Elon Musk heard, “reach for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” and thought, not only is that scientifically inaccurate but also, why reach for the moon when you can reach for Mars. The CEO of Tesla and founder of SpaceX has revealed his goal for an entirely self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050. Equipment will start to be shuttled over in 2024, and the first crew is scheduled to arrive in only four years in 2026.
Although the idea of having humankind set foot on Mars during our lifetime still is crazy to me, Elon Musk is not the only one with these plans. The U.S. and China both have plans to also send humans to Mars before the 2030s. However, only SpaceX has the lofty goals set for a self-sustaining city. For Mars to become habitable for humans, the planet has to be terraformed in order to change the geology to match what is currently found on Earth so that people can survive.
Musk originally planned on crashing nuclear weapons into the planet to mimic a greenhouse effect that would result in a thicker atmosphere. Thankfully, this idea was scrapped. So he is instead focusing on how to get humans onto the surface of the planet, while terraforming happens in other ways. NASA, for example, is currently working on solar sails that not only would use solar energy to help move us through space but could also reflect the sun back onto Mars to warm up the planet’s atmosphere enough to make it habitable for us.
In the meantime, Elon Musk wants to set up domes (think greenhouse) that would still allow for humans to live on Mars. John Strickland, from the National Space Society, analyzed Musk’s plans and suggested that for the first 100 humans to survive on the red planet while it is being terraformed, they will have to be vegan.
Strickland calculated that a population of 5,000 people can thrive off of 0.3 square miles of a hydroponic, solar-powered farm set up in one of the domes spread across four levels. A vegan diet would be the most sustainable and energy-efficient diet for the settlers on Mars since the inhabitants would be secluded with all of the necessary equipment and resources in the network of domes until the planet’s atmosphere could support life.
Our connection with our red sister planet is happening a lot sooner than we thought. SpaceX’s Mars rocket, Starship, is scheduled to have its first test orbit later this year. However, the question remains whether or not we will be able to harness enough energy to sustainably support this mission. Strickland estimates that 100 kW of power will be needed per person to just survive. To put this into perspective, a power planet that creates 500,000 kW of energy is enough to supply electricity to at least 50,000 homes, if not more. That’s about 10 kW for an entire house. This is because of the massive amounts of energy that will be needed to grow enough food to sustain everyone purely from a hydroponic system as well as maintaining correct atmospheric levels within the domes.
We still have a long way to go; Strickland also wrote that he expects that about 5,000 trips of cargo will be required before food can even be grown on Mars. Still, I, for one, will be closely following to see how Elon Musk goes about getting humankind to this next step. I will especially be watching to see the plans around fueling these cargo trips to Mars as well as the materials sourced for the creation of the domes. As these steps will have a direct effect on our home planet. But I am definitely excited for a vegan-friendly planet; maybe we’ll finally get more options at restaurants!
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Photo: Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash