Mars Society establishes institute to advance colony on Mars

The space advocacy movement has announced an initiative to found the Mars Technology Institute, which aims to create the technologies necessary for establishing a presence on the red planet. 
Shubhangi Dua
Mars Technology Institute to be launched in an initiative to make Martian colony possible
The Mars Technology Institute launches in an initiative to make Martian colonies possible.

janiecbros / iStock 

The Mars Society is a space advocacy organization established in 1998 by Dr. Robert Zubrin and other members. The association studies settlement technologies for Mars and educates the public on the benefits of such missions.

In recent developments, the space advocacy movement has announced an initiative to found the Mars Technology Institute. This endeavor aims to create the technologies necessary for establishing a presence on the red planet. 

Dr. Robert Zubrin, who is also the president of Mars Society, expressed: “SpaceX and other entrepreneurial launch companies are already moving rapidly to develop the transportation systems that can get us to the planet Mars. What is needed is an institution devoted to developing the technologies that will allow us to live once we are there.”

Watch the announcement below:

Developing essential technology to form a Martian colony

Zubrin noted that most necessary resources needed to support human settlement are already on Mars; however, essential technological developments are required to transform the materials into fuel, oxygen, food, bricks, cement, metals, glass, fabrics, plastics, energy, and labor power. 

“As I have argued in several publications, Mars cities themselves will be inventors’ colonies devoted to pursuing advances in these areas and will use the resulting technologies both to survive and prosper on the Red Planet and to obtain the income necessary to pay for imports by licensing such inventions on the home planet,” said Zubrin. 

The new institute will examine how three vital needs can be met in a Mars colony. These include – severe constraints on labor, agricultural land, and sources of energy, according to the Mars Society.

In order to meet the labor shortage, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence could contribute substantially. 

Addressing its scarcity of land, Mars must pioneer advancements in biotechnology, encompassing genetic engineering, microbial food production, advanced agricultural systems such as aquaponics, and synthetic biology. 

Additionally, to overcome its lack of fossil fuels or hydroelectric power options and the limitations of solar and wind energy sources, Mars must lead in the development of advanced nuclear technologies, encompassing both fission and fusion.

MTI to prioritize biotech research

The organization highlighted that MTI will prioritize evolving the biotechnology section as this area is not significantly being addressed. They stated that AI is already being worked on immensely by others, and advanced nuclear research requires committing significant capital that is harder to muster in the short term. 

Biotechnology, in contrast, doesn’t require as much financial investment but is more likely to produce financial returns that would support further research.

“Our current research is not driven by the same constraints and optimization directions as would be faced on the Red Planet, specifically the need to produce food at scale with extreme limitations of arable land,” a statement by the organization said. 

Zubrin expanded on the subject, explaining that Iowa cornfields are among the most productive farms on Earth, producing 12 metric tons of corn per hectare annually. That’s enough for a hectare to supply 30 people with a kilogram of corn per day or feed 20 people, assuming some land is devoted to fruits, vegetables, and meat.  

However, sustaining a Mars settlement of 100,000 people at this productivity level would mandate 5,000 hectares (equivalent to 12,355 acres) of farmland. This estimate is based on a positive assumption that such productivity could be achieved under Mars' lower solar illumination levels, which are only half of what Iowa receives. 

“If we tried to augment production by supplying artificial light at 200 W per square meter (1/5th of Iowa sunlight at noon), we would need 10 Gigawatts of electricity, about a third of the total power consumption of Australia!” Zubrin noted.

The founder says that the results have been driven by the inefficiency in photosynthesis, which was roughly four percent at the cellular level but just 0.2 percent of it is efficient in converting the solar energy affecting a cornfield into biologically useful energy in the form of corn. 

Zuber said that such complex issues can be resolved using biotechnology. “By so doing, we will not only make it possible for humanity to become multi-planetary, we will decisively refute the canard that space advocates do not care about the basic needs of people on Earth.”

Non-profit institute

The new institute concentrating on the red planet’s human exploration will strive to be a non-profit organization and seek its funding from tax-deductible donations. MTI will also establish a C-Corp – the Mars Technology Lab (MTL).

MTI plans to outsource research to universities and will also conduct research on its own campus once set up while aiming to establish itself as the flagship of a broadly based international STEM program.

The mission has already recruited 12 leading experts from biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and advanced nuclear energy technology to form the MTI advisory board.

“The MTI could become not only the engine of invention, but also the engine of finance to enable the human exploration and settlement of Mars,” Zubrin stated.

“To quote Frederick Douglas, ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.’ Rather than rely on NASA to establish humanity on the planet Mars, I suggest we take up the challenge ourselves.”

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