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It seems plenty of people want to abandon the Earth. Interest in leaving the home world for a new start on Mars has never been greater and was one of the hot topics at the recent BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit in New York.
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There is even evidence to suggest it may one day happen. Nasa is tooling-up for production of its new heavy launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), capable of conveying humans beyond Earth orbit; Mars One has recruited hundreds of volunteers for its reality-TV-funded one-way-trip to the Red Planet and the Mars Society is stepping-up its studies into what it takes to be a Martian.
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It is easy to imagine that human civilisation on Mars is inevitable. However, before you put all your worldly possessions on eBay and sign-up for a new start in Gale Crater, it is worth considering the obstacles that have to be overcome to build a sustainable extraterrestrial colony. It is not going to be easy.
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Here are our five steps to building a new life on Mars: 1. Getting there Within the next decade Nasa will finally have a spacecraft capable of making the journey to Mars. The massive new 2500 tonne SLS, combined with the Orion capsule, will enable astronauts to explore beyond the safety of low Earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo Moon programme in 1972.Although any long duration mission is also likely to employ a habitation module, giving the crew a bit more room to move around in, the nine month trip to Mars is going to be uncomfortable and Quite apart from the risks of launch (the recent Antares rocket explosion proves we should never take this for granted), during the transit to Mars the crew will be exposed to damaging levels of radiation that will significantly increase their risks of developing cancer. For anyone looking to have healthy Martian children (see below), cosmic radiation could also harm sperm and eggs.Landing safely on Mars is also a challenge. Nasa used an innovative skycrane to lower its one-tonne Curiosity rover onto the surface in 2012. The Orion capsule weighs almost 10 tonnes and that is before you factor in any service module or landing rockets. The agency is currently developing giant inflatable heatshields designed to slow spacecraft as they approach Mars, making landing larger craft feasible.The good news is that getting to Mars in one piece is essentially an engineering challenge but, speaking at the BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit, former Nasa astronaut Jeff Hoffman put his finger on a far bigger issue.
It is going to be expensive,” he admitted. “What it will take to finance the human exploration of Mars is hard to say.”The final figure is likely to be tens of billions of dollars, but Hoffman suggests that the new generation of entrepreneur billionaires who are “space nuts” might be part of a public-private solution. “[Paypal cofounder] Elon Musk says he wants to go…

 

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