Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Could Huge Caves be our First Home on Mars?

Remember those mysterious dark spots that were photographed on the surface of Mars? Well from a recent article in Dvice - Photographs taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows what these dark areas really are, or more specifically what is IN them. Some high resolution images were taken of the dark areas and allowed to over-expose to bring out detail in the dark areas. What showed up were huge pits (in this case a football field span.) were the remains of an empty lava chamber with a collapsed ceiling. These pits might turn out to be the perfect thing for living accommodations once explorers/colonists arrive on Mars.

From the Dvice article:
  • One possible way to turn a pit crater into an insta-base might be to stretch a big sheet of plastic wrap over the top at ground level to seal it off, and then fill the inside with air. The air pressure inside would help hold the plastic roof up, and you'd end up with a big sunny open area, which could be good for growing food. Individual rooms could be dug out of the walls of the pit to provide more space and better radiation protection...


Lynn said...

I think caves are a very good idea but we will need more than plastic to keep out radiation. Mars surface gets a lot more radiation than we can stand and its magnetic field is to weak to protect us. Underground is a good idea-for the moon too.

Beam Me Up said...

I agree Lynn. Fortunately many "plastics" can be very efficient at blocking high energy particles. Look at the shielding on the ISS. Many of the films are mere millimeters thick, but for the most part adequately protect the station's inhabitants. As the article points out, the plastic would not be responsible for shielding the outpost, but the surrounding walls of rock that would block most of the radiation. This would allow the colony to have a more open feeling as well as light to grow crops which would be problematic if they were completely covered. More work will need to be done, but I find the idea interesting.
Thanks for the input


Blizno said...

Lynn, I agree.
I think it's more practical to build self-standing structures deep inside the cave where there's no solar radiation and all but the biggest meteors are blocked. Astronauts would wait until the solar wind is low, then venture out to explore.
As for growing plants, simple pressure domes on the surface should be good enough, if the plants can survive the radiation. If they can't, pressurized, heated gardens deep in the cave with grow-lights powered by solar panels on the surface would give plenty of food and oxygen, using water harvested from the permafrost by robots.

Blizno said...

Beam Me Up, the ISS is protected by Earth's magnetic field. Mars has no such protection. Conditions on Mars and the moon are much more dangerous than in the ISS.
Apollo astronauts didn't get badly harmed by solar wind because the solar wind was weak during each of the moon landings. I don't recall if launches were planned for periods of low solar activity or if we just got lucky. Being on the moon or Mars surface during a strong solar storm would be very bad news.

Beam Me Up said...

You are right of course about the magnetic field offering a higher degree of protection. My comment was that many high tech mediums can be used to garner a great deal of protection. Saying that the caves could be covered with plastic sheeting may have come across as a bit to simplistic, but the core idea is sound. Even a sheet with gaseous deposits of lead would prove to be extremely effective given that the surrounding topography were also taken into effect. Right now it is even less than a full blown idea, more just a "what if". Other than bio dome experiments, there has been little research into how to build a self sustaining eco-system capable of supporting long term habitation. It may be pie in the sky, but I have a feeling that at the core there is something of viability here.