How many friends do you have? We’re talking the “Can you take me to the airport?” kind, not Facebook friends. Finished counting? If you have 109, you can return the favor of taking you to the airport by taking them to Mars, where new research has determined that’s all the humans needed to start a survivable colony on another planet. Knowing that, do you want to change your list?
“Humanity could be threatened with extinction due to some cataclysmic event. As pointed out by Sagan, in this case, the only possible way to avoid the end of the world as we know it might be to settle another planet within a short period of time. But what is the feasibility of survival on another planet for a small group of humans?”
Professor Jean-Marc Salotti from France's Bordeaux Institut National Polytechnique was inspired by Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, and Elon Musk’s planto build a 100-person Mars spacecraft to investigate the minimum number of people needed to escape Armageddon to another planet and maintain the survival of the human race. In his paper published in Scientific Reports, Salotti starts by making the simple yet necessary assumption that the 110 people could do more than one task and share activities. In that case, if you’re choosing friends to take along, you’d want people who could help you move (a task involving lifting, carrying, placement, driving, navigation, climbing to name a few) rather than a friend who is only able to drive you to the airport.
“Providing that the initial state is viable, it is assumed that survival depends only on two important variables:
Available local resources. A local resource can be a gas, mineral or liquid present on the surface of the planet. It is available if its exploitation is possible to extract useful chemical elements. Specific chemical elements have to be found on the planet for survival (water, oxygen, etc.). They must exist as available local resources or they have to be produced from the exploitation of other local resources.
Production capacity. The production capacity is defined by the number of items (consumables, tools, …) that can be produced among the list of all items needed for survival for a given period of time. For a given number of settlers, the capacity has to reach an acceptable threshold allowing survival and development of the settlement.”
Assuming the planet has resources already there (not exactly the case on Mars, which is why Musk proposed to terraform it first) keeps the ship’s cargo manageable for a quick escape from Earth – just enough to build temporary structures to hold and house everyone until permanent buildings and infrastructure are completed, or at least usable – and, of course, to keep them fed until food van be gathered or grown.
Salotti defines five essential task to help you or the captain pick out the right friends to bring: ecosystem management (air, water, agriculture), energy production, industry (especially extracting minerals and manufacturing), building (construction and landlord) and social activities (health care, day care, education, entertainment, etc.). Time to update your friends list again and remember, everyone needs to multi-task.
“The minimum number of settlers has been calculated and the result is 110 individuals. Other assumptions can be made. The proposed method allows assessments and comparisons, opening the debate for the best strategy for survival. If this relatively low number is confirmed, survival on another planet might be easier than expected, provided that the organization of the settlers is appropriate.”
Anticipating your surprise and probable disbelief that 110 people (especially out of your group of friends) is all that is needed to move humanity to Mars in an emergency, Salotti agrees it’s open for debate. He also reminds you that your pool of friends might not be the right pool for selecting an appropriate group of settlers.
One final thought … how many of your friends escaping Armageddon would select YOU?