The suggestion that humans will soon set up bustling, long-lasting colonies on Mars is something many of us take for granted. What this lofty vision fails to appreciate, however, are the monumental — if not intractable — challenges awaiting colonists who want to permanently live on Mars. Unless we radically adapt our brains and bodies to the harsh Martian environment, the Red Planet will forever remain off limits to humans.

Mars is the closest thing we have to Earth in the entire solar system, and that’s not saying much.

The Red Planet is a cold, dead place, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. The paltry amount of air that does exist on Mars is primarily composed of noxious carbon dioxide, which does little to protect the surface from the Sun’s harmful rays. Air pressure on Mars is very low. At 600 Pascals, it’s only about 0.6 per cent that of Earth.

You might as well be exposed to the vacuum of space, resulting in a severe form of the bends — including ruptured lungs, dangerously swollen skin and body tissue, and ultimately death. The thin atmosphere also means that heat cannot be retained at the surface. The average temperature on Mars is -63 degrees Celsius, with temperatures dropping as low as -126 degrees.

By contrast, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Vostok Station in Antarctica, at -89 degrees Celsius on June 23, 1982. Once temperatures get below the -40 degrees Celsius mark, people who aren’t properly dressed for the occasion can expect hypothermia to set in within about five to seven minutes.

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