Could human beings one day live on Mars

The Mars One Mission hopes to create a human settlement on Mars by the year 2025 allowing people to live on the Red Planet, albeit in an enclosed environment.

However four students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy have taken the concept one step further by investigating how humans could survive on Mars in the open air – and have calculated that it would be possible, but logistically very challenging.

Physics undergraduates Alex Longman, Kieran Flatt, Sam Turnpenney and Maria Garreffa have used real scientific principles to investigate the off-the-wall suggestion of occupying Mars.

They have worked out that while it would be possible to alter Mars’s atmosphere through the burning of coal in order to make it more hospitable to humans, the logistics of the transportation of this coal is the main barrier preventing us from terraforming the planet.

They calculated that using the world’s most powerful rocket, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, would take 2,390,000,000,000,000 trips to ship the required amount of coal needed to create enough carbon dioxide to alter the Martian atmosphere to the point that humans could inhabit the Red Planet without the need for pressurised space suits.  

This means that although terraforming the Red Planet’s atmosphere is not completely beyond the realms of possibility, the number of trips required to have sufficient coal to change the atmosphere makes it an inefficient process at best.    

  • The students presented their findings in a paper for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. The student-run journal is designed to give students practical experience of writing, editing, publishing and reviewing scientific papers.