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What Would It Be Like to Live on Mars?

on-marsIt’s official: NASA is now planning for a manned mission to Mars. Space.com is reporting that NASA is training for the mission sometime around 2030.

Actually sending people to Mars has been a dream of scientists and science fiction lovers alike since the 19th century and NASA has done a lot to rekindle that passion for space exploration. And now that dream is finally becoming a reality.

But when (not if!) this dream becomes a reality, what is it actually going to be like to live on Mars? Of course, there are going to be challenges to overcome on a daily basis for the brave astronauts that make it to Mars. But once they get to the Red Planet, what’s it going to be like to wake up every morning and watch the sun rise over a different world?

It’s currently unknown where astronauts will land on Mars for that mission, but for a future Martian space colony, “you’d probably want a permanent base somewhere in the low northern latitudes,” says Ashwin Vasavada, a deputy project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. Even though Mars has a tilted axis like Earth (and therefore has seasons), the planet also has a highly elliptical orbit. The result is that the southern hemisphere has extremely cold winters and extremely hot summers compared to the northern hemisphere.

Living in the northern hemisphere, astronauts would enjoy about seven months of spring, six months of summer, a little more than five months of fall and only about four months of winter. A year on Mars is just under two years on Earth and a day lasts a little more than 24 hours. Of course, the temperature on Mars can range from minus 195o F near the poles to 68o F near the equator. And these temperatures could change very rapidly in a single week.

The reason for these changes in temperature is dust. Dust storms on Mars are the stuff of legend, sometimes covering the entire planet in a few days. But, Vasavada explains, “these storms probably wouldn’t physically harm you, [but] the dust could clog electronics and interfere with solar-powered instruments.”

So what’s the biggest risk to astronauts journeying to Mars? “The No. 1 thing an astronaut would be worried about is the radiation from space,” says Vasavada. Unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field and thick atmosphere to protect its surface from radiation.

But there are some upsides to not having a thick atmosphere on Mars. With all these clear skies, the Martian night is full of stars. Astronauts would also be able to see Mars’ two moons, Deimos and Phobos come out at the same time and occasionally eclipse the sun during the day.

The surface of Mars offers up a few great opportunities for sightseeing. “If we were to completely colonize Mars, there are certainly places that would become national parks,” said Vasavada. Olympus Mons, for example, is the tallest volcano in the solar system, rising 16 miles above its surrounding plains. Valles Marineris, on the other hand, is a giant system of valleys about the distance from Los Angeles to New York.

There’s a whole lot more on Space.com as part of their Living on Other Planets: What it Would Be Like series, and we encourage you to go and check it out. The mission to Mars is coming and now is the time to get excited for space!

photo credit: i.space.com

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