The Mars Society proposes an institute to develop the technology necessary for the settlement of the Red Planet

By | September 19, 2023

As a new era of human space exploration dawns, the concept of humans living and working on the surface of Mars is no longer the stuff of science fiction. But if settlement on the Red Planet is to become a reality, it will be necessary to develop the technology to make long stays on the Martian surface.

With this in mind, the Mars Societya nonprofit organization dedicated to human exploration and settlement of the fourth planet from the sun, announced an initiative to create the Mars Technology Institute (MTI), a nonprofit organization that will focus on the development of these technologies.

SpaceX and other entrepreneurial launch companies are already moving quickly to develop the transportation systems that can get us to the planet Mars,” Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society and aerospace engineer said in a statement.

Zubrin said the materials needed to support human settlement are there already on Mars and can potentially be mined in situ on the Red Planet, but to do this, humanity will need the technology to transform these materials into materials such as concrete, metals, glass, textiles and plastics. Furthermore, if the right technologies exist, collected Martian materials can also be transformed into fuel, oxygen and even food for astronauts.

Related: We could start a settlement on Mars with just 22 people, scientists say

Putting biotechnology first

The Mars Society suggested in a press release that, in broad terms, there are three fundamental needs that a Mars Colony will have to face: severe limitations on labor, agricultural land and energy sources.

Overcoming the labor shortage could also depend on the development of robots and automated technologies artificial intelligence necessary to operate these systems. The lack of fossil fuels to burn on Mars and the shortage of liquid water to produce hydroelectric power, as well as limited opportunities for solar and wind energy, mean that settlements on Mars will have to rely on fission nuclear power plants or, if the technology proves feasible on Earth, fusion energy.

To address the lack of land on the Red Planet for agriculture, scientists could focus on biotechnology, including genetic engineering and microbial food production, as well as advanced agricultural systems such as aquaponics and synthetic biology.

Although the MTI Advisory Board has already recruited a group of 12 experts in the fields of biotechnology, artificial intelligence and advanced nuclear energy technology, the Mars Society has suggested that once its initial work is underway, the MTI should first focus its efforts on biotechnology. That’s because these projects could be launched with less considerable financial support than something like advanced nuclear research requires.

This is not to say, however, that developing biotechnology for Mars would be easy in any way, especially since current research in the field does not have to deal with the limitations imposed by the Martian landscape.

“Iowa’s corn fields are among the most productive farms on Earth, producing 12 tons of corn per acre per year,” Zubrin explained. “One hectare is enough to supply one kilogram to 30 people [2.2 pounds] of corn per day, or feed 20 people, assuming some land is devoted to fruits, vegetables and meat. That’s extremely impressive, but at that rate, a city on Mars of 100,000 would require 5,000 hectares (about 20 square miles) of agricultural land — and that’s under the optimistic assumption that such productivity could be achieved at mid-Martian solar illumination levels. of Iowa. “

Zubrin added that scientists could try to increase solar-driven production by providing artificial light at 200 watts per square meter, which is about 20% of the sunlight received in Iowa at midday), but that would require 10 gigawatts, or 10 billion watts of electricity. — equivalent to the energy that could be provided by 25 million solar panels.

“This arises from the inefficiency of photosynthesis, which, although about 4% at the cellular level, is only about 0.2% efficient at converting solar energy hitting a corn field into biologically useful energy in the form of corn “Zubrin said. “This isn’t a big deal on Earth, where large amounts of agricultural land are readily available. But it’s a deal breaker for Mars.

“We must solve this problem using biotechnology. By doing so, we will not only make it possible for humanity to become multiplanetary, but we will decisively refute the canard that space advocates do not care about the basic needs of people on Earth.”

Related: How to feed a Mars colony of 1 million people

How and where would the Mars Institute operate?

The Mars Society said the proposed MTI would be non-profit and would seek funding through tax-deductible donations. Further support could be provided to MTI via a wholly owned subsidiary called Mars Technology Lab (MTL), which could receive donations from investors.

MTL would also license technologies developed by MTI and occasionally spin off these platforms into new, separate companies. Dividends from these companies would then be channeled back to MTI, the Mars Society proposed.

This means that the MTI would have six avenues of revenue, which the Mars Society lists as donations, investments, licensing income from intellectual property, dividends from spin-off companies, and research and development contracts with government and private companies.

“The cities on Mars themselves will be colonies of inventors dedicated to pursuing advances in these areas and will use the resulting technologies both to survive and thrive on the Red Planet and to obtain the income needed to pay for imports by licensing such inventions on the home planet,” , Zubrin argued. “Then why not start such a Mars Technology Institute Earth Now?”

He pointed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as an example of how MTI could eventually make money for investors by patenting and licensing the inventions of its scientists. Zubrin believes that such an institute has not already been created because investing in such a company does not make a business case in the same way as investing in an existing Earth-based project.

“Early funders will need to be motivated by a long-term vision rather than short-term gains. It is hope, rather than greed, that will take us to Mars,” Zubrin added.

If MTI gets off the ground, the institute will conduct its research from a central campus, the location of which has not yet been chosen, although sites in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado are being considered. Additionally, some projects may be outsourced to other companies and academic institutions.


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The MTI could also provide funding to volunteers who propose credible research projects and are willing to conduct them without pay. This model is currently used by the Mars Society and is an example of this analog research stations and rover races. These volunteer projects could have significant educational value for student volunteers if supervised by teachers in school and university laboratories, the Mars Society added.

“MTI could become not only the engine of invention, but also the engine of finance to enable human exploration and settlement on Mars,” Zubrin concluded. “To quote Frederick Douglass, ‘He who would be free must strike the blow alone.’ To Mars!”

The Mars Society is soliciting donations for the creation of the MTI Here.

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