My ideas about a future Mars colony can be divided into two categories:
Preparations and Experiments. The scientific community would gain
useful and valuable information from both the groundwork prior to
a Mars colony as well as the actual experiments performed on the
Preparations and Precautions:
1. Prior to colonizing on Mars, the plan should establish an artificial
environment, similar to the Biosphere 2 experiment in Arizona. What
kind of controlled environments would be required to grow plants
and recycle water? Can one mimic Earth's atmosphere and humidity?
2. Screen the space-shuttle/equipment/personnel for environmental
pathogens (e.g., bacterial, viral, fungal, retroviruses) before
take-off to decrease exposure to known organisms upon arrival;
3. Mission should include an immunologist among the early colony
members in order to assist with infectious outbreaks and to devise
vaccines for previously unknown organisms;
4. Consider testing all initial colony members for known disease
susceptibility genes due to high degree of required "inbreeding"
to perpetuate the species;
5. Consider issues of fertility testing and in-vitro fertilization.
6. Discuss and determine most important medications, hospital equipment,
and health personnel needed for the mission and specify the ideal
number and ages of colonists to send to Mars.
7. There is a T cell suppression (or at least a decrease in peripheral
blood T cells) with weightlessness. The months or years required
to get to Mars could leave travelers immunosuppressed and susceptible
to endogenous infections. This consideration must be addressed and
precautions taken before embarking on a Mars colonization effort.
8. Harold Muchmore, the recently decreased member of the Infectious
Diseases Section, studied colonists in Antarctica. Interestingly,
these people developed upper respiratory infections that swept through
the colony on a periodic basis throughout the winter. Apparently,
some viruses are carried by the colonists reactivate and become
infectious again in a carrier. They are then spread through contact.
While our friends on Mars are likely to be spared the yearly bout
of influenza, they are almost certain to develop infections with
other viruses which will make their stay there similar to our experience
here on Earth.
Experiments: What can we learn from Mars?
1. There is much less sunlight on Mars, so sunburn will be much
more difficult and the frequency of melanoma should be lower. However,
the lack of an ozone layer could actually raise the rate. Determining
whether immune suppression is important in melanoma is one undertaking
which could be learned from Mars. Fortunately, a spacesuit can easily
protect the user against UV radiation.
2. Mars' gravity must be different from ours: how will this affect
maintaining muscle tone or even internal organ functions of the
3. What are the implications of introducing E. coli and other organisms
carried by the colonists in Mars? Will they take root but develop
in different ways?
4. The allergens on Mars should be interesting. Dust organics and
inorganics might have chemical compositions not found on Earth and
be new antigens for our immune systems. Colonists might need an
antihistamine and nasal steroids. If there ever was life on Mars,
then it is very likely that allergens never seen on Earth would
be prevalent and poised to cause problems.
5. If there is life on Mars, are there pathogens for which we have
no natural immunity? Previously unencountered pathogens had a major
impact during colonization of the world; the colonists introduced
germs that decimated most native peoples, and occasionally the reverse
occurred. Are we prepared to address unknown pathogens? Are we capable
of using known methods to combat unknown germs?