How about we start thread about colonization of Mars in near future. Not terraforming. That's will be plan for next stage, after we manage to set up a self sustaining colony. And that's what I'd like to focus on so that we don't derail this thread.
Why I don't want to talk about terraforming? Because colonization must go first, because it's realistic now. Terraforming in by our current knowledge would take houndreds of years. Too distant future to realistically predict. For all we know 200 years from now there may be no biological humans, and therefore no need for terraforming.
It's most realistic that in coming decades we will set foot on Mars, and it would be a logical step not to just visit, but to go there and spread human civilization there. Why it's realistic? Because influential, powerful, and filthy rich people want to do it:
Elon Musk given long-term goal for SpaceX to "develop the technology necessary to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars, ultimately with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining civilization on Mars." He said "I know it's within the realm of possible." The seemingly self-assured Musk admitted that he wasn't quite so sure until more recently. "I didn't know that until two years ago," he told Charlie Rose, saying only that at that point, "the calculations worked out."
Richard Branson "I think over the next 20 years, we will take literally hundreds of thousands of people to space and that will give us the financial resources to do even bigger things. (...) In my lifetime, I'm determined to being a part of starting a population on Mars, I think it is absolutely realistic. It will happen."
Fuel and energy - It's possible to make rocket fuel on Mars with hydrogen brought from Earth. "A working device has already been produced for this exact purpose. NASA's Johnson Space Center contracted with Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) in 1993 to have a prototype built. Dr. Robert Zubrin's team created a unit that demonstrated efficiency rates as high as 94% within 3 months. Additional funding by JSC and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory allowed for further improvements, with a resulting unit that operated at 96% efficiency for 10 days straight with no outside intervention, generating 400 kilograms of propellant on 300 watts; the unit itself weighed only 20 kilograms. Studies indicate that when scaled up, the propellant:unit mass ratio would go up significantly, as the percentage of system mass taken up by non-productive elements such as sensors would be reduced to negligible levels."
It may not be perfect, but if you can mace rocket fuel, you can generate energy. Add atomic batteries for early stages (like one on Curiosity rover that could run for 5, 10 or even 15 years), solar power and other sources of power and you are good to go.
Air and water - Modern military submarines are fantastic example of our capabilities for self-sustaining environments. Nuclear powered vessels can run for YEARS without refuelling. Onboard systems can purify water (urine) and air for years too. So if it wasn't for food such vehicle could go on without any contact with outside for years. Perfect analogy towards Mars base.
Food - That's where serious problems start. Unfortunately Biosphere experiments weren't conducted for something like 20 years. In early 90's they failed. But I think memebers of this forum are perfectly aware, just how much we advanced in this time. I'd put it like this - If I making GMO crops was my field, I'd dedicate myself to create corn that could thrive in Mars soil
phew... that's a long post, but I'm hoping we can have good discussion about Mars colonization in this thread. That two statements by Branson and Musk, recent launch of Space X, foundation of Planetary Resources with bald plans of Diamandis, are clear signs that it's not a dream, not a distant future, but something that may happen in next 20-30 years.
Edited by Craven, 08 January 2013 - 06:25 PM.