We don’t know. ‘Course we don’t, we are idiots. But Elon Musk thinks we can do it, and he is basically a Marvel character in-waiting so, you know, he should know.
Sure, there are a few bitsy problems in the way… the temperature, the baron land, the lack of water, the lack of breathable atmosphere, the radiation, the stubborn lack of even the most humble Starbucks… but, really, how hard can it be?
One way to find out is to try and bring Mars to Earth.
Back in 2013 the White Mars Project – the first ever winter crossing of Antarctica – was conceived to provide insights into the challenge of sending a manned mission to Mars and ensuring its safe return. Basically, the conditions on Mars are incredibly harsh, and the conditions in Antarctica during the winter are incredibly harsh – so learning how to deal with one will undoubtedly help with learning how to deal with the other. So harsh is the Antarctic Winter in fact, that Sir Ranulph Fiennes was forced to pull out of the mission with suspected frost bite. And you know that if Sir Ranulph has to check out, things are getting really rough.
They are obviously in love with the idea of Martian colonisation and are doing everything in their powers to make it possible
Now, this dry run of life on the red planet isn’t a new concept – in fact this very notion has its own society. The US based Mars Society has the aim of “furthering the exploration and settlement of the red planet”. How does it do this? Well in the same way as the White Mars project really – it finds analogous harsh environments on Earth and makes a bee-line for them. Currently, for example, they are on their 17th?field mission at their Mars Dessert Research Station Based in the barren canyonlands of Utah. Whilst there the team will “launch a program of extensive long-duration geology and biology field exploration operations conducted in the same style and under many of the same constraints as they would on the red planet”.
Now – there is something about the Mars Society that strikes home immediately. In stark contrast to the billionaire’s club currently engaged in the new space-race, they are delightfully amateur. And we mean this in every sense – firstly they are a group of volunteers, secondly – and more importantly – they embody the original French root of the word entirely… amateur: “lover of”.
It may seem at first glance when you see the pictures from the research stations, or read the day-by-day mission reports that it is just a group of pretenders gallivanting around playing spaceman – like so many school children in playgrounds across the world – but that is to miss the point. They are obviously in love with the idea of Martian colonisation and are doing everything in their powers to make it possible.
‘Amateurs’ have suffered severe stigmatisation in modern times, but from just a cursory look at the contributions to the world made by amateur scientists it is clear that the original French meaning is far more apt.
Gregor Mendel, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison – just a few of the amateur scientists who have shaped our world irrevocably, and we fully suspect that in time the teams that sweated – and froze – in order to build knowledge about surviving conditions on Mars will be considered in the same breath.