Why Humans Will Never Be Able To Live On Mars, Despite What Elon Musk Says

Mars sits in shadow as observed from space.
Aynur Zakirov / Pixabay

Science fiction has been filled with stories of human settlements on Mars for decades. Even storied minds like the late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have extrapolated on the Martian future, with people happily living on the red planet. However, many scientists have started hitting back on those “pie-in-the-sky” predictions, according to Gizmodo.

All scientists agree that living on Mars would be difficult. The air on Mars consists primary of carbon dioxide, meaning humans would constantly need to bring a source of oxygen around. In addition, the air pressure on Mars is so low that it could potentially lead to ruptured lungs, dangerously swollen skin and body tissue, and even death. Finally, the lack of atmosphere means that there is very little heat on Earth’s neighbor. The average temperature on Mars is a bitter -81 degrees Fahrenheit, and there have been readings of nearly -200 degrees F.

But despite this, scientists such as Elon Musk believe that colonies will exist on Mars by the 2050s, with astrobiologist Lewis Darnell believing that the settlements will come to fruition around 2070 at the earliest. The United Arab Emirates is even planning on building a city on the red planet of over half a million people by 2117.

However, astronautics engineer Louis Friedman, co-founder of the Planetary Society and author of Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars, is pessimistic of there ever being a human settlement on Mars, let alone in the near future.

Friedman has pointed out that humans have not even developed settlements in the less hospitable places of planet Earth. There are a few bases in Antarctica, but the continent is essentially untouched. Friedman adds that human development underwater has been even worse. Far from developing Atlantis-like colonies, there are at best “limited” human operations, with no plans at all for anything resembling a permanent settlement.

rocky red landscape
  Yuliya Kosolapova / Unsplash

Astrophysicist Martin Rees echoes Friedman in his new book, On the Future: Prospects for Humanity.

“I disagree strongly with Musk and with my late Cambridge colleague Stephen Hawking, who enthuse about rapid build-up of large-scale Martian communities,” he wrote.

“No place in our solar system offers an environment even as clement as the Antarctic or the top of Everest. There’s no ‘Planet B’ for ordinary risk-averse people.”

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The one exception many scientists see is if humans can radically redesign their bodies, or “bio-hack” themselves to better exist on Mars, but Friedman adds that even “that’s thousands of years in the making.”

For example, pregnancy will have to be altered, as a lower gravitational state on Mars would mean that the growing fetus pushes against a mother’s lungs instead of her uterus. The nervous system will also have to be changed to exist in a micro-gravity environment. Finally, the extensive radiation means that some sort of skin shield will be required as well.

Doing all the necessary changes will require extensive genetic research. But more frighteningly, it will lead to the question of if the settlers on Mars could even be called human.