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HomescienceScientists calculate the minimum number of astronauts needed to build and maintain...

Scientists calculate the minimum number of astronauts needed to build and maintain a Mars colony


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According to a new study, about two dozen astronauts are enough to build and maintain a Mars colony, suggesting that this low number—compared to a previous estimate of about 100—could sustain a habitat on the Red Planet.

The researchers, including those from George Mason University in the US, reviewed previous studies, which calculated that anywhere from 100 to 500 astronauts might be needed for a self-sustaining Mars colony based on a number of factors.

Their new, yet to be peer-reviewed, analysis published a preliminary version in arXiv, and then also took into account human social and psychological behavior, as well as the continuum of interactions between people to make a new estimate.

The results suggest that just 22 people may be enough to build and maintain a space colony on Mars.

Decades of exploration of the Red Planet by space agencies around the world have found conclusively that building any human settlement on Mars would be an incredibly complex engineering problem.

Scientists say the Red Planet’s harsh nature also requires any habitat built there to be largely self-sustaining.

Aside from extracting some essential minerals and water, future Martian settlers will depend on resupplying the Earth as well as replenishing necessities on site using advanced technology such as splitting Martian water into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

The researchers say that future colonists will also have to contend with the challenges of both psychological and human behaviour.

In the new study, data scientists sought to better understand the behavioral and psychological interactions of future Martian colonists.

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“We seek to identify areas that need to be considered when planning a colony as well as to suggest a minimum initial population size required to establish a stable colony,” they wrote in the study.

For the analysis, the scientists analyzed past data on high-performance teams operating in isolated, high-stress environments such as submarines, arctic exploration, and the International Space Station to model the types of interactions that occur between agents with four different psychological profiles.

They used a type of computer simulation called agent-based modeling (ABM) that is used to analyze complex systems and predict the emergence of larger patterns and phenomena with simple rules and behaviors.

Using this model, the researchers simulated the survival of a human habitat on Mars under various operating conditions, including when global events such as accidents or delays in Earth’s resupply affected the colony.

Scientists have created models of Martian settlers with individual levels varying from factors such as metabolism, resilience, skill levels and levels, and stress, as well as taking into account one of four psychological traits — neurological, reactivity, social, or agreeable.

The study indicated that the simulation also took into account the environmental variables that the settlers would face.

When the Martian colonists sleep, move around, interact with each other, and produce or consume resources, they may also lose health and may die and be eliminated from the simulation without sufficient resources.

Five runs of the model for 28 years with initial population sizes in the simulation ranging from 10 to 170 found that “an initial population of 22 is the minimum required to maintain a viable colony size over the long term.”

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The researchers also found that the “acceptable” personality type, which is associated with greater empathy in general, is the type most likely to survive while those with “neurotic” psychology die at a much higher rate.

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