It is going to be much, much easier to colonise Mars than it is to solve global warming on Earth. The reason is simple. A lot fewer people would be involved in going to and living on Mars, which means less arguments.
Even so, it’s going to very difficult to colonise the red planet. In fact some people believe it will never be done. See here for instance. The main problems they cite are:
- Radiation leading to disease and death
- Lack of heat
- Lack of atmosphere
- Psychological trauma due to being cooped up underground or well protected surface habitats
- Reduced Gravity leading to physiological difficulties
Radiation is being dealt with in the wrong way – after all if we cure cancer, then we can administer regular treatments to cure radiation sickness. A lot of work is being done at Newcastle University to cure cancer, which would be along the lines I would expect to prevent radiation sickness.
Lack of heat – well that does need infrastructure – and that requires effort and time. But it is doable and there are various methods to deal with that.
Lack of atmosphere – if we can solve this one we can also solve the psychological trauma one. In Alastair Reynold’s The Great Wall of Mars, he calculated we would need to build an enclosing 200 kilometres high to get the necessary dense atmosphere at the bottom. Well it’s a start, but it is like taking a sledge hammer to tap a small pin into soft wood. Well let’s start by building a wall at the ends of the Valles Marineris, which is 8 kilometres deep. Only another 192 kilometres to go! It will certainly save on some wall building! But give this problem to a systems engineer, and they will certainly find a solution that does not required all 192 kilometres of wall height. And you’ll be surprised how much lower the wall becomes. And no, I’m not talking about a dome cover here.
That leaves gravity as the serious problem. Mars has 38% of the gravity we experience on Earth. It gives all sorts physiological problems. It’s not like free floating in the International Space Station, which has virtually zero gravity. So it is not as bad as it can be. But something will have to be done about this – I’m not a medic, but I suspect a lot of the answers will have to come from medical research for this. And from what little I know, I think this is feasible.
So as far as I can see, we should be able to colonise Mars, maybe not in the next decade, but certainly in the next century. But not quite in the way science fiction has portrayed it to date.