Planning a trip to Mars

Last updated 05:00 16/07/2010
Mars: A Survival Guide

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The temperature's literally freezing, the air is poisonous and you'll die if you go outside without your space suit.

Why would you put your hand up to be on the first space shuttle to Mars?

Space tourism may not be a reality yet, but in preparation for the day that it is, Guy Murphy has written a book about living on the red planet, titled Mars: A Survival Guide.

Murphy wouldn't say no to a seat on the shuttle but he accepts moving to a Martian neighbourhood would have its downsides.

However those problems would pale in relation to what else the planet has to offer.

"In one sense it is a risky environment, but in another sense it is an extraordinarily beautiful, vast, untouched wilderness with some quite extraordinary features on a scale and grandeur you don't see on earth," he says.

Aussies coming to Mars might find they feel quite at home, the book reveals, with craters bearing familiar names like Cairns, Cooma, Ayr, Katoomba, Esk, Oodnadatta and Woomera. There's even one named after the national capital, Canberra.

Murphy describes his book as "a Lonely Planet-style guide" to travelling and living on Mars and stresses it isn't science fiction.

"Rather than just indulge in fantasy about what it might be like I was actually able to look at quite a lot of published papers and design studies. It's an accessible, popular science book based on real research," he says.

And as the co-founder of the Mars Society of Australia Murphy has participated in scientific expeditions to Mars-like environments in outback Australia.

According to Murphy's research, if you are lucky enough, or brave enough, to be on the first mission to Mars, you can expect to spend three to six months travelling there.

When you arrive you will spend much of your time in vaulted, underground buildings, which is why it's important you don't mind confined spaces, are physically fit and work well in a group.

But more importantly you'll need to have the right skills.

Scientists, engineers and tradies will be needed on the first mission while the likes of event organisers, used car salesmen and cricket umpires will have to wait for a later ride.

Kilojoule and protein-rich food such as potatoes, wheat, rice, soybeans and peanuts, as well as strawberries, broccoli, onions and pineapple, will be grown in greenhouses.

But in case crops fail it's advisable to take as much food with you as possible, Murphy says.

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"We have realised that you can actually find water on Mars, and the stuff to make air out of, and you can actually build somewhere to live out of materials and things that are available on the surface," he says.

You will have to watch out for Martians, Murphy says, however they are likely to be microscopic and easy to tread on.

"There have been a few signs recently that there is life there, they found some methane in the atmosphere ... I am not quite thinking cows on mars but I am thinking microbial life under ground," he says.

"We want to be a lot more thoughtful about how we establish ourselves there because there are things we can do to minimise our impact on Martian life if it exists."

While contaminating Mars with microbial life from earth is a real concern, at least you won't have to worry about unleashing an feral animal population.

"It has been said that if you release to rabbits in a paddock in Australia then they will multiply and take over the place," he says.

"You release two rabbits on the surface of Mars you have got two dead rabbits."

While having pets on Mars would be a morale booster, they would be difficult to keep, Murphy says, so you may have to leave Rex and Moggie at home.

"You have got this huge problem of how on earth do you feed them ... it would help if your cat is a vegetarian," he says.

So when can you expect to take off?

"It's generally thought that if governments really put their minds to it we would be able to send people to Mars in about 10 years," Murphy says.

EARTH VS MARS:

Size:

Earth - 12,756km in diameter

Mars - 6,792km in diameter

Day length:

Earth - 23 hours, 56 mins, 4.1 seconds

Mars - 24 hours, 37 mins 22.66 seconds

Year length:

Earth - 365 earth days

Mars - 687 earth days

Average temperature:

Earth - 14 degrees Celsius

Mars - minus 60 degrees Celsius

Gravity

Lower Martian gravity means it would take about half the energy for a human to move a given distance on Mars as it does on Earth, so it may feel more natural and comfortable to run at a slow pace than to walk quickly. This means you will spend more time running than walking.

- AAP

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