I have been talking a lot about going to Mars, and the various ways we might do that. It may have occurred to you, however, that I have said nothing about how we would ever survive once there. If we can’t do that, then there isn’t much point in dreaming up ways to send people there. To survive, there is a bare minimum of things that humans require. Water, air, food, and shelter. This is the bare bones minimum, mind you, but it is a start. I will look at how we might get each in turn.
The good news is that there is liquid water on Mars, or at least the evidence strongly suggests that there is. However, it would need to be desalinated to be of any use to us. Because this isn’t easy even here on Earth, we might want to look at other possible sources of drinkable water. According to this article, we would need to find the source of this water, namely freshwater aquifers. It says that the Mars 2020 rover will help us scout them out.
Another possible source of drinkable water is the Martian Ice caps. According to the Huffington Post, this is the best way to go. Though it would be a limited resource, it is nonetheless a vast one. It is also stable, and won’t disappear with the changing Martian seasons. Unfortunately, according to the article, although it won’t be as salty as the flowing water, it will likely still need to be desalinated before we can drink it. We do have the technology to do this, but the problem is overcoming energy and payload costs. The article goes on to say that we might turn to halophilic bacteria that would be able to consume and process this excess of salt, and that we might eventually start to reclaim the water from colonists’ urine. Not exactly a nice thought, but it may have to be done if we are to stay there permanently. However we find it, once we have water, we can grow vegetation.
Along with water, plants will need nutrients. Luckily for us, NASA says that Martian soil is rich in the nutrients required. In fact, numerous varieties of veggies have already been grown in martian-like soil, just not on Mars. These plants will require a structure to protect them from the harsh Martian climate, however, as will the humans consuming them.
A number of ideas have been thrown out there as to what kind of shelters we might build on Mars. Some say we should live underground, while others may favor terrestrial dwellings. The material and method of construction are also matters which are being debated. Ideas range from inflatable structures, ones built from martian concrete, prefabricated assembly-required domes, and even 3-d printed structures. And inside these shelters, we will need air to breath.
In one possible method explained in a CNN article, water, once obtained, would have the oxygen extracted from it and mixed with other gaseous elements to be like the air here on Earth.