Returning to Mars

In October 2016 and again in October 2017 I wrote two blog-posts about our exploration and eventual colonization of the red planet Mars. To date the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and NASA have delivered a total of seven unmanned rovers to Mars. Currently there are proposals and plans for satellite orbits, landers, rovers, and eventually crews onto Mars by the U.S., the European Space Agency, China, and Russia between the mid-2030’s and 2060. The lone private enterprise so far is SpaceX. Telling and imagining these Martian efforts on television will return again this coming Monday evening, November 12th on the National Geographic Channel’s second season of “Mars.” Getting there after around 7-months of spaceflight and surviving the first SOLs/days (or seasons of the Martian calendar) are not the only serious challenges. Coexisting with each other will be another on a long, long list of challenges that never really end.

If you think coexisting is sometimes difficult here on Earth, even with family, where we have so many benefits and luxuries we take for granted daily, then talk to Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue about how in 1973 just 84-days together inside Skylab 4 turned out! The biggest major problem for those three astronauts? Workaholism. Excessive workaholism to be more accurate. But to be safe and survive way out there is workaholism what will be required of Martian travelers and colonists?

There are a number of plans from various governmental, scientific, and commercial entities already in progress to gradually move humans from “Earth-reliant” stations (currently the ISS), to “Cislunar space”  that is still Earth-reliant, and then beyond our Moon into deep space travel to another planned Mars orbiting habitat/station (a transfer station, if you will), and finally onto the surface of Mars. Many supplies, equipment, and some raw materials will be waiting, shipped there for them months, years earlier. However, before the latter stages of these plans can unfold, we must first confirm that some basic elements, like water, microbes, and geothermal hot-spots underneath Martian soil, are still present in light of those components having existed in higher amounts on Mars 3.8 – 3.5 billion years ago. Dr. Dava Newman, former Deputy Administrator of NASA, explains that so far the news of necessary life-building resources on Mars are very encouraging, however:

For such a voyage [of boots on Mars], measured in years, astronauts will have to become Earth-independent, devising ways to make fuel, water, oxygen and building materials with whatever resources the Red Planet offers. If that seems as fantastical as Matt Damon growing potatoes in The Martian, Newman shrugs: Astronauts have dined on lettuce and peppers grown aboard the space station.

All the same, these are nonhuman concerns. What are the serious and pressing psychosocial challenges for space and Mars habitation? Making it to the red planet requires obvious, daunting, precise space and extra-planetary science, preparation, and training, but it requires just as much human science. Given how deterred and unfavorably psychology, neurology, biology, philosophy, and sociology (to name only five areas) have battled in the U.S. for widespread legitimacy the last century, the Human sciences are perhaps less prepared to face a life far away from our perfectly suited green and blue planet.

Here’s another influencing factor: because expeditions to Mars will likely be international collaborations, those astronauts and Martian colonists must overcome cultural differences to survive and thrive while on Mars. Communication between Earth and Martian expeditionary craft take 20-minutes to be received — which means 40-mins could pass before an answer is received on a spacecraft or Mars colony. Are these factors insurmountable? No, but they do compound the mental and behavioral health of astronauts and Martian colonists.

Earth from Mars photo

Your home from 127-million miles from Mars; taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter camera in Nov 2016

ISS crew-members have always praised the emotional, inspirational, and transcendental effect staring back down at Earth gives to them. But that is nothing like the possible effect of barely seeing your home as a tiny dot 35 – 37 million miles away (see MRC photo). Living in micro-gravity and zero-gravity pose several challenges on the human physiology. Space radiation has significant threats to human DNA, tissue, and cells which impact our central nervous system altering the structure and functions of the brain. Kidney stones become more common in altered gravity environments, which also leads to urinary track infections, which undetected can lead to confusion or delirium, which can be mistaken for a psychiatric disorder. And then there are the social difficulties of prolonged weightlessness and confinement of a group or crew.

In 2010-2011 the Mars-500 project, directed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, tested and studied six male participants from several countries for 520-days in a small Mars-like module. The results of the project revealed some encouraging as well as potentially significant psychosocial concerns. These ranged from friendly constructive interactions to errors in experiments and daily routines caused by sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Some crew-members became more sedentary after just 2-3 months. Their activities continued to decline for the next year. Due to the stress and exhaustion of two participants and simulated problem-events, 85% of the perceived conflicts among crew members and with mission control involved these two crew-members. For a better informed understanding of these psychosocial challenges in epic space-travel, read Mission to Mars by the American Psychological Association.


All of these concerns, however, do have some solutions. Surprisingly, cultural differences and language difficulties did not bear any significant influence. This is likely due to the fact that crew-members were so involved in each other’s daily routines and such intimacy is conducive to quicker collaboration and problem-resolution as opposed to those who are complete strangers and continents apart.

We are certainly prepared and capable of manned spacecraft to Mars and its colonization from a scientific nonhuman perspective, but are we as ready and prepared for the journey and life in deep space and on the red planet from a human sciences perspective? Maybe National Geographic Channel’s season 2 of Mars will help determine that… at least in the public’s mind, maybe. Come this Monday I will be watching and learning.


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63 thoughts on “Returning to Mars

  1. While a momentous achievement in itself, unless there is a real possibility of terra-forming Mars there seems little point in doing much else beyond the achievement of a manned mission.

    I suspect once this has been achieved – as it surely will – and all the geological ( and dare we suggest biological ) surveys have been undertaken the motivation to go much further in any serious long term endeavor will wane in much the same way as trips to the moon did – no matter what Matt Damon’s fan club might have us believe.

    Oh, and for the record, who the hell is going to clean up all that rubbish he left there?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hahaha… Watney did leave a shitload of a mess there didn’t he? 😉

      The way I see it Ark is that for all the humans on this Earth that are NOT fixated, addicted to, and have a hard-on for Armageddon, the “2nd Return,” and the Rapture — doing everything possible to accelerate it and bring it to fruition in their own lifetime — who actually care more about LIFE rather than mythological fairy-tales and a morbid fixation on judgment, death, and punishment (even for small children!)… we scientific life-enhancers don’t have a choice if we want our children, grandchildren, and descendants to not go extinct on this planet. We must do it! Because of those apathetic, passive-aggressive zealots in the millions we need to do a lot more than just mounting a plaque on the mantel “We Landed Humans on Mars – 2037.” We need a Plan B, C, D, and probably E too!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have little doubt humans will get there … Mark Watney or not .
        That amazing capacity for ingenuity and balls to the wall adventure.
        Then they must develop a Bussard Ramjet or something and put humans in cryo and sent them to the stars.
        I nominate Trump as the first frozen wiener to be packed off to Alpha Centauri.
        In fact, why wait for cryo and the Ramjet? Just freeze him now!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting post Professor. In Isaac Asimov’s famous Robot series when colonization begins of other planets, Asimov talks about how life is going to be more difficult for humans over the first few generations. Harder than life would be had they stayed on Earth. In Asimov’s vision of the future the delicate balance of Earth’s sustainability was so precarious however that any small collapse would have led to large scale collapse and suffering and so the situation was seen as untenable to sustain Earth for very much longer. And when I say sustain, I don’t mean it in a sense of resources being depleted, but rather more like how New York City is right now. If you read the book (or seen the PBS series) the world without us, New York City is a few water pump failures away from just collapsing into the water table and being destroyed. I remember being shocked at simply how precarious each day is to make sure those water pumps (there were 4 at the time the book was written…3 are redundant) and that it takes careful and vigilant maintenance to make sure that those pumps are always in proper operation. Certainly for those people that are charged with maintaining those pumps their jobs are every bit as important and stressful than initial colonists on Mars might be. Of course there is a large pool of people to pull from here on Earth than there would be on Mars.

    Anyway, I think that in Asimov’s view was that the structure that was necessary for stability on an overcrowded Earth made it worth humans taking a short-term stressful situation to reap long term benefits. Of course in his novels faster than light speed travel was possible and colonization only happened on planets that in Star Trek terminology would be Class M. But there was still terraforming to be done. And of course Earth was in such a state that cultural differences were relatively small given that every day life was regimented very carefully to support life. Nobody lived rurally and robots did all the forming. So everyone was in massive urban centers. So I think part of a larger scale willingness to take such an enterprise on depends on the conditions here on Earth. I think the experiment is worth it, but I agree with you that I think it will take some time before people would be willing to mentally take on that stress considering it is generally less stressful to remain on Earth. Maybe the best candidates though for such a life are ones whose hard work everyday here is mundane and a necessity. In some ways you can see such people better suited for that life. The increase and status and fame for doing the same meticulous and mundane work everyday might make it worth it for them.

    This post also made me think of just how much we depend on each other to have a society that has as much leisure time as we do, even if we don’t know how much we depend on each other. The structure that society provides, that his been built over millennia, is not quickly reproduced by any means.

    Liked by 4 people

    • So I think part of a larger scale willingness to take such an enterprise on depends on the conditions here on Earth.

      What a great comment Swarn! Thank you. And how profound a statement that is and ironic too. If Home-base isn’t “stable” and “reliable,” nothing remote is guaranteed in the least! And your last paragraph is even more profound. It seems, at least in some pockets/regions of Earth, that reality of the human race being interdependent is completely forgotten. Too many are STILL obsessed with further and further division and prejudices, elitism to name just one. Certainly that is not at all conducive to sociopolitical cooperation and collaboration for such a monumental task as colonizing another planet. That HAS TO CHANGE for sure — and fortunately it does every time astronauts/cosmonauts stay on then return to Earth from the ISS despite the fact that is on a very small scale. It is absolutely surmountable! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Indeed, I have not seen a human based problem that hasn’t been surmountable providing there was a willingness to do so. I would also that part of the difficulty that our friends in space have is that there are so few of them. Just like farming made it so not everyone had to be involved in the production of food and so some people had increased leisure time. There is probably a sweet spot number for initial colonization that would actually maximize cooperation while allowing for a rotation of duties giving people enough leisure time to combat the stress. I suspect it’s more than just a genetic diversity issue that caused hunter-gatherer groups to exist in bands of several hundred. Having some redundancy in who could do specific tasks better probably allowed for some safety should an accident happen, but also some rest when stress and fatigue kicked in.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Fascinating post! The psychological and physiological challenges of living on Mars are certainly daunting, but the opportunity for humankind is too great to pass up. In my sci-fi novel, I explored the possible physical and emotional adaptations humans might experience over time on the Red Planet. For example, the lower gravity would naturally reduce our bone mass. We might then become thinner and taller. Likewise, the close-quarter living conditions and greater need for inter-dependency among individuals might help evolve us into a less quarrelsome species.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think those reasonable predictions Robert; agreed. Have you seen Stephen Spielberg’s 2001 film “A.I., Artificial Intelligence“? I found the very last scene of the movie quite intriguing. You remember it?

      Two thousand years later, humans are extinct, and Manhattan is buried under glacial ice. The Mecha have evolved into an advanced silicon-based form called Specialists. They find David and Teddy, and discover they are original Mecha who knew living humans, making them special.

      The Specialists revive David and Teddy. David walks to the frozen Fairy statue, which collapses when he touches it. The Mecha use David’s memories to reconstruct the Swinton home. David asks the Specialists if they can make him human, but they cannot. However, he insists they recreate Monica from DNA from the lock of her hair, which Teddy has kept. The Mecha warn David that the clone can live for only a day, and that the process cannot be repeated. David spends the next day with Monica and Teddy. Before she drifts off to sleep, Monica tells David she has always loved him. Teddy climbs onto the bed and watches the two lie peacefully together. — from Wikipedia’s plot-description

      I put my own twist to it once I further read about WHO the Specialists were — I thought at first they were humans (much further evolved) from another galaxy we moved to from Earth in order to survive what did eventually happen: human caused extinction of both their species and life on Earth. All that survived on Earth were A.I. robots like David. And I imagined the Mecha, or Specialists, called and described (barren) Earth more appropriately as Deisidaimonia Nekrós. Familiar with those Greek terms? 😁

      Liked by 3 people

    • Robert — I’m still reading your book! It’s a slow process because I spend so much time on the computer that by day’s end, I’m more into mindless TV watching. But I am most definitely enjoying it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m glad you like it because that was my main goal in writing the novel – to create something that would be enjoyable for people to read. So far, all the reviews except one have been positive and generally conveyed the same observations and sentiments. I would greatly appreciate reading your review too. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Now THIS is a topic I can get into being a sci-fi nerd. 😉 Perhaps not to the extent of some of you, but I do love the imaginative thinking that goes along with the topic.

    Couple of comments …

    1. Swarn wrote: I think it will take some time before people would be willing to mentally take on that stress considering it is generally less stressful to remain on Earth. IMO, it would be like everything else. As “space travel” became more and more common place (safe? adaptive?), people would begin to look at things differently. Eventually, it would be totally acceptable to hop on a spaceship and head for the stars. Actually, when push comes to shove, the deterioration of the earth by humans may force people to make the trip!

    2. Since I’m quite sure none of this will take place in my lifetime, it’s difficult to imagine that all the obstacles will eventually be overcome. When one considers the effects that extended time in space had on Scott Kelly, it would seem there are many things that must be considered — and obstacles to overcome. However, considering human ingenuity …

    Great post, PT!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Not happening in our lifetime Nan is my thinking as well. Yet, never in my wild imaginations did I think the beginnings of severe consequences of climate change, e.g. increasing methane and CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention a ton of other disasters like excessive PLASTIC waste and warming oceans… were going to start IN MY LIFETIME!!! 😲 Our greatest scientists around the world are saying now (updating the status) that if nothing changes, it will start getting much worse in 2025 – 2030! HOLY SHIT Nan!!! That’s only 6-years away!!! 😬 At this rate we may not even get to Mars quick enough! Ugh. 😟

      So I guess what I’m saying is that “even our own imaginations can be wrong”? LOL Weird humor there.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I guess for the sake of Mars or wherever we may plant our flags, I hope it never happens. We have proven time and again that we’ll shit in our own yards, for anything that doth exist in its primal beauty will succumb to the hands of us, where few have yet to adapt to our own environment. Religion hasn’t done it, science hasn’t done it, and even within the confines of our own gravity and just above the stratosphere—garbage. We are the Psychlos, not the resistance, and heaven forbid we stake a claim elsewhere in the galaxy.

    Liked by 3 people

    • So… correct me if I’m wrong, what you are saying is that you have no faith in humanity? No confidence whatsoever in our intelligence and abilities to drop pretenses and prejudices and collaborate? 🤔

      Is that right? 😆 😉


      • There may have been points in our history where it has happened, but we are dealing with crippled brains consumed by greed and self interest. So yes, I guess.
        I am an eternal optimist, but reality has shown the few that control the many, are masterfully in charge, and overall we choose between options we are given. That makes me optimistically pessimistic, or cautiously sensitive to the other galactic lifeforms we will encounter/alter for our pleasures. Btw, what ores will we have to mine first to alter the landscape to our needs? Am I pissy today or what?

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Professor … I felt this was the more proper place (rather than on my recent post) to answer you related to the TV program, MARS.

    Probably the thing that stood out the most to me is how it’s demonstrating exactly what takes place on Earth … the corporations are more interested in making money than they are in turning a hostile planet into a place for humans to live.

    I was also thinking how awful it would be to have to “dress the part” every time you stepped outside the protective shelters. And I wondered how they could walk so “normally” with Mars gravity being considerably different than ours. Perhaps this was addressed last season and I just forgot?

    And finally … I think the gal who wanted to go back to earth was an excellent example of what would be highly likely to happen.

    Your take?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the similarities, threats, and moral conundrums humans face on Mars are in many ways the same on Earth, that is with each other, not necessarily with what planet we are on. I found especially fascinating the psychological challenge (inability?) of humans often not being able to distinguish between exploration and exploitation — in most all common conventional cases we are doing both no matter what, no matter where. The definition of those two endeavors are usually broader and deeper than we realize, at least in the beginning. But that flaw is primarily because we don’t teach our children and youth (or adults?) to be respectful, consistent Conservationist as a whole. Too many American parents and American free society teaches WAY TOO MANY other “rewarding” pursuits and lifestyle other than treating and caring for the one planet that sustains us, gives us organic biological life for all of us. Pffffftttt. 😒

      Yeah, I’d imagine attempting to accurately simulate Mars’ gravity all throughout would’ve turned out to be a very cost-prohibitive inclusion. A nightmare really. LOL And no, they did not address it in season 1.

      The Director of the Lukrum Industries miners I felt was a fairly accurate portrayal of many past (and present!) American (and the world’s?) Moguls and Barons leading up to the Industrial Revolution: relentless, hyper-driven, power/wealth-insatiable men. If there are casualties along the way, so be it. It is the “cost of doing business” and the “cost of progress.” Oh well, the risks were within acceptable ranges. What I have never understood, nor do I buy it, is that business entrepreneurs DON’T NEED science and Conservationists any more than Conservationists and science NEED business entrepreneurs. I totally disagree with that paradigm! The two actually have no choice in the matter, they have to have each other.

      I’m looking forward to next week’s episode. 🤩

      That said, 98% to 99% of the time I will always stand on the side of science, conservation, humanity/philanthropy, and the sheer fact that just one human being generally and on average needs very little to survive or even thrive… compared to how infinitely abundant this entire planet provides. It seems those 7 deadly sins keep getting in the way of a small, small sector of the human population. Tsk-tsk.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My answer to your question from my blog (I think this is a better place for the discussion) …

    What did you think about Newt Gingrich’s comments in this episode? His advocacy for “Progress” over preservation? 😠😞

    Actually, I didn’t pay all that much attention to what he said (sorry). I was more involved in the story line rather than some of the “editorial” comments. However, from what I know about him, he’s big on space exploration … and I’m assuming from your question that this is a bigger goal for him than preserving the world we currently live on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grrrrrr, I have spent far too long trying to get the episode’s transcript or a free (no red-tape) viewing of “Worlds Apart,” but it is too damn difficult for several business/legal reasons. I wanted to quote him verbatim here, but it ain’t happening. 😡

      Gingrich’s commentary was during the last portion of the show regarding Greenpeace’s, or the Native American Dakota Pipeline protests, or any other group protesting against big oil/energy corporations drilling (unhindered and unregulated or unmonitored) in the Arctic seas — the parallel with Lukerum Industries drilling on Mars wherever, whenever, and however they choose with no consideration to “contamination” or environmental damage to Martian resources or probable microbial life. And your assumption about what he verbalized was basically correct.

      Gingrich was essentially blasé about any environmental/ecological protests against trashing, the waste or byproducts, their long-term risks/damage, human health ramifications, appropriate testing, research, and analysis of the consequential impacts of mining, drilling, and industrialization — what he glosses over as “progress” and human development. He also took the same basic stance as the POTUS and Republican party (paraphrasing):

      Earth’s demise/destruction [and by default the human and non-human species?] by whatever causes is inevitable. That [horror?] should not stand in the way of short-term jobs, economic growth, industrial development, and corporate profits/wealth.

      In other words, and this is my translation of his comments, Earth is a lost cause so let’s start exploiting and abusing Mars and our Moon as soon as possible. That’s the way all successful nations/empires have been successful in the past. Besides, I’ll be dead and gone in 10-15 years anyway. I’ve fulfilled all my promises to Special Interest Groups and their funding to me.

      His attitude infuriated me, if you can’t tell.

      Btw, if I have any future questions for you, I’ll ask them here from your comments. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Are you surprised? The chant of the rich is to get richer … by any means necessary … no matter what or who gets in the way. The Name of the Game is M.O.N.E.Y.

        In a way it’s sad to see this documentary include the bastardization of the planet — although in some ways, I suppose it’s to be expected since this trait is common to human nature … wherever they happen to be.

        And of course, it does add to the storyline. *sigh*

        Liked by 1 person

        • It isn’t a surprise in the least coming from a (misguided) political Conservative who hails from the Cold War Era mentality/mold. Many of his political colleagues were educated (indoctrinated?) into wealthy Capitalism (vs. Communism/Socialism) and the “Imperial” methods of conquering and/or exploiting any human and Earth’s resources. This hails from those same 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century European Imperial Empires of “Western Values” and patriarchy, including the U.S. post 18th century. Yes, the ends justify the means… sadly, at the expense of a healthier humanity and planet. Honestly? I wish that generation of Conservatives would just DIE OFF ALREADY!!!

          It baffles me how they perceive themselves now and in the foreseeable future when the Earth’s ecosystems speed closer and closer to that utter collapse then over the point of no return. Are they not part of this human race too!? Where is the intellectual foresight!? Do they honestly feel and think THEY and their families will not suffer!? Seriously?

          The health of this planet and it providing humans and all living species and ecosystems on it to in fact to LIVE and survive (thrive?) DIRECTLY AND INDIRECTLY IMPACTS every single person, every single family, for many (possible?) generations later, INCLUDING and ESPECIALLY Newt Gingrich and all of his colleagues and their families!!! DUH!!! Paper money (perhaps gold, silver & precious metals too!) won’t mean diddly-squat on a planet that is ferociously ill and reacting, vomiting and killing most every living thing on it. Currently the Earth’s weather, climate, storms, droughts, wildfires, melting permafrost, glaciers, and highest species extermination/extinction rates never before seen… are screaming, glaring symptoms of not only a sickening planet, but are impacts CAUSED BY HUMAN industry and their bottom-lines, their pocket-books and opulent lifestyles! Period.

          But I don’t need to be telling YOU this, do I Nan? LOL 🙄

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi PT! Comments related to latest episode …

    Found the idea of other-worldly microbes affecting humans quite interesting — and potentially very possible. IMO, the average individual who thinks about and/or supports the idea of a Mars colony most likely has not considered this aspect. Of course I would hope/expect the “scientists” have evaluated it.

    As a sidenote — related to my recent post — if the “greenhouse” effect isn’t remedied on Earth, we may be experiencing our own physical maladies!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes Nan! I found last night’s episode enthralling. If one never has a sciency mindset in every day life — as opposed to say divine legends and myths, or profit margins — it is indeed most likely that what NatGeo’s Mars demonstrated poignantly (that footage of anthrax and SARS to name two!) is when revenue/resources are more valued at the expense of LIFE or the risk of life will sadly result. Reckless, thoughtless exploitation disguised as unbureaucratic “development” or “jobs creation,” leads to avoidable disasters and pandemics. Horribly, the animal kingdom suffers first and the most. What’s worse would be two or more human generations of general science-ignorance, yet saturated with corporate business models/tactics (cheating?) and fat obese bottom-lines instead.

      As the show emphasized several times, instead of collaborating well together, Science will always have to battle against big business, or worse Superstition-based ideologies and religions. 😦


      • Regrettably, this — when revenue/resources are more valued at the expense of LIFE — pretty much sums up the world we live in. And unfortunately, most likely any future worlds we might be able to colonize.

        It is most definitely a sad commentary that $$$$ is the primary concern of the human species.

        And yes … the final “battle” you mentioned is also something that should never be a concern when it comes to progress. But alas …

        Liked by 1 person

        • Indeed. How many do you know Nan, in your circles of friends, family, acquaintances, work-colleagues, etc, that ALWAYS or at least frequently consider the Carbon-footprint (contamination?) they are creating/leaving in daily endeavors?

          My father was a huge advocate of many of the Native American Indians way of life and treatment of Mother Earth. He was a superb Eagle Scout followed by the USMC (Ooo-rah!) disciplines. He raised me very Earth-mindful and very well-based in science, particularly the Earth-sciences. I think about my carbon-footprint at least once a day or every other day. :/ Is that crazy? I can’t seem to help it.


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