Environmentalists will tell you, ‘There is no Planet B.’ Tesla CEO and SpaceX boss, Elon Musk would differ. The billionaire who is a space enthusiast, and regularly has radical ideas of space with his own space company, SpaceX has had a Mars agenda for a while. Musk has always been very vocal about his Martian ambitions – Elon Musk had mentioned his plans of taking humans to Mars for a while – and he finally revealed a timeline for it back in February this year. Musk’s plans have sometimes been glaringly obvious, with wearing a literal ‘occupy Mars’ t-shirt in public domain, to promising humans would reach the planet by 2026. Musk might manage to get humans there, but what comes after? Is Mars suitable for human habitation?
The question on why Mars specifically, and not another planet has been the centre of many compelling arguments by scientists over the years. A 2017 report in Astronomy explored how, “The atmosphere of Mars is mostly carbon dioxide, the surface of the planet is too cold to sustain human life, and the planet’s gravity is a mere 38% of Earth’s. Plus, the atmosphere on Mars is equivalent to about 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.”
That’s not all. Mars’ temperatures may not be suited for humans either. A ‘stats feed’ account on Twitter posted the average temperatures of Mars, which oscillate between 35 °C to -143 °C. The average temperature on the planet surface too is -63 °C.
Elon Musk posted a cheeky reply to these statistics – “Needs a little warming up.”
Elon Musk in February this year had finally put a date to putting humans on Mars. “Five and a half years,” Musk had said. While that’s not a hard deadline, Musk listed a number of caveats — there’s a raft of technological advances that must be made in the intervening years. “The important thing is that we establish Mars as a self-sustaining civilization,” he said.
The strange thing is the deadline may be a little ambitious, as even USA’s leading space agency, NASA, had a much more different date, one which is seven years after Musk’s time. The Perseverance uncrewed rover will arrive later this month to take rock samples and search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet – but the first humans aren’t due to arrive on a NASA funded rocket until at least 2033.
That will be part of the Artemis – to the Moon and Mars – mission that will first see a sustainable presence established on the lunar surface.
Musk also answered other questions about Mars. ‘Over time you can make Mars Earth-like by terraforming the planet by warming it up,’ said Musk. Maybe that’s what he meant by ‘warming up’ the planet.
What is terraforming? Terraforming or terraformation, which literally means ‘Earth-shaping’ is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet, moon, or other body to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life. How does Musk plan on terraforming it though? In 2015, Musk had suggested nuking the poles.
Elon Musk explained that we could terraform Mars by exploding nuclear bombs over its polar caps. He had said that the radiation wouldn’t be an issue since the explosion would be in space over the poles, but the heat release would vaporize the frozen carbon dioxide to greenhouse warm the planet and melt the water ice. In the follow-up comments to explain his stance, he added other things he had in mind. Musk said his idea was to create two tiny pulsing “suns” over the regions. “They’re really above the planet, they’re not on the planet,” Musk said at an event for Solar City in New York City’s Times Square this morning. Every few moments, he wants to send a large fusion bomb over the poles, to create small blinking suns. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that our Sun is a large fusion explosion,” he had said, reported The Verge in 2015.
Musk’s ‘Nuke Mars’ agenda also had t-shirts. Musk had designed T-shirts to promote his idea to drop nuclear weapons on Mars. Musk revealed the theory of nuking Mars recently which, according to him, will transform the exterior of the planet liveable for human beings. The billionaire CEO was also spotted wearing the T-shirt in his appearance on Saturday Night Live in May.
Musk’s SpaceX and NASA aren’t the only space organizations racing to colonize Mars. A private Dutch company, founded in 2011 had received money from investors by claiming it would use it to land the first humans on Mars and leave them there to establish a permanent human colony. Mars One, still has a very active page and agenda. On their website, they explain why Mars and no other planets could be suitable: “Its soil contains water to extract. It isn’t too cold or too hot. There is enough sunlight to use solar panels. Gravity on Mars is 38% that of our Earth’s, which is believed by many to be sufficient for the human body to adapt to. It has an atmosphere (albeit a thin one) that offers protection from cosmic and the Sun’s radiation. The day/night rhythm is very similar to ours here on Earth: a Mars day is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds,” it argues. But the bottom line for living on Mars remains, it cannot be without assistance. Even Mars One agrees, “Humans cannot live on Mars without the help of technology, but compared to Venus it’s paradise!”