What Happens When We Colonize Mars?

Mars has become a main focus point of the public’s for obvious reasons. The idea of becoming an interplanetary species is exciting and makes many science fictions novels less fictional. Yet getting there is half the battle. What happens when we actually get there?

Elon Musk, CEO of Space X has been the leader of the Mars Colonization plans. His ideas have captivated the imaginations of countless supporters. However with every idea or concept comes questions that need answering.

There are some questions that have sprouted up after analyzing the idea of colonizing mars. Some of these questions will come in batches. Let it be known that the colonization method and plans that will be discussed are from Elon Musk’s Mars colonization. This is because these plans are more tangible and closer in our timeline. That and these seem to be the only plans made for colonizing Mars.

1. Food and Water

There are a couple ways the colonists of  Mars can produce food. The major concern of course would be food and water in the long run. After the initial food supplies are depleted the colonists are going to be waiting for a resupply from one of the supply ships. During the first year of inhabiting Mars, colonists would be working to establish food production facilities.

Water is not really a major concern as Musk shared with his audience at the 67th International Astronautical Congress. Since there is a massive amount of water already on Mars in the form of ice the major concern is energy.

Food production could take place in hydroponic facilities which could grow usable plants utilizing very little soil. Nutrients could be sequestered from the waste of the colonists. Putting the ‘black water’ or waste water into the hydroponic system would allow the plants to get the necessary nutrients.

In the early days of colonization the colonists would live off of the rations aboard their ship. There will be 100 passengers per space ship according to Musk. This would require food and water for 100 people for about six months (the time it takes to get to Mars). Once arrived it is assumed the colonists would get straight to work getting food production systems up and running.

2. Energy

The space ship itself will have solar panels allowing it to generate power as it takes the journey over to Mars. However what will the colonists have when they get to Mars. While the information regarding what the living situations will be for the colonists when they first arrive is limited we can make some hypothesis’s.

Elon Musk expressed his plans to make his space ships as reusable as possible. So the space ships that have arrived won’t be there forever. After dropping off the passengers the craft would wait for around two earth years for the Earth-Mars rendezvous. At which point the space ship will take off from Mars and begin its journey back to Earth.

It is safe to say that Elon and his team might have something planned. Aboard the space ship there could be materials and supplies to build solar arrays allowing the necessary energy production. Without energy there won’t be much hope for the colonists.

It is doubtful that there could be nuclear reactors aboard that can be removed and placed wherever needed. That being because nuclear reactors are usually quite heavy even for a small one that could be stored on a ship. The dangers of having a nuclear reactor on Mars is of course radiation. There would need to be a large amount of shielding in order to protect from the high energy particles that come out of a reactor. A reactor could be a possibility down the road in Mars colonization allowing the colonists to have plenty of power for all necessary systems.

3. Muscles and bones

After six months in space the colonists would experience muscle and bone loss. Something that can pose a serious problem when they get to Mars. How could they reduce the risks of muscle and bone loss?

Mars has a gravity which is .376 g’s. Or about 37% that of Earths. One hundred pounds on Earth would be 37 pounds. While muscle and bone loss wouldn’t be necessarily bad for when they get off of the ship and started walking on the surface it may make the colonists develop health problems.

One way that they can combat this is with exercise. They could use the same method as the astronauts on the I.S.S. and use elastic bands to hold them down on a treadmill like apparatus. Or they could use vacuum pistons as a weight set. This is good to do while in transit so they could reduce the risk of too much muscle and bone loss. The astronauts do these exercises for two hours each day. What they find is an average bone loss of around 30%.

But there are going to be 100 people on these space crafts. The engineers would have to find a good balance between quantity and keeping them compact for easy storage. Having 100 people get their daily two hour workout session can be a bit tricky. Depending on how many machines there are, there can be quite the jam waiting for that treadmill.

Lets say there are ten machines. There will be ten total rounds of work out sessions before everyone has had their exercise. It would take a total of 20 hours for everyone to have used the exercise facilities. That doesn’t seem bad at all and is quite achievable. However the only downside of having the ten machines would be the added weight.

Artificial gravity could be a way to mitigate bone mass loss to a manageable and safe level. While we currently don’t have the science fiction version of artificial gravity like we see in Star Wars or Star Trek we can use some physics to our advantage.

It is likely we may never have the artificial gravity like in the movies but we can use centrifugal force to simulate the gravity of Earth. Or a more reasonable simulation would be the gravity of Mars. This method may add more complexity to the space ship and could potentially make for a dangerous entry into the atmosphere. Especially with the way the proposed space craft will have to aerobreak as it enters Mars atmosphere (the space craft will have to enter horizontally to maximize the air friction in order to decrease the speed before landing).

4. Habitat

When the colonists first arrive what will they find? Well they will definitely find a vast amount of iron oxide on the surface. They may even come across some of the Mars rovers. But where will they live?

We could send the habitats to Mars before hand and build them or put them together using robots. Or the modules could come in a neat little box and require some assembly like IKEA furniture. The major goal of creating a suitable habitat for 100 people is to make them in as little time as possible. Ideally within a couple weeks. While this number doesn’t have any backing coming from a scientific stand point it sounds like a reasonable time frame to lessen the initial burden on the colonists. After all there will be 100 of them and with good team work could build a suitable habitat in very little time.

The habitat would have to be very substantial to house 100 men and women. Living quarters could be as simple as bunk beds which would lower the amount of modules needed for housing thus reducing cost and build time.

There is no doubt they will need some equipment. Maybe in the near future Space X will develop a Mars crane which can collapse down to a size that can easily be store on the space ship but still help lift the large modules.

5. Fuel

It never came to my attention that Elon would be sending the space ships back until I watched the presentation. On Mars the ingredients to make fuel is already there. The only problem is of course energy.

Musk said that each ship would have a small fuel production machine on board so the colonists could refill the space ship before it makes it’s journey back to Earth to take the next people to Mars. The fuel planned on being used will be deep-cryo methalox.

6. Governance

Perhaps one of the most asked questions is who will be in charge of the people on Mars. What laws would they follow. Since there are going to be people from different cultures, decisions may be a bit difficult. I have a couple proposed ideas that may work.

My first suggestion, appoint a small group of people as the governing body. Out of 100 people five of them could be appointed leading positions. These people would of course be evaluated for such roles based on there ability to handle tense situations and problem solving skills. Ideally these people would come together and make key decisions with the main goal in mind, survival.

Another option would be to allow the colonists to form their own structure of control. The colonists could appoint their own leaders and people to follow. Using a kind of direct democracy approach they would directly vote for who they want to guide them. Instead of limiting the power to only one person. It would again be a small group of people to share the power.

They could follow the guidelines and commands set by Space X. Space X could put in place guidelines or laws and send commands to the colonists. However there is a large delay between send and receive. It takes on average 12 minutes for data to be sent to Mars. Meaning the colonists would be waiting for 12 minutes before receiving orders. Or if something went wrong it would take on average 12 minutes before Earth would receive word of the event. Then Earth would have to send a reply. So from the sending of the message from Mars it would take on average 24 minutes to get a decision suggesting they don’t ask a question instead. Can you see the problem? Self governance is the better option.

In all of the above ideas the goal of their mission would be told and stressed greatly. Their goal which can vary from person to person, would be to expand the human race to live on Mars. To survive as proof that humans have the great ability to overcome adversity. To live so that we can expand out knowledge of the human body on other planets to better our technology and aid us in making space travel and colonization no longer science fiction.


The future is an exciting time. To expand our reach beyond the moon is an amazing thought. Living on another planet with its own challenges and weather patterns is something that we will have to wait and see. Space X is pushing our technology and space exploration forward. I have high hopes for the future of space exploration and who knows, maybe my children will purchase a ticket to live on the red planet.


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