What are the chances of human life surviving on Mars?


It's been a big few days for Mars, not that the planet really knows about it, but it's been making headlines in news and entertainment circles. 

In a groundbreaking announcement, NASA confirmed that gully-like features had been spotted on the planet in various locations, allowing researchers to confirm that at some stage in its past Mars had the capability to support life. 

With the question being not if our own planet will become uninhabitable, but rather when, the desire to colonise the solar system and in particular Mars is no longer simply in the realm of science fiction. 

The Mars One project is a not-for-profit foundation that hopes to establish a permanent human base on the red planet, but as you might imagine that's a hugely challenging proposition. Not only is it an incredibly long journey, but the crucial problem of making sure that the settlement has water to drink and air to breathe is one that poses incredibly difficult logistical and engineering challenges. 

Speaking to Jonathan McCrea on Futureproof, Chief Engineer and Director of Life Support Systems with Paragon Space Development Corporation, Barry W. Finger, detailed the difficulties and feasibility of any sort of system that would support human life in such an inhospitable environment as Mars.  

Ridley Scott's new movie The Martian, which hits screens on September 30th, imagines some of the problems of sending a manned expedition to the red planet that goes wrong, leaving one man stranded there alone. 

While that all seems a bit far-fetched, what was once the fevered dream of an author or comic book illustrator is fast becoming a reality, but what would life be like on a new planet, and is Mars as uninhabitable as it seems?

Stephen Petranek, award-winning editor of a number of major publications (LifeDiscover MagazineWashington Post Magazine) spoke to Futureproofabout what life on Mars would really be like, and if we could adapt to it: "Look how easily humans survive in Antarctica, even year-round through the most horrible winters that we can contemplate. Winter in Antarctica is worse than the kind of experience we would have on mars. Mars is really not as inhabitable as it seems".

Although it's still science fiction, there's plenty of science involved in making a movie like The Martian, so former NASA flight controller Marianne Dyson also spoke to Futureproof about the possibilities of one day colonising the red planet. While she notes that space is the final frontier, it is one that she feels we're destined to cross sooner rather than later...at least in relative terms.  

Back to top