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North Dakota Landscapes to Martian Outposts

Mars is no place for the timid. What isn’t covered in ice is rugged, arid, rocky terrain. Mars is home to the solar system’s largest volcano and the deepest canyon. The extreme weather makes it the ultimate lonely planet destination orbiting the Sun.

The surface of Mars has been altered by impacts, winds, and crustal movement. The atmospheric pressure is about 1% of Earth’s. The atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), the gravity is 38% of Earth’s, and the temperatures are cold, even by North Dakota standards.

planet mars and curosity rover

Curiosity Rover NASA

Did you know?

Facts About Mars

temp icon depicting cold
Mars planet icon


Mars is colder than Earth because it is located further from the Sun.

A summer day at the equator on Mars is -28.8C/-20F.
The average temperature on Mars is -62.7C/-81F.

triple point chemistry icons
mars planet icon

Triple Point

Having a swimming pool on Mars would be very tricky because the low atmospheric pressure combined with the low temperatures would cause the liquid water in your pool to simultaneously freeze and boil before you could get in.

This is called the triple point in chemistry. The triple point is where an element is happy being solid, liquid, and gas all at the same time.

gravity icon as an apple falling
Mars planet icon


The surface gravity of Mars is 38% of Earth's. If you were on Mars, you'd be able to jump three times higher and have a stride three times longer than you do on Earth.

What to Pack
Inflatable Lunar Mars Analog Habitat UND

Thin atmosphere, radiation, and frigid temperatures make Mars a tricky place for real estate development. Humans will need environmental control and life support systems to survive. The good news is that we don’t have to transform the entire planet into “Earth 2.0.” For now, a home on Mars just has to function for scientists to live and work.

An Inflatable Lunar Mars Analog Habitat (ILMAH) project is underway at the University of North Dakota. The research being done through the space studies program is tracking how people on Mars might live and work.

Think of living in a submarine habitat. It would be a lot like that, only way more expensive. Since construction materials and other necessities would have to be sent to Mars from Earth, Mars would be the most expensive housing in the universe. But what a view, right?

Oxygen Generator
moxie is NASA's oxygen generator

You will need to breathe. The harsh truth is there is no place to pull over and pick up some sweet oxygen for the next 33.9 million miles/54.6 million km once you leave Earth. Most of Mars’s atmosphere is carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the most tightly bound molecules. You can separate it, but it’s going to take a lot of work. If you figure out this puzzle, homemade Mars liquid oxygen could provide more than 75% of the propellant humans need for Mars exploration.

Solar Generator
Solar radiation can be made into electricity by solar cells (photovoltaic cells).
solar cells

Mars is not a good place for a dead battery, especially since Mars is 1.5 times as far from the Sun as the Earth. Therefore: if you’re going to solar power your gear on Mars, you’re going to need 2.25 times more solar panels in order to generate the same amount of energy you would on Earth. Chalk it up to another hazard of being a pioneer.

In ancient Mars history, our planetary neighbor had running water.
planet mars

Water is the basis for life as we know it. We’re probably going to have to bring from Earth whatever water humans will have with their Mars starter kit. Humans are going to need to recycle what’s available and make hard decisions about where to use every drop. Some people theorize a future on Mars where humans harvest their water on comets. Others think that bringing along a tank of hydrogen and using the atmosphere, which is mostly CO2 (carbon dioxide), is the way to go for making water. How do you think people could bring, make, save, and recycle water on Mars?

Space suits are like personal spacecraft that you can wear.
Their job is to protect the astronaut from the dangers of space. Pablo de León, UND
solar cells

A special kind of suit is required to protect the astronauts on Mars. The Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota (UND) has been involved in researching the area of planetary space suit systems since 2005. The North Dakota Experimental-1 (NDX-1) Mars Prototype suit was the first planetary space suit built at the university level. The prototype has been successfully tested by conducting surface operations jointly with NASA in a number of extreme environments. These extreme environments include the Badlands region in North Dakota, the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah, the Marambio base in Antarctica, and the Pilbara region of Australia.

All the research gathered with the NDX-1 has been fully utilized as background research for the construction of a second suit, the NDX-2, which is currently being developed and tested by students at University of North Dakota.

Wheat germinates quickly and grows fast with minimal water.

People have to eat. Since plants require less space and input than livestock, crops are currently being researched as NASA plans for future missions to Mars. While most food and supplements will have to be packed from Earth, the nutritional boost of fresh food plus the psychological benefits of growing plants will be part of ongoing bioregenerative life support research.

The first plants to be tested on the International Space Station were Arabidopsis and dwarf wheat. Lettuce has also been grown with success in Grand Forks at the University of North Dakota ILMAH project.

Why Mars?

Because it’s a logistical adventure. An adventure that is simultaneously helping us to understand our capacity to adapt to hostile environments. Mars is the ultimate sustainable production and energy consumption challenge—solutions which will have huge impacts for humanity.

If you’re a person who loves a challenge, Mars is waiting for you. That is true even if we skip sending humans altogether and stick with sending robots. Which we might. Then again, we might send both.

Our future is on Mars. What will you pack for the trip?

we need you NASA recruitment poster

NASA recruitment poster NASA Download all posters at NASA.gov