Marrying Mars
Mon Aug 6, 2018 6:20am

Marrying Mars: Fixing Our Dysfunctional Relationship with the Red Planet

It's time to get serious about our relationship with Mars. We've been enthralled with the rose-gold-colored planet Mars since Egyptian skywatchers noticed its peculiar apparent motion in the sky. Mars pauses, backtracks, surges forward again. It draws nearer, growing brighter, every 26 months, then slinks away into the background of stars. It's like Mars is flirting with us.

Typical of human dating behavior, we've often let ourselves believe wild fantasies about this celestial object of our affection. We've imagined that great intelligence, or deep malevolence, or our own salvation dwells there. The rocket-transport and life-support technologies needed to go in person will very soon be available. But, if we really plan to move in with Mars, we had better commit to this marriage with eyes wide open.

Mars will try to kill us. Slowly, by solar energetic particles and ultraviolet radiation. Quickly, by asphyxia in its ultrathin, oxygen-poor atmosphere. It wants to damage our thyroid glands with caustic perchlorates (the compounds that give fireworks their bang) littered everywhere on its surface. It seeks to freeze-dry us in sub-Antarctic temperatures and desiccating desert conditions about 500 times drier than anywhere on Earth. It's as if Mars is putting the human species through trials, to see if we are a worthy suitor.

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