Moving to Mars? No thanks.

20th January 2020

I went to see Moving to Mars, a fantastic exhibition at Design Museum London. When I entered to the first room, there was a giant photo of Mars and the following six notes.

Mars is not meant for humans and yet we want to go there

If we succeed, everything we touch on the Red Planet will be designed for that mission

There will be no experience of Mars outside an artificial bubble, whether in the habitat or the spacesuit

This is the ultimate designed life

Some say we should fix this world first

But learning to survive on Mars might help us save Earth

As I was absorbing the depth of these short statements, a family with two small children walked in. I wanted to quickly snap a picture of the giant photo of Mars when their youngest daughter ran toward it and then stopped and just stared at it. Her parents noticed that I took my camera away and they apologised, assuming that their daughter ruined my attempt to take a picture. But I thought it was such a beautiful moment. This tiny human staring at a photo of this dead planet that we hope to inhabit one day. I said to her parents that if anything, she made the photo more special and asked their permission to keep the photo with their daughter in it. Her dad smiled and said, “Sure, she’s probably gonna live there one day.”

I’ve heard many people joke about climate change and that we’ll all have to move to Mars one day. But after visiting this great exhibition, I wanted to share with you why that simply might not be the case. At least not for the next few decades, if not centuries.

So, here are a few facts about Mars

◦ Mars is 246 million miles away from Earth. That’s so far that any radio signals would have to travel 22 minutes and it would take about 7 months to get to Mars. So far, we haven’t managed to send a single person over there. Let alone the entire planet.

◦ Mars is a freezing and barren dessert. The average temperature on Mars is -65°C. That’s 5 degrees colder than the average temperature on South Pole during winter, the ultimately uninhabited place on Earth

◦ Mars is a dry planet now but once there was water flowing across the planet. There is frozen water, but only at the polar ice caps and under the surface in a few locations. We can’t survive on Mars unless we bring water with us or find it there

◦ There is almost no oxygen. We cannot breathe on Mars unless we bring oxygen with us or find a way to make it there from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 in the Martian atmosphere is 95% compare to 0.04% on Earth. Let’s just emphasise that carbon dioxide is the number one greenhouse gas (among a few others) that is linked to climate change and disruption of ecosystems.

◦ Because the atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s, heat is not retained and much more ultraviolet radiation reaches the surface. For any humans visiting Mars, the prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation could lead to acute radiation sickness, increased risk of cancer, genetic damage and even death

The only way to survive on Mars is to build super protective and resilient habitats and spacesuits

Mars gravity is 3.7m/s2 compare to Earth’s 9.8m/s2 (metre per second squared). Because of the much lower gravity, you could throw a football three times as far as on Earth or jump nearly three times higher. Over long period of time, the lower gravity would weaken our bones and muscles. We would also risk heart problems

One of the biggest concerns for any future explorations of Mars is the well-being of astronauts. No one has ever been so far from Earth. We don’t know what impact the long distance would it have on their mental health.

So, I think we can all agree that Mars is not a happy place. Martin Rees, an astronomer and space scientist at Cambridge University, puts it best:

“[Mars] is a very hostile environment. We’d have to redesign ourselves and the way we live.“ – Martin Rees

In the last room of the exhibition, there was a short video featuring scientists, astronauts and climate activists, who were answering the question ‘If you had to move to Mars, what would you take with you?’. Here are the things that they mentioned


A piece of art

Photos and videos of my family

A plant

What does this tell us? Maybe that we are wired to be surrounded by the things that make us human. I cannot imagine being so far from our Home Planet, out is the space, hoping to land on Mars. And if successful, hoping to get back home. No wonder mental health is the number one concern for the astronauts.

The bottom line is that we are not ready to move to Mars. Moving to Mars is not a solution for all people on the planet. And that to me is a hell of a reason to take good care of this planet first because it is the only home we have. We should do everything in our power so that we don’t ever need to move there. Because what would be the point of moving from a dying planet to one that is already dead?!

This picture sums it up nicely for me. It’s called ‘We Used To Live There’ by Frank Moth. I absolutely love their work (there are two artists behind this fictional name). But let’s make sure we don’t let things go this far.

We do have the power to not let that happen.

Let’s get to work.