however, is how she gave Sir Mallory, to the question of why he first climbed Mount Everest: "Because it's there".
I think we humans have something in us that sometimes makes us wonder what is beyond the horizon and that, in turn, to our astonishment, has contributed to survival as a society. We humans were never intended as "regional species," but spread out across the planet. "

Photo / Video: Shutterstock,, Katja Zanella-Kux.

Written by Helmut Melzer

As a longtime journalist I have long asked myself the question, which would actually make sense from a journalistic point of view. My answer to that you can see here: Option. To show alternatives in an idealistic way - for positive developments of our society.

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