When we think about colonizing other planets, generally it is accepted that there will be a period of time when we will be unable to do anything but subsist in the most basic capacity in an artificial environment. But are there specific technologies that will make this simple existence fuller? What technologies must we develop in order for our Mars mission to become a full civilization?
One of the greatest problems in getting to Mars will be radiation. Once explorers are in near orbit around the planet and their ship is overwhelmed by the cosmic radiation, the interesting problem with it will be the material we construct the ship from. But even this is fairly limiting as it will require a massive push toward a more radioactive absorbent material. So instead of soaking up the rays of the cosmos, and suffering cancer from it as a result, the colonists will largely be protected in a ship surrounded in specific areas with some of the most resistant cost effective materials, like polyethylene which is commonly used today for trash bags. Far thicker materials would be able to allow humans to combat the harsh radiation people would otherwise have to endure while traveling in deep space.
But once a craft reaches Mars, the first will likely be the most difficult to live on with an extraordinarily limited infrastructure (likely beginning with the ship itself) and an even more limited skill set. With only four to ten people on-board such a craft, the number of areas of expertise will be quite limited. They will, however, have the combined resources of the world’s space agencies there to help walk them through things with a 20 minute delay in conversation. So if, for example, a solar panel had to be replaced and the designated crew member to do so were incapacitated by – for example – radiation, a surrogate could help repair the panel while the expert recovered via long distance communication.
But what about the fact that we now have a group of people sitting in a ship just on Mars mining for water and possibly growing plants, but otherwise having little else to do? One of the key technologies to help the Mars mission succeed would be a 3-D printing laser to convert Martian soil into glass to help expand and pressurize the module around the landed spacecraft and begin building an “Earth House.” This domed structure would likely use large thick pieces of glass burned by fusing pieces of Martian glass. After this it could be pressurized and used to build a small area for inhabitants to live in about the size of a football field while the machines work to expand it. Buildings and agricultural areas could be built with large flat roofs to save space. The first “Solar Sinter” is already built by Markus Kayser using simple materials, and the concept of building one that would work on Mars is only a short leap from there.
Being on Mars, the building material will likely have to come from the planet’s surface at first as any other materials would be too heavy to put on the ship for the long journey. Contrary to our previous projections about terraforming the red planet, we will have to think small rather than big once we reach the surface.