He stressed the planet as it is today will never be as hospitable as Earth, despite once boasting the right ingredients for life. Meanwhile, space psychologist Dr Iya Whiteley, who like Prof Martin-Torres gave a talk at the New Scientist Live event at London Excel on Saturday, warned before mankind could even consider building bases on the Red Planet, NASA and other space agencies would have to consider very carefully the psychological impact on spending months isolated in spacecrafts million of miles from Earth. Prof Martin-Torres, an atmospheric scientist at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden, set out his ideas during a presentation entitled Could We Live on the Red Planet?
Referring to a period between 3.8 and 3.1billion years ago known as the Hesperian era, Prof Martin-Torres said: “Mars was habitable in the past.
“At some point in the history of Mars there were the conditions for life.
“That does not mean life was there – but the conditions were present.”
During his talk, Mr Martin-Torres showed a series of photographs highlighting the remarkable physical similarities between parts of Mars and certain places in Earth.
Microscopic organisms could dwell in Martian cave systems, said
Bases on Mars may be possible – but the planet will never be like Earth, said Mr Martin-Torres
He explained: “Mars looks like places in Earth where we have lost water.”
Indeed, for reasons which are still not fully understood, Mars lost much of its water, billions of years ago, resulting in it becoming a dry, arid planet devoid of the conditions where life could thrive.
As a result, Prof Torres said present-day Mars is not suitable for life of any kind, not even micro-organisms – on the surface, at least.
It might be a different story in the planet’s caves and craters though, where water is likely still to exists and where microscopic life would be shielded from harmful radiation.
The Martian terrain looks strikingly like parts of Earth, said Mr Martin-Torres
The ExoMars mission which is due to head to Mars next year will place Franklin, a UK-built rover vehicle, on to the planet’s surface which will be equipped with a two-metre drill with which it can bore into the Martian surface in order to look for evidence.
Prof Martin-Torres said: “If life has been on Mars at some point we will be able to find fossilised evidence in the sub-surface.”
However, plans to build bases on Mars faced significant hurdles, Mr Martin-Torres stressed.
He said: “We really need to produce resources in the place we want to visit – this is known as in situ resource utilisation.”
SpaceX boss Elon Musk hopes to colonise Mars
The UK-built ExoMars rover – Franklin – will search for life on Mars
The European Space Agency’s HABIT (HabitAbility: Brine, Irradiation and Temperature) which will also be part of the ExoMars mission will “harvest” water from the Mars atmosphere, an experiment, possibly paving the way for future water farms on Mars.
Nevertheless, Prof Martin-Torres also sounded a note of caution to would-be colonists such as billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX boss Elon Musk.
He explained: “The best conditions on Mars will never be better than the worst conditions on Earth.
“We should not think about Mars as a place to escape from Earth.
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“It’s a nice place to study and possibly for resources for Earth but I really think Mars is not a place to stay.
“Hopefully we will live to see Mars astronauts – but what we need to do is take care of our own planet.”
Dr Whiteley, who is a director of the Centre for Space Medicine at University College London, said the challenges started long before people even touch down on Mars.
In her talk, What it takes to get to Mars, Dr Whiteley looked at the significant psychological impact of spaceflight, pointing to an ESA study suggesting experts currently had no idea how to deal with 75 percent of the issues and problems astronauts are likely to face along the way.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has been in the vicinity of the Gale crater
She said: “What we still don’t know is what people will experience when we go to Mars.
“We have had people going to the North and South Pole who have had no idea if they will ever come back.
“At some point there is no chance of being rescued.
“There is no way I can assume what they are experiencing at that moment.”