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posted: 9/25/2012 8:20 AM

Living on Mars would take a lot of problem solving

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  • This Aug. 26, 2003, image made available by NASA shows Mars photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on the planet's closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.

      This Aug. 26, 2003, image made available by NASA shows Mars photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on the planet's closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.
    Associated Press

  • In this 2011 artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover examines a rock on Mars.

      In this 2011 artist's rendering provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover examines a rock on Mars.
    Associated Press

 

Students in Katherine Crawford's fifth-grade class at West Oak Middle School in Mundelein wanted to know, "Could people ever live on Mars?"

For several reasons, the idea that human beings could live on other planets has been pie-in-the-sky.

Humans are designed to require the exact elements found on Earth, like air, water, nutrients from plants and animals, and some other key items. Other planets, like Mars, don't have human life-sustaining elements.

However, humans have a unique ability to dream and problem-solve.

Less than 50 years ago, the idea of putting a man on the moon was pie-in-the-sky. Maybe one day, humans will figure out how to adapt or remake Mars so it can be yet another location for businesses, schools and homes.

For nearly 40 years, NASA has been sending orbiters around and very close to Mars.

They placed two rovers on the planet that have provided scientists with up-close views of a very small part of the planet's surface. There are plans for even more rovers to examine the planet.

The combined information from the Mars missions has given scientists a good understanding of conditions on the Red planet. At some point, scientists and inventors could collaborate and possibly create the types of things needed for humans to survive or even thrive on Mars, even though it has vastly different conditions than here on Earth.

What scientists know is that Mars has no atmosphere, so space travelers would need to bring their own oxygen.

Geza Gyuk, Chicago's Adler Planetarium director of astronomy, describes the unusual conditions.

"The atmosphere is very thin, almost like a vacuum. If we wanted to live on Mars, we would need a pressure suit or a sealed living area, maybe a dome or an underground dwelling. Oxygen could be provided by breaking up water into hydrogen and oxygen either electrically or using plants," Gyuk said.

Pressure suits would be a necessity, he added.

"The planet's low pressure also means one's blood would boil without the pressure suit," Gyuk said.

The only water on Mars is believed to be permafrost, so travelers would have to pack lots of water and probably food. At one time Mars might have had water, but whatever is there now is so frozen it would have to be melted to become a liquid.

Growing food on Mars would be challenging. Martian soils contain toxic chemicals. Options like importing soil from Earth and creating a climate-controlled atmosphere could make human life on Mars possible, according to Gyuk.

There are other hurdles humans would have to overcome, like dust storms that cover the planet and extreme temperatures. But Mars is still the best option to date for humans who would like to try extraterrestrial living within our solar system.

"Although it would take a lot of work to make Mars a good place to live, it is one of the better places in the solar system beyond the Earth," Gyuk said.

"Venus is far hotter than an oven; Mercury and the moon are completely without air and hot and cold, as well. Jupiter and the other gas giants don't have surfaces and their moons are cold or airless or bathed in deadly radiation."

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