Maybe you’ve heard of Mars One. The project has existed for a while now, they famously put out a call for amateur astronauts interested in a one way trip to Mars as part of a reality show. It won’t happen for about 7 years yet as preparations are made, but the gist is the “lucky” winners will be sent in teams of four to Mars to build a colony. They’ll have capsules and inflatable habitats that they can oxygenate with plants they grow themselves as they slowly make a livable, workable environment on the Red Planet. Unless MIT is right.
MIT, known for being chock to the brim with geniuses, has looked over Mars One’s plans and found some problems. Problems that, according to their projections, will result in the first death a mere 68 days into the mission. The problem? There’s no air on Mars.
Get to the choppa! No wait…
Now you might say “Hey man, didn’t you just say they’ll grow plants for air?” and yes, we did. But we know as much about the actual science of how plants make oxygen as apparently Mars One does. On a planet like Earth you don’t need to think twice about it, because we have a full on liveable atmosphere. Not so on Mars, where over time, the amount of oxygen will surpass the space provided for it. As the amount of oxygen increases, so will the pressure inside the Martian habitats, which will stress the life support systems. The solution is to vent oxygen. But the problem is nitrogen is needed to maintain the pressure in the colony and you can’t separate oxygen from nitrogen in the air like that. So if both are vented, the air pressure will decrease making it harder for the colonists to breathe while at the same time providing a nice, oxygen saturated environment that fire could thrive in. So no life for people but plenty of life for fire. And also near 100% humidity (which will probably keep the likelihood of fires low, if nothing else).
MIT predicts, based on this problem, death starts early. They played with some numbers to see how it could be fixed and really, it could be fixed, but it’s going to cost billions more than Mars One has earmarked for the mission.
For their part, Mars One disputes MIT saying their figures are incorrect based on incorrect information. It wasn’t necessarily clarified how they’re wrong, but for the sake of the astronauts who may be dying in space, you’d hope they make it clear pretty soon. Would you go to Mars if the engineers at MIT said you were probably going to smother to death in a humid, inflatable tent within 2 months?