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home on a distant planet
“Mankind was born on Earth, it was never meant to die here.” – Whether we choose to accept it or not, we have to agree that the time to leave our planet for the sake of our species has come. Global temperatures are increasing, animal species are going extinct and gradually our world is becoming a more and more hostile place for humans.
There are millions of Earth-like planets out there in the cosmos but which ones are accessible to us? The answer is none. Humans have not yet developed technologies that enable the possibility of interstellar travel, so we are not even capable of sending artificial satellites to exoplanets, forget shifting to one. So, our main goal now is to find the most habitable celestial body in the Solar System. When it comes to habitability Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and all the dwarf planets in our Solar System are out of question. It comes down to Mars and Saturn’s largest planet-like moon– Titan.
Most people haven’t even heard about Titan and consider Mars to be the only other place in our Solar System which humans can colonize. Even though Titan might be an equally good prospect for colonization if not better, we will still have to go to Mars. Why?
Titan is considered to be very similar to the early Earth, it has an atmosphere that is thicker than Earth’s current atmosphere and is considered to be the only other celestial body in the Solar System to have to such a Nitrogen-rich atmosphere (98%) and have liquids on the surface. When we compare this to Mars’s atmosphere that is almost a 100 times thinner than Earth’s and contains 95% carbon dioxide, Titan’s atmosphere comes out to be better because of its capability to shield its surface from radiation coming from the Sun and outer space, and the amount of pressure it creates on its surface ( A pleasant 1.4 times of Earth’s).
Another major criterion is energy, the main source of energy for us on Mars would be Solar, whereas Titan has liquid hydrocarbon lakes and solid hydrocarbon dunes on its surface which would yield way more power than solar energy. To get this energy we would need to burn these hydrocarbons using oxygen, which is not present in the atmosphere but can be derived from the subsurface water ice and a possible subsurface ocean that is said to be beneath its surface. If we are able to do that then in terms of power and water content, Titan would be the better prospect.
The main reasons that Mars is the one to go to at this point in time, are Titan’s surface temperatures, Gravity, and Distance from the Earth. The average surface temperature on Titan is -179 degrees Celsius, whereas on Mars the average temperature is -63 degrees Celsius with a possibility of it rising to a pleasant 20 degrees Celsius in the evening. Titan’s gravity is 14% of Earth’s which would cause more physical problems compared to Mars’s 38% Earth gravity. Titan receives 1% of the Sunlight we receive on Earth, and when we club this with its temperatures it is almost impossible to grow plants without using very complex technologies that haven’t even come into existence yet.
The final and the most important reason that will force us to go to Mars is Titan’s distance from Earth. With current space travel technologies it would take us 7 years to get to Titan compared to the 7 months it would take for us to reach Mars. Taking into account the excessive amount of resources we would need to build even a small habitat on Titan, it would be technologically impossible for us to get such a big rocket off the ground. Hence, we will be going to Mars, and if I had to establish a home on another planet, I would choose the same.
If I had to build an artificial human habitat on Mars, the first thing I would focus on is to keep it realistic. We can build elaborate designs of great underground mansions in which thousands would be able to live but those designs would be rendered useless to us without a proper execution plan. The designs we need are the ones that can be made now with existing technologies or technologies that are nearly perfected. I believe that the following design can be executed now or in the very near future and can be a way through which humans might be able to live on Mars someday.
To start building the habitat we will need raw materials that can be carried all the way to the red planet. A habitat on Mars would be similar to the International Space Station (ISS) in some ways, but with excessively better radiation shielding and a few more life support systems. One single ship will not be able to carry all the cargo needed and provide a living space for an astronaut (me) for 7 months. So, there will be one heavy cargo spaceship and one smaller spaceship which will carry sufficient life support for the trip and a few Martian weeks once it is on Mars, as the habitat will take some time to set up.
The contents of the cargo ship will be used after it lands on Mars. It will contain simple substances and machinery that can be assembled by the astronaut with relative ease.
The main contents are – Nitrogen – To maintain the air pressure inside the habitat, Fuel Cells – Will use hydrogen and oxygen to make heat, electricity, and water, Hydrogen – Will be used for fuel cells and carbon dioxide removal, this would be in quantities that will help the systems start off, the rest of it will be derived on mars, Oxygen – Will be used for fuel cells, cabin air and similar to hydrogen would be needed in amounts to help the systems start off, Water – Will be used for emergency purposes and will help the astronaut survive for the first few weeks, Heating System – To regulate the temperature of the habitat, Solar Powered batteries – Will be the main source of power apart from the fuel cells, Oxygen Generator System – This will use the process of electrolysis to get oxygen and hydrogen from water, Air Filtration System – To filter out any fine Martian sand particles that might enter the habitat, Plant seeds and algae – For food, Artificial lights – Will help in growing plant seeds, Food – For emergencies and the initial weeks only, Empty Water Tanks – To store and transport the water derived on Mars, Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly – Will utilize the CO2 in Mars’s atmosphere and hydrogen to create water and methane, Habitat Moisture Removal System – Will extract water from all kinds of fluids in the habitat and also the cabin air, this would be similar to what’s used on the ISS, Soil Moisture Removal System – Will remove the water from Martian soil by heating it, Martian Soil Clumping Machine – Would convert Martian soil into a little denser and thick material that can be used to cover the habitat, and Inflatable Polyethylene Domes (4 domes, 784 ft^2 each, 9 feet height each) – The primary structures that will build the habitat.
The smaller spaceship that will carry the astronaut will have to have very similar systems as the International Space Station but will need one major addition to survive the 7-month journey and a few weeks long stay on mars – sufficient radiation shielding.
When this spaceship will travel through space it will be exposed to radiation from the sun and radiation from outer space in the form of Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs). When it reaches the surface of Mars it will receive similar amounts of radiation due to Mars’s very thin atmosphere and its theoretically non-existant magnetosphere.
To stop this radiation from moving inside places where it could do harm, NASA has developed and is currently perfecting ‘Hydrogenated Boron Nitride Nanotubes’ (Hydrogenated BNNTs), these will be perfect to shield the spaceship from both types of radiation. They have also found a way to make yarn out of these Hydrogenated BNNTs which will allow it to be used in the astronaut spacesuits. So, the spaceship can be lined with these Hydrogenated BNNTs and a layer of lead which will provide additional protection from gamma rays.
Now, the next challenge is to find a spot on the planet where we would build the home or in simpler words an address. For the systems in the habitat to function at their best, we would need to find an area where the water content in the soil is comparatively high. According to Mars-One the area where we can find sufficient water in the soil is the area between Latitudes 40 degrees North and 45 degrees North.
When the astronaut and the cargo ship would land, the work would have to start immediately. The first step will be to fix the inflatable polyethylene domes into the ground, a very firm grip on the ground will not be needed as the winds on mars aren’t violent enough to blow something of that weight away and there will be a layer of Martian soil over it which will be firmly attached to the ground.
Only 3 domes will be of use in the habitat, the 4th will be taken as a precautionary measure, All three will be sealed off from each other.
The first dome will be used as an entry and exit point from the habitat, it will pressurize after the astronaut has entered, and would have two compartments sealed off from each other. One which will house the spacesuits and will be exposed to the Martian Atmosphere. The other would have access to other domes, preventing contamination of the rest of the habitat. The second dome will be used as a living area where the astronaut would sleep, eat, excrete, and bathe. Finally, the third dome will be used as a greenhouse and an algae farm which will provide food to the astronaut. All these domes will be inflated with Nitrogen and Oxygen brought by the cargo ship to specific air pressure and air composition similar to Earth’s (The air composition in the Greenhouse would contain Carbon dioxide from Mars’s atmosphere as well). Nitrogen-fixing bacteria will be added to the soil to help the plants remain healthy, and Denitrifying organisms will also be added to keep the amount of Nitrogen in the habitat stable.
The living area will house simple lights, vents through which air is taken in and given out after passing through the filtration system and air moisture removal system which will be housed outside all the three domes along with the other complex machinery including the fuel cells, solar-powered batteries, Oxygen generator system, and soil moisture removal system. This machinery will interact with the domes through a series of pipes and vents keeping the air pressure similar everywhere, simple pumps will be used to transport water across the habitat. The dome will also have connections to the water tank of the habitat. The liquid excretory waste from here will be filtered and used as water again, and the solid excretory waste will be collected and used in the greenhouse.
The Greenhouse will use Martian Subsurface Soil which is very rich in nutrients, and artificial lights brought from Earth to grow plants. The kind of plants that will be grown are potatoes and leafy greens. Algae will also be in the Greenhouse but will be separated from the plants. Various algae that are used as food on Earth will be cultivated in Algae pools. The Oxygen that is produced by these plants and algae will go to cabin air and the Fuel Cells.
These polyethylene domes will block out sufficient amounts of radiation, but to make them last for long periods of time we will need to fortify them. Many scientists believe that a Mars habitat should be built underground to protect it from radiation and other physical hazards. Going underground means putting a sufficient amount of soil over the habitat to protect it. Building an underground habitat would need more equipment and more expenditure, so, a healthy alternative is to stick a thick layer of Martian soil on the habitat which will protect it in a similar way. This is the reason that a soil clumping machine will be needed. It will use the soil on Mars and convert it into thick slabs or slime-like substances which will be stuck over the habitat and machinery (Excluding the machines that need to interact with Martian atmosphere) by the astronaut with relative ease, a 1.5m – 2m thick layer will be sufficient. This will not only protect the habitat from radiation and physical hazards but also prevent it from deforming when it pressurizes and depressurizes as it would be stuck to the shell of the habitat and would be attached to the ground firmly.
We have now established sufficient protection for our habitat, which now allows us to look at the systems that will make it functional in detail.
This is how the habitat’s life support systems will function – The Oxygen Generator system will use electricity to separate water into Oxygen and Hydrogen. This Oxygen will mainly be used in cabin air and some of it will be used in the Fuel Cells which will use the Hydrogen released by the Oxygen Generator to produce electricity, heat, and water that will be stored in the water tank.
The air that will be given out by the astronaut in the living quarters will be stripped of moisture, refilled with oxygen and put back in. The moisture that will be collected will be sent to the water tank along with the water collected from liquid human excreta. The soil moisture removal machine will heat up Martian soil which will cause it to lose its water content in the form of water vapor, this water vapor will then be condensed and sent to the water tank.
The carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Mars will be used in the Greenhouse and will also be used to create water through the Sabatier process (Uses Hydrogen to convert CO2 into water and methane). The Hydrogen needed for the process will come from the Oxygen Generator. The methane that will be produced as a by-product will be released into Mars’s atmosphere to act as an additional greenhouse gas. The water derived through the process will be collected in the water tank.
The oxygen that the plants and algae in the greenhouse produce will be used as cabin air and a part of it will be sent back to the fuel cells. All the water collected in the water tank will be used for drinking, bathing, watering of plants, and generating Oxygen. This cycle will continuously be repeated in the habitat which will be protected by strong polyethylene domes, 2m of Martian soil along with being powered and heated by Fuel cells and Solar powered cells. If the need arises emergency water and food supplies, Oxygen, Hydrogen and an extra Polyethylene dome will be stored safely in the cargo ship.
This habitat if maintained sufficiently by the astronaut (me) should function on its own for as long as it needs to without any external interference, successfully giving it the status of self-sustaining. This habitat will also be capable of forming the foundation for future Mars expeditions.
In the end, given the growing hostility of nature on Earth, it is imperative to build an alternative human habitat away from here while we have the time and resources to do it. Given the circumstances, I believe Mars is our best option and I can’t wait to make it my home.
The home I have designed here is self-sustaining and can be expanded if needed as well, the soil layer would have to be removed and the domes would be open for attachment with others. This opens a window of opportunities for future colonists and us as a species.
Humans have evolved, survived and thrived on Earth for long, and in the same way, it’s possible for them to adapt and make Mars or any other planet their new home.
Thank you for reading!
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