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Coffee on Mars, Anyone?

You can't fly there yet, but that's not stopping visionaries and NASA from planning a colony on Mars. Would-be Mars dwellers can take a virtual tour of a habitat that includes many of the comforts of home.

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There may be water on Mars -- but can people live there?

Welcome to the first Earthling settlement on Mars. The rover vehicle is parked on the left. On the right, there's a terrestrial biology growth experiment module, or, more simply, a greenhouse. And in the middle, there's the habitat -- a spaceship-like structure where it's imagined a crew of six astronauts will spend most of their 18-month stay on the red planet.

The organizers of the Web site "www.exploremarsnow.org" have very concrete ideas about how the first people to live on Mars can make themselves at home. NASA is already thinking of where the Martian surface is stable enough to be a suitable spot for the habitat.

Cold, radioactive -- but still viable

Der Mars

Mars, as seen from Earth.

Mars doesn't exactly offer the qualities you'd normally look for in a dream destination. It's atmosphere contains hardly any oxygen -- it's mostly made up of carbon dioxide. With an average temperature of about minus 55 degrees Celsius (minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit), it can get pretty darn cold. And then there's the strange radioactive gas. Very unhealthy.

But these factors aren't enough to discourage certain visionaries from pursuing their dream of making it possible for humans to live on Mars. "Technically, it's possible. The question is, how badly do we want to do it," asked Ulrich Walter, an astronaut and professor of space technology at the Munich's Technical University.

"It's purely a question of money and will," said Sven Knuth, head of the German division of the Mars Society -- an organization which pushes for further Mars exploration, and which also counts NASA scientists among its members. "But we shouldn't think of living on Mars as something that would approximate living on Earth. We'd need a hermetically sealed habitat."

The precious oxygen would need to be kept inside the living quarters. And because of the radioactivity, it would be best to drive steel-plated vehicles, and live underground, "It's not as if the astronauts would drop dead if they came in contact with the radioactivity. But over the long-term, it's too strong," Knuth told DW-WORLD.

Not as ugly as a submarine

But neither would the Mars settlers need to live in total laboratory-like surroundings. "You could have a somewhat conventional lifestyle," Knuth explained. "It'd be comfy, not like in a submarine." On the "Explore Mars Now" Web site, visitors can take a tour of the habitat, and check out simulations of the kitchen, the berth-like private rooms, the lab and medical center. NASA is already conducting tests on such a habitat, consisting of 120 square meters of living space on two levels, with a diameter of eight meters.

Mars

A little too monotonous? The Martian landscape.

Living on Mars would certainly be more complicated, but it is possible. "We're certain that there's water there," Knuth said. And if not, NASA is working on ways to produce water from recycled urine. From the plentiful carbon dioxide in Mars' atmosphere, the settlers could create oxygen and methane. The latter would be used to power to the Mars-mobile. Electricity would either come from the sun, "or else you'd just have to take a little atomic reactor with you," said Knuth. Of course, people have the tendency to produce garbage, something that would have to be taken into consideration on Mars. For Knuth, it's not a problem. "You could just store it outside and then maybe recycle it in 1000 years. Nothing rusts on Mars, so your cola can would look just the same after a century."

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