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Martian Manhattan – Urbanising the Red Planet

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Life on Earth can get a little mundane. Hot on the heels of the news that there’s (sometimes) liquid water on mars,1 I’m sure we’re all eagerly packing our suitcases and imagining sipping Pina Coladas on a red-sanded beach, the Martian waves lapping wistfully against the shore. However, what greets us when we get there is less Miami Beach and more Mad Max.

There is work ahead if we’re to make our celestial neighbour somewhere people would visit and settle. What follows is a timeline of events that can see us going from prefabs to skyscrapers, dune buggies to Martian expressways, from eating desiccated apple pie from a pouch, to working the Martian land to give us the food, water and resources to raise a New New York above the orange dust of Mars.

New Found Land – Where to Settle

Mars has plenty going for it. It has a 24 hour day, high gravity and an appreciable atmosphere. All these things make it an ideal second home. Minus the blistering radiation and extreme temperature shifts.2

Tucked in the bottom corner of the Tharsis Quadrangle at Mars’ equatorial plane lies Panovis Mons. An ideal spot for the Martian Capital. It offers respite from the harsh Martian surface in that its extinct magma chambers provide a ready-made underground refuge for settlers. Basaltic rock present at the site offers a versatile building material. ZA Architects, a German Based architectural practice has created a concept that they believe possible by the year 2023, whereby robotic emissaries would utilise local materials to create dwellings and work areas for settlers.3

First Footsteps – Prefabs and First settlers

There’s nothing worse than turning up to your destination, suitcase in hand, to find that your accommodation is a pile of breeze blocks and girders strewn recklessly amongst the Martian sand. If colonists are to live here, their homes must be ready and waiting.

Sending settlements deep into the Martian earth or high into its atmosphere will require some cutting edge stuff, in the form of a NASA Innovative Advanced Concept known as ‘Contour Crafting’. Behrokh Khoshnevis at The University of South Carolina developed the concept, whereby robots can quickly 3D print complex structures using local resources.4 A few decades down the line, settlers may disembark to be met by shining towers piercing the Martian sky, built autonomously by the machine descendants of this nascent technology.

Digging In – Building Bigger and Better

In order to support more complex industries, we need large scale energy production. Keen not to repeat mistakes of the past, renewable energy forms the backbone of a new economy, supply and demand in perfect sync. Vast fields of panels harvesting the intense surface radiation floods the Martian capital with energy.

It is unsustainable to rely on food from Earth. Self-sufficiency is key. ‘Mars One’, a non-profit with the goal of establishing its own Mars colony, believes algae and insects may be hot on the menu for our Martian migrants.5 But worry not budding Martians, more palatable options will be available through cultivation of vegetables in greenhouses under or on the Martian Surface. Meat may even find its way onto the menu in the form of in-vitro meat, being much more resource efficient than it’s feathery and four-legged counterparts.6

Big Business – Martians Paying Their Way

Mars must pay for itself. Costs of establishing a colony vary wildly but often circle around the tens of billions of dollars. Space tourism could be a multibillion dollar industry within decades 7 and Mars would be the prime destination for any self-respecting solar hitchhiker. For much of its early history the Mars capital may be home to a largely transient population of Earthlings, bringing in expertise and cold hard cash to fund the colony.

As our Martian metropolis grows, it can sell to Earth what commodities it has in surplus. Knowledge of their new home is one. Research will be a huge industry, selling science on The Red Planet back to researchers on Earth to work with.

Mining corporations may wish to harvest the new landscape, as Earths reserves of rare metals dwindles. The unique qualities of the planet such as its low gravity relative to earth, and thin sterile atmosphere, may prove invaluable for manufacturing the next generation of aviation technologies and spacecraft.

Retiring on Mars?

At the height of the space race, colonies on distant worlds were thought to be just around the corner. Half a century on, how close are we? With Elon Musk of SpaceX expressing his own objective to build a city on Mars, the will may be manifesting itself.8 The current state of our technology means that if we are to go to Mars, it will not be our science that holds us back, but the economic and human incentive to become a two-planet species.

Author: Adam Field

This article is part of theGIST’s Science for Society article competition. To vote for your favourite click here or to read the other articles click here.

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  1. NASA Press Release: NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars
  3. ZA Architects: Mars Colonization
  4. Tech Times: Mars homes could be built in 24 hours using 3D printers
  5. Mars One: Will the astronauts have enough water, food and oxygen?
  6. See here.
  7. Federal Aviation Administration -The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U. S Economy in 2009
  8. Business Insider: Elon Musk: SpaceX Wants To Build A City On Mars

Published on: September 1, 2015

Filled Under: Science for Society Article Competition

Views: 1365

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