Issue 254 - Mars colony

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Vocabulary: Planet

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Mars colony

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Mars colony

Mars is the second-smallest planet in the solar system. It is often called the Red Planet because it has a red sky and red rocks, made of iron oxide. It has the highest mountain on any planet, called Olympus Mons, and two moons, Phobos and Deimos.

On 20th July 1976, the Viking 1 spacecraft landed on Mars. Now, private and public organisations want to send humans to Mars. SpaceX wants to send the first people by 2024, and NASA wants to send astronauts in the 2030s.

Some people think a human colony on Mars is possible in the future, with groups of people travelling from Earth to live and work on the Red Planet. But can plants and animals live there?

On Earth the air is made of 21% oxygen, and on Mars there is only 0.13%. People and plants need more oxygen. Another problem is that there is not much water on the planet, so any water people find on Mars will have to be recycled. One possible solution is for people to live in a special dome, grow vegetation for food and wear a spacesuit outside.

Some people don’t agree with the idea of a colony on Mars. Humans create lots of problems on Earth; for example, with climate change. If we go to live on another planet, will we create problems there too?

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Mars colony

Mars is the second-smallest planet in the solar system. It is also known as the Red Planet due to the red rocks made of iron oxide that cover its surface and create dust, which gives the sky a reddish tone. Mars has the highest-known mountain on any planet, named Olympus Mons, and two irregular-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos.

On 20th July 1976, the Viking 1 spacecraft successfully landed on the planet’s surface. Since then, robotic rovers have been sent to investigate its soil and atmosphere. Now, private and public organisations want to send humans to explore the Red Planet and possibly establish a permanent base there. US company SpaceX’s goal is to land the first people on Mars by 2024 and US space agency NASA hopes to send astronauts there in the 2030s.

Some organisations are researching the possibility of return transport to Mars and even setting up a human colony there in the future, with groups of people travelling from Earth to live and work on the Red Planet. But would we be able to survive in such a different environment?

The air in Earth’s atmosphere contains approximately 21% oxygen whereas the atmosphere on Mars contains only 0.13%, which isn’t enough for people and plants to survive. A further problem is the lack of water on the planet, which appears to be drier than the Earth’s driest desert. Finding water sources and recycling used water will be critical to survival.

One possible solution to some of the problems is to construct domes with protected atmospheres. Communities could live and work inside the domes and people could wear spacesuits when they need to go outside.

However, not everyone agrees with the idea of colonising Mars. Humans have already caused lots of problems on Earth, and overusing our own planet’s resources has led to potentially catastrophic climate change. If humans colonise another planet, what will stop us creating similar problems there too?

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Future shopping

Read the transcript and listen to the audio. Then answer the questions in the Comprehension section.

Mars colony

Mars, aka the Red Planet due to iron oxide rocks that litter its surface and stain its skies a reddish hue with clouds of dust, is the second-smallest planet in the solar system. Dominated by Olympus Mons, the highest-known mountain on any planet, it is orbited by two irregular-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Since the successful landing by the Viking 1 spacecraft on 20th July 1976, robotic rovers have been sent to scrutinise the planet’s terrain and atmosphere. After spawning countless science-fiction adventures on page and screen, reality is catching up with fantasy, and both private and public organisations are planning human missions, with the potential of establishing a permanent Martian base. US aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company SpaceX has set its sights on landing the first people on Mars by 2024, whereas US space agency NASA aims to send astronauts there in the 2030s.

Currently, research is underway by some organisations into the feasibility of setting up a system of return transport between Mars and Earth, which could even facilitate the establishment of a human colony on the Red Planet in the future, with groups travelling to work and live there in communities and any necessary supplies being provided from the mother planet. But would we be able to survive in such a harsh environment?

The scarcity of oxygen in Mars’s atmosphere, which contains only 0.13% as opposed to approximately 21% on Earth, is woefully inadequate for the survival of our flora and fauna, let alone humans. Furthermore, the barren planet’s apparent lack of water means sourcing drinking water and designing efficient processes to recycle used water will be the ultimate dealbreaker.

In response to some of the atmospheric problems that Mars poses, NASA is looking into creating inflatable domes covered in ice to shield human colonies from extreme temperatures and high-energy radiation. Spacesuits could be worn when inhabitants needed to venture outside.

However, there is little consensus on whether we should colonise Mars. Humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to using our own planet’s resources wisely, and we are currently facing potentially catastrophic climate change due to a continuing increase in greenhouse gas emissions. If we were to populate another planet, what would prevent us from creating similar problems there too?

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