Authors: Colin Bruce Jack
There is a cheap, simple way to create habitable zones on Mars: the solar pond. At a few metres depth in such a pond, the pressure and temperature are benign for Earth-evolved life, with ample sunlight but negligible hard radiation. To melt out the pond and sustain terrestrial life within, inclining mirrors initially mounted on unmanned rovers are positioned by day to divert additional sunlight into the pond, by night horizontal above its surface to minimize thermal energy escape. Any location with near-surface ice at sufficiently low elevation that the atmospheric pressure remains above the triple point of water is suitable: the SHARAD radar and HIRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have identified many such sites. No digging or drilling is required: the surface merely needs to be warmed. A solar-powered amphibious vehicle pumps and purifies water from the pond’s warmest depth to melt any opaque surface ice that forms overnight, renews a surface film of ‘suntan oil’ which minimizes evaporation and absorbs UV, and could also manufacture plastics using C, H, O and N from Mars air and water. Manned capsules can land directly into the ponds. No space suits are required: exiting at a depth of a few metres, the pressure is sufficient that humans need wear only aqualungs, and can perform delicate work with their bare hands. A first task will be to erect transparent tents filled with breathable air like diving bells, anchored to the pond floor to provide pleasant sunlit living space. Crops can be grown both inside and outside the tents. Only the mirrors are exposed to the harsh conditions of the Martian surface; they can be serviced or replaced by withdrawing them into the pond, which can be extended into an ever-growing canal network, if necessary without assistance from Earth.
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