The Future Prospects of Human Space Settlement

If you had the chance to live on Mars, would you?

What was amazing about the talk, “The Future Prospects of Human Space Settlement,“ presented by Andrew Rader at Nerd Nite on February 25th is that despite the fact that i’ve never given much thought to space other than the odd Star Trek episode, by the end of the talk I found myself really wondering, if I had the opportunity would I go?

Rader a native Canadian, Aero Space Engineer, participant on Canada’s Greatest Know-it-All and in the running for a chance to actually go into space via the Axe Apollo Space Challenge would jump at the opportunity to go.

As he opened his talk about the possibility of our future lives on Mars he spoke passionately about the fact that our interest in space isn’t just about investing in technology but about investing in the future of the human race.  For him, space is not just the final frontier but the beginning of a wealth of untapped potential and resources has been under valued and under explored since we landed on the moon.  Rader briefly spoke about satellites, the Canadian space arm, or Canadarm and the International Space Station and then focused right in on how and why we might make Mars habitable for humans. “So, in the long run,” he said, “the real reason to go into space is to turn Mars into another Earth.” You know, just in case we need a backup, because it can’t hurt.

After getting there he explained the problem is how to make long term habitation of Mars possible.  He explained that since the atmosphere on Mars is all carbon dioxide it would obviously need to be converted to oxygen.  This requires plant life which in turn needs sunlight and warmth.  Since Mars already has days that about the same length as Earths the real problem is making it warm enough for the plants to thrive.  Rader explained that this is a much bigger task that will take a much longer amount of time and involves completely changing Mars’ atmosphere. “Once you get the pressure up a little bit, if you start melting the polar ice caps which are carbon dioxide you get something called the greenhouse effect,” he said, “which on Earth is pretty bad because Earth is warm enough.  But on Mars, Mars is a bit too cold so a greenhouse effect might be really nice.”

Of course, we would also want to warm up the planets atmosphere for ourselves and believe it or not, harnessing our ability to generate greenhouse gasses might actually help. “If we can spontaneously create a greenhouse effect with CFC’s, or bad chemicals, that we know are really bad for a causing greenhouse effect, we can actually turn Mars into a place that has a nice warm atmosphere,” he said, “eventually we can  grown plants because it has carbon dioxide, which can generate oxygen, which is exactly what happened on Earth.”

His suggestions for housing on Mars was surprisingly diverse and included subterranean lava caves, living in a spaceship, and building a space base on the planets surface.

The way he described it life on Mars would be a sustainability junkies wet dream.  Maximizing space and functionality, while minimizing the waste and effort required to produce things like foods and energy means that every aspect of life has to do double duty.  This means that, “obviously you would have to drink your own pee,” he said.  “So you just distill it, and probably you want to use the waste for the green house as well.”

There would aquaponics, aeroponics and aquaculture to provide different foods he explained, and everyone would be a vegetarian because keeping livestock requires a lot of space and maintenance that makes it very impractical.  As for energy, there would be multiple sources including nuclear energy, solar panels and gas. “You have gas storage where you have gas conversion.  Basically all your power sources for your vehicles run of Methane,” he said, “Methane you can produce out of water and out of hydrogen dioxide.”

Despite all our financial problems the United States leads the world in spending on space research said Rader, even so,”Private space is really the answer,”he said.  He talked about private companies that are combining business with pleasure to try and do things like send bored billionaires up into orbit or plan a big brother style T.V. show about living on a space station on Mars.  All of which cost a great of money but Rader made a good point. “Well the London Olympics cost 6 billion, and I think something like this, sending people to live on a different planet, would probably get as many viewers as the London Olympics,” he said. “If that is the case then you can make an economic case for sending people to Mars and making it entertainment.”

Considering how hard it was for us to get into orbit living on another planet might seem impossible.  But in the course of his 30 minute talk Rader made it seem not like a dream but an eventuality. His talk was meaty and dense but was presented with an alacrity and dry sarcasm that made it feel tangible and electric.  Even if we’ve still got a ways to go before we can just book a flight, and hop on over to Mars, after hearing him speak I am starting to think that maybe it isn’t such a bad “investment” and that one day we actually could.