Tech

This is what it’ll be like to live on Mars (according to a scientist)

NASA has a plan. Elon Musk has some ideas too. Heck, there's even been a competition to get you there.

If everything goes according to plan, humans will set foot on Mars in the very near future - as soon as the 2030s, by NASA's estimations. Yet despite countless sci-fi predictions and Matt Damon's escapades, we've no practical idea what it'll really be like to live on the Red Planet.

Inspired by the forthcoming DOOM video game - a rather hellish depiction of what we could find awaiting us on the sands of Mars - President of the Mars Society Australia Jonathan Clarke (a palaeontologist and general Mars pro) spoke to ShortList.com about what we can expect from life on Mars.

  • This is what it'll be like to live on Mars (according to a scientist)

    What would the average day on Mars involve?

    "Schedule is really important, whether you’re on Earth, on a space station, or on Mars. People would work on Mars much like you would here. It’s easy to do on Mars because the Martian day is only slightly longer than our day - still effectively 24 hours. You’d work an 8-10 hour day.

    "Time would set aside for meals, recreation, and sleep - all in one space. You would be working at more or less a 9-5 day in an environment that would be your work, your home, and your recreation area - a small, cozy environment all in one."

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    What would we eat?

    "Initial expeditions will bring their food with them. We only use about half a kilogram or a kilogram of dried weight of food per day, so it’s much easier to bring with you and less work.

    "Once we’ve set up permanent stations on Mars it becomes very feasible to try and produce some, if not all, of your food locally. That will involve recycling of our waste. We do that on Earth; we call it compost. We’re not squeamish about eating food that’s been grown out of animal waste or in recycled vegetable matter - and human waste is just part of that equation. It’s nicely composted, you would never know the difference."

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    Where would we live?

    "The first shelters on Mars would be structures landed by rocket. They would be cylinders several metres across and several metres long that could be joined together like Lego to form a Mars station. There are many different designs out there, some landing vertically like the lunar module did on the Moon, others them landing horizontally rather like a Harrier Jump Jet does on its pad.

    "How much space will people need? A lot of work has gone into this, comparable to designing submarines, polar stations, and space stations. It works out that we need about 10 to 20 cubic metres of free volume per person to be able to work. A lot of the pressurized volume is taken by stores and equipment, so you’d multiply that by three. You’d have between 30 and 60 cubic metres of pressurized volume per person. That’s surprisingly little."

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    Would the first settlers be allowed to have sex on Mars?

    "One can reasonably expect that whatever relationships people would form would be responsible and mature, and not impact the success of the mission. People are people, and things will happen. They’ll have to deal with it.

    "The bigger question is whether people will reproduce on Mars. The first Mars crews will be people of mature age in their 40s and 50s. Reproduction may not be desired. If we send young people, they may well want to start families on Mars. You want to make sure when that happens, we will know that children can be conceived and born with safety, and can live and grow up as mature adults with minimum risk. We don’t want people growing up or conceived in extremely dangerous environments. Reproduction is something that would happen further down the track. Maybe people might use frozen embryos on Mars that they have brought from Earth in heavily shielded containers. The embryos could be implanted once we can ensure a safe environment to bring up children. There are lots of possibilities that we can imagine."

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    How many people will be living on Mars in the next 50 years?

    "The first missions will involve crews between four-to-eight people. Once we have stations on Mars they might have several times that number, perhaps 10 or 20. Once we are actually happy that people can live on Mars for the full term of their natural life, leading productive and healthy lives, populations will go up. We will see hundreds, and eventually thousands, on Mars in the centuries ahead. If it’s not possible to do that, then Mars will always be a rugged, inhospitable outpost with small numbers of scientific research stations."

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    Will we enjoy living there, or will it suck?

    "Sure, it will be tough and challenging, but I think the first to live there will have experiences that will enrich human culture.

    "You talk to people who have been to the Antarctic or who have climbed the mountains of the Himalayas. They're life-changing experiences. While sometimes people die or can be badly injured and the experience can be traumatic, none-the-less it’s a transformative experience.

    "It won’t be hell on Mars. People will be living under conditions that are far more comfortable than the first Antarctic explorers, Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, and Mawson. People will be living in pressurised air conditioned environments with good food, electricity, and plenty of room. It will be centrally heated and cooled. There won’t be any blubber lamps, eating of raw seal, sled dogs, or anything like that. Things will be very, very comfortable. There will be email, there will be video messaging. Not SMS or Twitter or things, but people might be able to update their Facebook pages from Mars. Compared to the explorers from the early 20th century, it will be luxury."

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    What would we do in our downtime?

    "Recreation time is very important. When astronauts are worked too hard, they go on strike. This has happened in the past. When you’re on Mars, there’s nothing that Mission Control can do about it. It’s very important that people get scheduled time off to eat, socialise, wash, exercise, sleep.

    "On the International Space Station, some people play music, others practice art. They watch movies. Whatever recreation we come up with on Earth, we can do within the limits of space and volume on Mars.

    "We don’t know what they’re using on the International Space Station, but they may well be playing videogames. It’s quite possible that people on Mars would play video games as well."

    DOOM arrives on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on 13 May