The UAE’s Martian City on Earth

The United Arab Emirates is really good at
enormously ambitious — and just physicallyenormous — projects. From the Burj Khalifa to their artificial
islands, to the mountain they want to build,to that giant indoor ski resort they have:
the UAE is about pushing the limits of engineering,sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes
because they’re just feeling it. And now they’re taking that feeling and
running with it to Mars, in the form of agiant Martian colony. But first, they’re planning to build a model
colony here on Earth — the biggest Marssimulation anyone has ever done. In 2014, the UAE established their space program
and announced their inaugural mission: theAl-Amal, or Hope, orbiter, which will monitor
Mars’s atmosphere and weather. Mars’s atmosphere used to be much thicker,
and the causes of its thinning aren’t entirely known. The planet’s lack of magnetic field probably
plays a role, but we don’t have any definitiveanswers to the question yet. So with Hope, they’re … hoping … to
answer that question. It’s set to launch in 2020 and arrive at
Mars in 2021. But the UAE is thinking really long term about
Mars, and also has plans to build a wholecity up there. They want to get 600,000 people living on
Mars. That’s super ambitious, especially considering
we haven’t sent anyone to Mars yet, buttheir deadline is 100 years from now, so they
do have plenty of time to figure it out. And that’s where their most recent Mars-related
project comes in: a smaller, model colonyin the Emirates. And when I say “smaller,” all I mean is
that It’s not going to be nearly as bigas the actual planned colony on Mars. It’ll still be pretty darn huge — about
two-tenths of a square kilometer in area,or about half the size of the Vatican. And the whole thing is going to be covered
with domes!It won’t be the first simulated Mars habitat,
although it will be the biggest. The Mars Society runs two habitats, in Utah
in the US and Nunavut in Canada. And the University of Hawaii has one too. All of these simulations are places for teams
of scientists to conduct astrobiological andgeological research in environments that are
a lot like Mars. And at the same time, they can simulate the
realities of living in a scientific settlementon a planet that can’t support you. There tend to be lots of rules: you can’t
go outside of your living space without wearinga spacesuit; your water use is extremely well-regulated,
and you can’t communicate off-base withouta 20-minute delay. The habitats allow scientists to work on their
own projects there, while simultaneously beingpart of a long-term psychological experiment:
how will scientists fare when stuck in a littlehab together?How do we meet their psychological and emotional
needs?The UAE’s environment will work on answering
similar questions by having a crew live intheir habitat for a year. But it’ll also be a sandbox for engineers
to test the kinds of systems they’ll needto support a long-term settlement on Mars,
something we haven’t really been able todo before on such a large scale. Everything is still very conceptual at this
point — the UAE Space Agency hasn’t evensaid when they’re planning on having this
thing built. But they have released some very preliminary
plans for their Dome-inion. That’s not the official name, we’re just
really hoping it catches on. The colony will be contained inside three
domes, and it’s going to be really crucialto get those domes right. Earth’s atmosphere filters out lots of UV
radiation from the sun, but Mars’s atmosphereisn’t thick enough to do that. Which means people on the surface would face
everything from bad sunburns to skin cancerunless they’re protected. In theory the domes are going to do the job
that Mars’s atmosphere can’t, and will bemade out of a material that can shield inhabitants
from Mars’s high UV flux. Based on some of the concept art they’ve
drawn up, it might also be possible to controlhow much light the material lets through,
which would be a way to have the people andplants in the model city living on Martian
day/night cycles. No word on what this material is yet, but
again, they have a while to figure it out. Since the whole thing will be enclosed, engineers
will be able to test the atmospheric regulationsystems, water filtration systems, temperature
regulation systems — all the usual mechanicalstuff that you need to survive when your environment
can’t support you. And they’ll be developing these systems
to accommodate a small city, rather than justa li’l habitat or a space station, so it’s
a big challenge!But probably the biggest problem engineers
will have to solve is how to feed everyone. For a permanent or semi-permanent colony,
you can’t rely on shipments of food from Earth. And while Mars’s soil does contain some of
the elements and molecules that plants needto grow, they’re not abundant enough to
really support agriculture. So we’ll have to apply everything we know
about agriculture to this new environment,which is okay because if humans know how to
do anything, it farming. We are so good at that. It’s kind of our thing as a species. That and long-distance running and fully rotatable
arms. Anyway, farming: we’re really good at it,
especially since we’ve figured out how tomanipulate genes. Genetically modified plants that can thrive
in relatively nutrient-poor soil or producehigher amounts of proteins, carbs, or essential
vitamins already exist, and of course we haveall kinds of fertilizers, both natural and
synthetic. So a lot of the foundation work is done there
— but we are still a long way from beingable to farm in such an extreme environment
as Mars. Even with plenty of potatoes and poop. In addition to all the research going on in
the Dome-inion, they’re also planning onbuilding a museum in there, with walls 3D-printed
from local sand. The museum will celebrate the history of human
spaceflight, and who knows — maybe by acentury from now, it’lll inspire 600,000
people to pick up their lives and fly to another planet. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Space!To learn more about other plans to help us
live on Mars, you can check out our episodeabout the plans for Mars One.

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