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written by Alex Moore on December 24, 2000 | author profile | forum profile | contact me
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A Future City on Mars
A Future City on Mars
Credit: Don Dixon
We are told that the dome can withstand dust-storms of up to 600 kilometers an hour, but looking up above the tall city towers I'm skeptical. The air outside is thin and toxic, and one small rip in the thin, clear dome would leave the city and its 200,000 inhabitants to suffocate within seconds. Like most of the modern cities on Mars, this new dome is made of a plastic-like material that is weaker than aluminum foil. However, the guide tells us that since the atmospheric pressure is so much higher inside the city than outside, the dome is effectively stronger than any material known to man.

A city on Mars like the one described above, might be closer on the horizon than anyone could have guessed. "Historically, it's been part of science fiction," said Dr. Christopher McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA Ames. "We're trying to make it science."

Around two years after Alpha, the first settlement on Mars, is founded, it is estimated work will begin on the first city. In the beginning, the first city on Mars, which we shall call Beta, will serve as nothing but a science-center/small habitat. This is very important since only scientists will be sent to the Red Planet for the first few years. They will serve as the first "colonists" for the Martian outpost, and will naturally need more room to expand their research.

Many authors have implied building Beta entirely underground to reduce radiation. Kim Stanley Robinson suggests building the city similar to a bunker, built three stories underground with a central core to serve as the city common. This "bomb-shelter" city should be large enough to comfortably contain about 200 people, or the population of Mars at that time. On one side would be several laboratories for indoor scientific experiments and research. The other would contain residential habitats with large portions to provide privacy and to outline the all-important border between work and personal time. Also, this side could house recreational facilities and areas for private research.

Colonists on Mars
Colonists on Mars
Credit: NASA

While this design may be sensible, it would certainly not be easy to construct. For this reason, Robinson suggests manufacturing a building material that is both easy to mass-produce and 100% reliable. In his novel, Red Mars, the colonists use tons of Martian-made bricks in the construction of a vast underground city. These bricks are coated with diamond dust formed from highly pressurized carbon molecules from CO2 in the air. The bricks are similar to the RTV silicone that is used in heat shield tiles on the space shuttle.

Some scientists have toyed with the idea of constructing the first city, not underground, but within a canyon wall. The Pueblo and Anasazi Indians during the Classic Pueblo period (1050-1300) and before built their villages in recesses in cliffs. In the same way, scientists propose building Beta within a large canyon such as the great Valles Marinaris.

The construction of Beta could take anywhere from 1 month to a Martian year. Several factors will determine this. The first of course, is the ratio of construction crew members to scientists. Secondly, is the availability of building materials and how quickly they can be manufactured. It will take a great deal of power and time to manufacture diamond dust from carbon dioxide.

Finally will be the terrain. Scientists agree that it would take substantially longer to build into a canyon wall than under level ground. Most of the Martian surface is covered with a loose substance called regolith that would be easy to remove but could be a dangerous foundation. Since regolith has such a loose consistency, we must wonder if the Biblical parable of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand might not come into affect.

However long it takes, and however difficult it might be, building the first city on Mars is necessary for us to expand and live on Martian soil.

A Sketch of a Martian City
A Sketch of a Martian City
Credit: Korey Heinzen
Many authors have chosen to disregard the "transition stage" between underground bunkers and open-air cities on the surface. Since very little has been written about them, we must use our imagination to fill in the cracks that science has omitted. This is in essence, science fiction at its finest.

According to Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr, the proper design of a city is one that will study the motion of people, the goals they use, and their activities. Human beings change so frequently that the city must change as well. In a nutshell, what design we choose today will certainly not be that same that we choose in the future.

The second generation Martian city design is a direct antithesis of the first. Contrary to the claustrophobic environment below ground, these cities will be built above ground, with huge skyscrapers and wide open avenues between them.

LaRouche suggests utilizing the Paradigmatic form while designing second generation cities. In level regions, the city would be built within an ecliptical area, possibly 20 square kilometers in area. This region would then be domed using a very cost-efficient and lightweight material that could be mined from nearby facilities. A clear tent dome will allow for open-air observing and will add to the city's strange beauty.

[The city can be built in the style of] the harmonic organization of the ecliptic analogous to Kepler's arrangement of the orbits of the Sun and its eight major solar planets. - Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.

According to this design, the city will be layed out like the solar system with the orbits of the planets as city districts. The central "Sun" will serve as the city common, probably the educational and recreational park for the city's residents. The residential and adminstrative sectors would be represented by the orbits of the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.) This area will obviously be the most densely populated region and might house hundreds of thousands of people.

Shuttle Service on Mars
Shuttle Service on Mars
Credit: Luca Oleastri
An inner dome will lay where the asteroid belt orbits the sun. Similar to a medieval castle with an inner-wall and thick outer-wall, this dome will serve to protect the residents from an air-pressure burst in the major dome.

This of course must mean that the city has a finite maximum population. This population depends largely on the size of each orbit, the area each person travels within the city and how congested each sector may be, and the size of the "Sun."

Outside of the "asteroid belt," the industrial sectors will be scattered loosely between the two domes. Since industries on Mars will generally be built away from cities to specialize in the harvesting of minerals and other resources, this area will consist mainly of the city's nuclear power plant, manufacturing center, and utility complex.

Developing efficient transportation methods are as important as designing the city itself. LaRouche suggests splitting the planetary orbits into 16 sections divided by avenues radiating from the "Sun." The avenues would be labeled North, North by Northeast, Northeast, and so on with each spoke containing a high-speed magnetic levitation train. The train could transport both human cargo and freight at magnificent speeds. The North, East, South, and West lines would travel outside of the city boundaries as well connect with neighboring cities or join the vast trans-global railway.

Cities are like living things that will remain for all future generations. On Mars it will be no different. As LaRouche writes, "We can do much better today [designing a city] than any preceding generation of mankind, for whose design we will be thanked by its inhabitants a thousand years into the future."

Works Cited:

1) http://www.ketzer.com/stuff/stuff.html
2) http://www.dragonflydream.com/PuebloIndians.html
3) http://holysmoke.org/wb/wb0011.htm
4) Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

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