Mars Attacks! Life on the Red Planet Would Be Horrific: Here’s How

The Martian, starring Matt Damon

The Martian, starring Matt Damon | 20th Century Fox

In the year 2018, Mars is popular the way that the moon was popular back in the 1960s. It’s a new frontier that’s just within our grasp. We’re to the point where our civilization is nearly ready to send people there, to explore the landscape and maybe start our own colonies. How exciting! Human beings traveling to and living on another planet.

But that romanticizes Mars to an extreme. For example, we quickly discovered that the moon was just a dull rock. With no atmosphere, little gravity, and nothing but dirt as far as the eye can see, society quickly forgot about the moon and stopped sending missions there in the 1970s. Will the same happen with the Red Planet? Elon Musk and his company SpaceX are intent on building colonies on Mars, but living there would truly be a nightmare. Here are some of the reasons you wouldn’t want to move there.

1. Dust storms that last weeks … or months

A dust storm as it would look on Mars

A brewing dust storm as it would look on Mars | NatGeo

Dust storms on Mars are one of the bigger challenges facing humans in their quest to settle and build colonies on the planet. Although the winds aren’t actually that strong in reality (about 60 mph, or less than half that of a hurricane on Earth) they still come with several problems. As with any dust storm, visibility is greatly diminished. Settlers on Mars would pretty much be trapped inside for the duration of a storm, which sometimes will last months. They can even be large enough to cover the entire planet.

Outside of cabin fever, there are other problems that this could create. The dust on Mars is extremely small and has a sticking effect to it, similar to Styrofoam packing peanuts. Solar panels would be covered and need to be cleaned off frequently to keep the electricity — and heat — turned on. It’s a massive obstacle.

2. The amount of radiation exposure

Radiation from the sun would be very dangerous on Mars.

Radiation from the sun would be very dangerous on Mars. | NASA

The Earth protects us from the massive amounts of radiation let off by the sun, but we’re not so protected if we’re out in the vacuum of space, on the moon, or on Mars. As such, people on Mars would be subject to some level of radiation exposure, and in the event of a massive solar flare such as the one that occurred in 1972, it would be deadly.

“The space radiation environment will be a critical consideration for everything in the astronauts’ daily lives, both on the journeys between Earth and Mars and on the surface,” said architect and engineer Ruthan Lewis. “You’re constantly being bombarded by some amount of radiation.”

Creating a physical shield from the radiation is one option, and NASA is currently working on it. Another option is creating a magnetic force field, which presents several challenges. But we’re not there yet, leaving radiation to remain a constant cause of anxiety on Mars.

“Ultimately, the solution to radiation will have to be a combination of things,” said Jonathan Pellish, a space radiation engineer at Goddard. “Some of the solutions are technology we have already, like hydrogen-rich materials, but some of it will necessarily be cutting edge concepts that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

3. Lack of pressure makes it a nightmare

Get used to wearing a bulky suit.

Get used to wearing a bulky suit. | 20th Century Fox

Mars’ atmospheric pressure is nowhere near the level of Earth. And that might sound like not the biggest deal to the average person. But in reality, exposure to Mars’ atmosphere would cause the moisture in your lungs to boil. There are plenty of movies (such as Total Recall) that feature dramatic imaginations of what might happen: Eyeballs popping out of the body and such. It’s not pretty.

People living on Mars would need to be in pressurized suits, which just about any movie featuring fictional life on Mars will show with a degree of accuracy. But a suit that’s designed to keep humans alive on the surface of Mars would not only be pretty heavy, but adding the proper atmosphere to the inside would make it more like walking inside a bubble suit.

All of this may sound merely like an annoyance, but imagine having to deal with it every single time you go outside for the rest of your life. That’s not just an annoyance, it’s a nightmare in which you’d be trapped.

4. Most accidents would be fatal

Any reasonable accident on Mars could mean death.

Any reasonable accident on Mars could mean death. | 20th Century Fox

In The Martian, Matt Damon gets stranded during a dust storm that causes his team to make an emergency evacuation. After he gets lost in the storm, the team fears that he’s dead and leaves him behind. In the story, Damon’s character is very alive, but unconscious with a breached suit that’s quickly losing atmospheric pressure.

Although the whole story (based on a best-selling book of the same name) is a work of fiction, much of it is realistic. Ignoring the fact piercing a pressurized suit would almost certainly have killed Damon within minutes, he does later list the many ways that he could easily end up dead on Mars.

If the machine that makes the air breathable breaks, you’d suffocate. Any sort of event that ruins crop yields would lead to starvation. An accidental breach in the pressurized living space would result in an implosion. Humans would be walking a very fine line between life and death on an everyday basis.

5. Not exactly a lot of (or any) food to eat

Matt Damon grows his poop potatoes in The Martian

Matt Damon grows his poop potatoes in The Martian. | 20th Century Fox

Speaking of crops, The Martian also provides solid examples of what life would be like on Mars. There wouldn’t exactly be a ton of food to eat, or a massive variety. If you get sick of potatoes, grain products, and water, tough luck. Although the first travelers would bring dry food with them from Earth, that would only be enough to last long enough for a settlement to be established. At some point, people on Mars would need to grow their own food and become self-sufficient in that capacity.

As seen in the movie, an implosion in the area where Damon’s character is growing his poop potatoes (yes, he creates mulch out of human waste) destroys an entire yield, leaving him with no option but to quickly find his way off the planet or risk starving to death. A similar situation, or any number of unplanned disasters, could leave settlers with little to eat and resources from Earth months away from arriving.

Again, it’s not that people couldn’t begin to grow food, it’s that razor-thin margin of error that would make Mars a hellscape. Also, you’d end up being vegan, so there’s that.

6. You’d be heavily reliant on Earth, 33.9 million miles away

Future Martians would rely on Earth for several years.

Future martians would rely on Earth for several years. | NASA

Speaking of getting resources from Earth, people on Mars would be heavily reliant on their native planet. That’s not just for the startup process, but probably for decades to come as they begin to thrive as a society. Not everything needed to set up a massive martian settlement would be on the first ship, with more expeditions to follow that would bring everything from food, books, and entertainment to necessary replacement parts and pieces to create new structures. There’s tremendous risk involved with the difficulties in landing on Mars in the thin atmosphere, so one or two crash-landings could be catastrophic.

Sending these missions to Mars, especially with people on board, would be extremely expensive. Having the whole thing being privately funded – like with Musk’s SpaceX – creates the risk that money can run out. What if the entire project needs to be scrapped just 10 years in? That would not only be a massive failure, but it could risk the safety of many people.

7. Do you like freezing to death? Because odds are, on Mars, you will

Without heat, Mars would kill you very fast.

Without heat, Mars would kill you very fast. | Warner Bros.

Mars is cold. Not just cold, but very cold. Antarctica in the winter, cold. The average temperature on Mars is nearly 140 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the average temperature on Earth. That’s down from 57 to -81. On the warmest day of the year at the equator, Mars does perk up to a comfortable 70 degrees. But those days are few and far between, and the nights still end up around -100.

Not only would suits need to be pressurized, but they’d need to keep you warm enough to survive. Structures and living spaces would need a heating system, and if it breaks you’d be on the clock. It’s safe to assume that settlers would bring spare parts with them, but again, it’s a small margin of error. In -10 degrees with no wind, it would take around 30 minutes to reach frostbite. At -50, it would likely be around 10 minutes. The trapped heat inside the structure would buy you some time, but definitely no more than an hour or two.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!