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article imageTo die on Mars is not an option despite MIT's study

By Karen Graham     Oct 18, 2014 in Science
There has been a lot of media attention over the Mars One mission to colonize Mars in 2025 using known and available technology. That very technology may very well prove to be the undoing of the project.
The whole world is aware of the Mars One mission and the audacious project being planned in 2025. A team of four brave souls will leave the confines of their Earthly home on the adventure of a lifetime. The plan is to land on the Red Planet and start a colony. These first colonists are expected to prepare the way for additional colonists, and eventually, man will be able to say we have conquered Mars.
Sounds like a plan, right? But what about the feasibility of actually living on a planet with a hostile atmosphere? Besides Mars not having any appreciable amount of water, it's extremely cold. The average temperature is about -80 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere is 10-times less dense than on Earth, but it is dense enough to support the formation of clouds, wind and weather events.
Artists depiction of the first colony on Mars.
Artists depiction of the first colony on Mars.
Mars One
The group of colonists Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp plans to put on Mars in the not too distant future may find their live-spans shortened to only a couple months. They may die of starvation first, though, according to a study done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
MIT study of Mars One colonization project
Entitled, "An Independent Assessment of the Technical Feasibility of the Mars One Mission Plan," the analysis of the reality of successfully launching a mission to the Red Planet and successfully colonizing it was discussed.
The team of five researchers used mathematical models to assess the feasibility of making the seven month trip to Mars, if there were already systems in place that produce water, oxygen, and nitrogen. This is what the Mars One mission plans on doing. "While this program has been received with great fanfare, very little has been published in the technical literature on this mission architecture," the report said.
Using the data from Mars One's architectural models, along with an assessment of the food, oxygen and the amount of technology needed in starting the colony, the research team came up with their 35-page report. The researchers also came to some sobering conclusions. According to the research team, there is one problem: if they did make the trip, they would all die off within a couple months.
Surprisingly, based on the technology we have today, the researchers say the biggest problem facing the colonists would be an excess of oxygen. The growing of plants needed to feed the colony would produce "unsafe" levels of oxygen. “Some form of oxygen removal system is required, a technology that has not yet been developed for space flight,” the study concluded.
From the diagram  it is easy to see the complicated systems needed to reprocess everything  from car...
From the diagram, it is easy to see the complicated systems needed to reprocess everything, from carbon dioxide, to oxygen and even urine.
What the researchers mean is really quite simple. Venting systems that remove excess oxygen, but do not remove nitrogen have not yet been invented. they say. So with colonists living in the same space where their crops are growing, they would be living in 100 percent humidity. According to Mars One data, a wheat crop would reach maturity in 68-days, causing a spike in the oxygen level. The excess oxygen would have to be removed because it is highly flammable. This would leave the colonists with two choices. Suffocation from low air pressure, or going up in a fireball.
The study also touched on the shipping of replacement parts for the colony. The report says: "A spare parts analysis revealed that spare parts quickly come to dominate resupply mass as the settlement grows: after 130 months on the Martian surface, spare parts compose 62 percent of the mass brought from Earth to the Martian surface." The report concluded that to set up a first group of colonists on the planet Mars would require "15 Falcon Heavy launchers and require $4.5 billion in funding."
Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp speaks up
Lansdorp agrees that resupply of the Martian colony could pose a problem. “The major challenge of Mars One is keeping everything up and running,” he told Popular Science magazine. He also added that the MIT researchers used incomplete data, and the technology for the Mars colonization was nearly ready.
I've talked to very knowledgeable people--experts with companies like Lockheed Martin--who tell me these technologies will work," he tells Popular Science. He says he hasn't had the time to read the research all the way through, but has looked at the conclusions.
“While oxygen removal has never been done in space, I disagree that the technology is not mostly ready to go to Mars,” Lansdorp told AFP. “Of course, the actual apparatus that we will take to Mars still needs to be designed and tested extensively, but the technology is already there.”
Imagine a space trip taking seven months. What would you eat?
Imagine a space trip taking seven months. What would you eat?
Lansdorf did admit that one problem Mars One has yet to solve is the repairing of equipment and suits on Mars. Lansdorp added that an unmanned resupply ship is expected to launch sometime before the second group of colonists will leave Earth. "We don't believe what we have designed is the best solution. It's a good solution," he says.
NASA has released their Fall line in what every traveler to Mars will be wearing this year. Meet the...
NASA has released their Fall line in what every traveler to Mars will be wearing this year. Meet the NASA Z-2.
Lansdorp added that Mars One has done its own research with somewhat better results, and he is hoping an aerospace company like Lockheed-Martin will do a study. In the meantime, they are keeping their in-house data under wraps.
There is still time to develop the technology needed to scrub oxygen from the air, leaving nitrogen in place. There is a good reason the launch-time is still far into the future. What is learned here on earth, including the trials and mistakes will be part of the learning curve. There is still time enough to work out the kinks and errors. We're human, and that's what we do.
More about Mars Mission, die off, Suffocation, Oxygen, Mit
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