You might already know that humans are planning to permanently settle on Mars sometime in the near future. When and how that will happen is anyone’s guess, but scientists at the University of Birmingham believe some of the answers could lie beneath our feet.
The researchers have set up a laboratory 1.1km underground in Britain’s deepest mine to investigate how scientific and medical operations would take place in the challenging environments of Mars and the Moon.
The lab is located in a 3,000m3 tunnel network adjacent to the Boulby Underground Laboratory, a deep underground research facility in Yorkshire focused on particle physics, Earth sciences, and astrobiology research.
The lab is the first of many subterranean facilities under Bio-SPHERE, a project that will study how humans might work — and stay healthy — during long space missions on other planets. Comprised of a 3m-wide module, the lab will specifically test and simulate biomedical procedures.
“This project will help to gather the information that can advise on the life support systems, devices, and biomaterials which could be used in medical emergencies and tissue repair following damage in deep-space missions,” said Dr Alexandra Iordachescu, who is leading the study.
The project also looks to recreate the operational conditions humans would face working in similar caverns on the Moon and Mars, including remoteness, limited access to new materials, and challenges in moving heavy equipment around.
According to the researchers, constructing caverns underground might be a viable way to overcome the many hazards of living on the surface of other planets, such as deep-space radiation and falling debris from meteorites.
“Bio-SPHERE promises to help answer some key logistical questions in establishing sustainable living conditions in remote, subterranean environments, and in doing so will significantly contribute to the essential preparations for our collective long, difficult, and exciting journey ahead [to other planets],” said Professor Sean Paling from the Boulby Underground Laboratory.
Outside the realm of research, commitments to developing permanent settlements on Mars have already been made by public space agencies including the ESA and NASA, as well as by private organisations SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.