Illustration: NASA Ames Research Center, Rick Guidice

Destination Mars?

We know much more about Mars today than we did about the moon when we landed there. So are we ready to venture out into space and start colonising our nearest neighbouring planet? “If the human race is to survive for a very long time, we may need to be in at least two places,” says Maria Sundin, a senior lecturer in theoretical physics.

NASA recently received proposals for landing sites on Mars for a manned expedition. These proposals will be evaluated over the course of the next few years based on many different criteria. The process of leaving Earth and starting to colonise Mars won’t begin for at least another 20-30 years, and the task will be far from easy.

“Of course, it’s entirely possible that we’ll never do it,” admits Maria. “When it comes to planets around stars other than the sun, however, we’re not close to being able to do this unless major scientific advances are made. It could be that the distances are too great for it ever to be possible.”

Not only is a mission to Mars not a prospect for the immediate future, it would also be dangerous. When a manned space shuttle leaves the Earth’s protective magnetic field, the risks are significant. What’s more, the human skeleton would decalcify and muscles – including the heart – would grow weaker.

“All forms of large-scale colonisation are much more difficult than looking after the Earth’s environment and solving our problems here.”

Some researchers believe that mankind should start space colonisation a little nearer to home, returning to the moon. There, we can build manned bases that could serve as starting points for further colonisation. Whichever approach we choose, Maria believes that colonisation is essential to our long-term survival.

“The Earth is the best planet of all, but in the very long term our planet will be uninhabitable in 1-2 billion years.”

Want to find out more?

Watch Maria Sundin and Andreas Johnson discuss space colonisation in (E)Migration at the University of Gothenburg’s Global Week.