#93 March 1996
Section 184.108.40.206.093.of the Artemis Data Book
Many people envision with enthusiasm an eventual wholesale settlement and colonization of Mars, and I number myself among them. In doing so, we carry forward what has become a radical dream of our species throughout this century. And we have done so, stubbornly, through revolution after revolution in our perceptions about the Red Planet. Banished to the realm of myth are the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs, populated by green men and princesses and thoats, and the Mars of Percival Lowell, crisscrossed with canals feeding green strips of irrigated vegetation, defying the creeping desication of the Planet. But gone, too, is the glimpse of a moon-like Mars that we read into the first photos from early Mariner orbiters.
We know now that Mars was once warmer, wet with ocean, rains, and rivers, and lakes, and possibly in early stages of greening. We are all but certain that much of that watery endowment yet remains, locked up in permafrost layers of soil in lower lying basinlands. There may even be liquid subterranean lakes if there are near-surface geothermal pockets still simmering here and there, but we do not know. As to the polar caps, we now know that under a few inches of carbon dioxide frost seasonally chilled out of the atmosphere, there are vast polar ice sheets hundreds of meters thick, at least in the north.
How much water is there? That is, how extensive and patchy are the permafrost deposits? How thick are they? How fresh or brinish? All these questions must be answered to a first approximation accurate to an order of magnitude before any brainstorming schemes of "terraforming" (or, as we would prefer, of "rejuvenaissance" i.e. not making Mars like Earth, but bringing it back to the more encradling Mars-state it once enjoyed) can be much more than an exercise in "garbage in, garbage out." Which is why MMM has never gotten into such schemes. It is far too premature an exercise.
What does remain is the promise of a world that is more thoroughly endowed with prerequisites to support human and Earth life than is our own bondsworld, the Moon. Mars would seem to have far more appeal as a homesteading destination for those with enough of the right stuff to be willing to forever forsake the Green Hills of Earth.
But we can indulge in these fantasies, these declarations of willingness to go, only because the need to take a second look has not been thrust upon us by any imminent opportunity to open this frontier. That point of truth is still over the time horizon by an unknown number of years.
When that time does come and those who've thought themselves ready to go are faced with the decision to "put up or shut up", we think that many, even most, will get cold feet.
For despite Mars' life-supportive endowments, the challenges and obstacles to the establishment of a long-term human population capable of first enduring, then of thrivingly coming into its own, are daunting. And they are daunting from many points of view: engineering, logistical, biospheric, but above all and most critically, personal.
It is this last but ultimately most make-or-break class of challenges that we want to discuss here.
POINT: Mars is farther from Earth than the Moon, much farther. And the implications are compounded.
Resupply, reinforcement, relief, and rescue are always from 6 months to 25 months away. This will mean a reliance on a strategic "egg yolk" policy, as opposed to maintenance of "umbilical" style logistics. On site repair and fabrication shops as well as hospitals, both as to equipment and personnel expertise will need to be very much more complete. Triage in medical emergencies will have to be accepted by all as a potential personal consequence before leaving Earth.
It will mean that the personal commitment to the Mars frontier of each pioneer recruit must be individually that much deeper, more "final", that much less open to reconsideration down the line. It will be much more expensive to return to Earth, and the delay time before such a repatriation can be affected will be much, much longer. Only the hardiest, most self-reliant, and resilient personalities should tempt such odds.
The sense of isolation from the mainstream of human civilization will be much deeper. Electronic communication with Earth will involve response delays of 6 to 44 minutes, not the 2 and a half seconds Lunans will experience. While, in all but live radio communications, those delays can be edited out, the edited conversations will flow jerkily and clumsily. The new "Martians" will tend to turn inward culturally and socially, and go their own way.
POINT: The Sun not only is further, dimmer, and much less warming, it is noticeably so to the naked eye. Not all of that is bad, of course. On Earth, full sunlight is uncomfortably intense. On Mars the softer light will be still plenty bright enough, and welcome, much as the softly sunny November skies in the northern United States and Canada.
|On Earth, the Sun shines bright and warm. Our generous oceans act as a thermal sink for that heat, providing an additional mean boost of some 50° F (28°C) over where we'd be without them. Solar collectors do not have to be overly large to tap this energy further.||On Mars, the Sun is noticeably smaller, less brilliant. The radiant heat it sheds is not enough to warm living things, or people. With no ocean heat sink, it is far colder than its greater distance from the Sun would indicate. Solar collectors have to be much larger in size.|
But the smaller Sun will be a constant reminder of the reliefless cycle of very cool and bitterly cold seasons. Martian summers are but caricatures of our own temperate zone warm seasons, not even quite on a thermal par with the patchy thaws of our Antarctic summers.
The new Martians will learn to cope, to be sure, and grow to find much pleasure and satisfaction in the accommodations they will have to make to acculturate themselves to this new world. But only those with the inner strength and drive to do get over the enormous adjustment hurdles had better set out on such a venture.
It can best be summed up so. Only a tiny fraction of the numbers who say they would go to Mars had they but the chance to do so, would also be as willing to commit to pioneering the relatively far friendlier fringes of our own Antarctica, with its vast fresh water supplies, breathable sweet air, and surrounding oceans teeming with life and food. That has to tell us something. We are all too romantic about Mars!
Yet as long as the moment of truth, the time for a reality check is yet far off, we can afford to indulge our Martian illusions. And perhaps that is good in the long run. For it carries forth the dream, and with it the ongoing brainstorming exercises that will one day overcome the daunting odds.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto