A shocking amount of threats exist that could end our planet. Aside from those that could be potentially caused by the actions of humans, some of the more terrifying cosmic dangers include: meteoroids, the eventual cooling of the Earth’s core, the expansion of the Sun into its red giant phase, and the collision of our galaxy with the Andromeda Galaxy. Even though these events will likely not occur for billions of years, it is still clear that we cannot stay on the Earth forever.
As a possibility to continue life and civilization, many are looking to our neighboring planet Mars as a first destination in interplanetary colonization. Some proponents of this, like Elon Musk, actually possess the capability to drive us much closer to this vision. Even though many of the aforementioned threats to the planet Earth are actually also threats to Mars, being able to inhabit another planet in the near future would be a good jumping off point for the galactic expansion of our civilization.
Background on Mars
Mars has many similarities to Earth. The Red Planet has a very comparable solar day (Sol) to Earth, only exceeding it by about half an hour. The two planets also share a comparable axial tilt. In terms of composition, the celestial objects are quite alike, even more so after NASA confirmed the presence of briny water on Mars in 2015.
However, despite these shared attributes, Mars and Earth differ in many aspects. Distanced 49 million miles further away from the Sun, Mars is traveling much slower and exhausts 687 Earth days to complete a year. Because of its extended distance from the Sun, Mars is much colder than Earth, at an average of -81 degrees Fahrenheit. It also lacks a magnetic field, leaving it with a weak atmosphere, which currently consists of mostly carbon dioxide and some water vapor. Mars is also much smaller than Earth (Earth: 7,926 miles in diameter, Mars: 4,220 miles).
Because of its lack of atmosphere and temperature far too low to allow for human habitation, the composition of Mars and its air would likely have to be adapted to be more like that of the Earth, through the process of planetary engineering (which is also often called “terraforming” in science fiction). One proposed method of terraforming Mars would be through decreasing its albedo (planetary reflectivity of the Sun).
In a paper titled “Planetary Engineering on Mars”, Carl Sagan hypothesized the possibility of heating Mars through albedo reduction brought on by installing 109 to 1010 metric tons of low albedo material to the polar ice caps to allow for a greater absorption of heat to the planet. Others have since proposed similar tactics.
Another possibility for planetary engineering Mars is to help it create a self-regulating atmosphere. Interestingly, this can be done by introducing a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to trigger a greenhouse effect, which would heat the planet to a tolerable amount. This would involve the introduction of chemicals like methane into the atmosphere, a process that might be feasible if these gases already are in-situ on Mars. For example, there are possible methane sinks under the Martian surface that could be utilized.
Another technique for introducing an oxygen-rich Martian biosphere is the employment of oxygen-producing cyanobacteria and algae on Martian soil. These different efforts could very likely adapt the Martian atmosphere, as it is in positioned in the Solar System at a place in which it could support life.
Industry on an Earth-like Mars and Related Standards
If the terraforming of Mars were successful, humans and other living things would be able to inhabit the planet much as we do on Earth. In this scenario, many other aspects of society would remain unchanged. Industrial practices could function identically to Earthen ones, and any related standards would be applicable between the two planets.
Industry on Mars in its Current Condition
However, even if planetary engineering is successful to the point of fully terraforming Mars, there would be a long period of Martian life in which people will have to inhabit the uninhabitable planet. Certainly, a key aspect of early Martian occupation would be avoiding the dangerous forces on the planet: extreme weather patterns, harmful radiation from the Sun, volcanic activity, and especially, lack of oxygen.
The lack of breathable oxygen on Mars is the initial problem that the colonists will have to overcome. One method for this is introducing the same oxygen-producing cyanobacteria that could be used for terraforming on a much smaller scale to create breathable enclosures.
Of course, these enclosures, like current space technology, would need to be resistant to the other harmful forces on Mars. As the Mars colony expands, it is essential that those involved with the production of new materials and equipment will keep this in mind. Recently, it has been proposed that the colonists would make use of materials that are already on the Mars. Extraction of materials from the Red Planet would require some type of standardization for both sustainability and the safety of those involved.
Because of its irregular weather patterns, it would be difficult to manage solar power and other types of clean energy. Ultimately, creating standardized practices for industry on the planet Mars will make use of those we currently have for Earth-like conditions and adapt them for the rough Martian environment.
Other Thoughts to Consider
Even if Mars is terraformed, it is unlikely that its entire landscape would be hospitable to humans. Important considerations would need to be made to control the areas that are not suitable to sustain life.
The gravity on Mars is about 1/3 as much as it is on Earth. This could have an effect on not only industrial practices, but also the construction and design of buildings and structures to accommodate the way that humans would move under such conditions.
It is also worth pointing out that to make Mars suitable for human habitation, space organizations have to be able to get humans there first. However, SpaceX and NASA are working on the first human voyages to Mars, and modern aerospace technology, through innovations like the Mars rover Curiosity, is helping to give us a better understanding of the Red Planet.