The 10 Most Useful Skills if You Move to Mars
Last week we (NASA) landed a rover on Mars. In the next two years, it will explore the planet, drill the surface and look for signs of previous life.
This is the first of several missions heading to Mars. The most ambitious plan is led by SpaceX, which aims to send a group of people in 2026.
This opens up new possibilities, the chance to become the first humans to step onto a new planet. It means we need to ask ourselves questions like: Do I want to go to Mars? Do I have what it takes to live on Mars? To even survive?
For most people, the answers to these questions will probably be no. Only certain people can handle this type of extreme situation. But we can still think about what it takes to live on another planet. What skills would be most needed to colonise, thrive, and survive?
Will it be specialists who are extremely good at one thing, or will we need generalists who can master many skills to a high level? Probably it’s some combination of the two. This is my highly subjective list of skills that I think will be most useful on Mars.
Why go to Mars in the first place?
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great — and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” — Elon Musk
Life on Earth is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Wars, pandemics, and climate change exposes us to sudden change that can affect our lives and security. With exponentially more powerful technology, the likelihood of a big disaster increases. In case of a nuclear war, being hit by an asteroid or massive volcanic eruption, Earth could become uninhabitable and lead to our species’ end. To ensure ourselves against extinction, our best bet is to expand and become multi-planetary.
But even if we’re entirely safe, I still think it’s worthwhile to expand and do something previously impossible. The defining characteristic of humans is our ability to adapt and achieve new things. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, suggests that we should have grand goals to get out of bed in the morning. To stretch ourselves and achieve more than we think is possible.
Musk’s goal is to make any colony/city on Mars self-sustainable. He thinks there is no point in moving to Mars if the colony will die out if they lose the connection to Earth. To achieve this, SpaceX’s first two missions aim to find the best source of water and build a propellant plant to create energy. The essential tasks of the early settlers will be to make the planet inhabitable.
1. Survival skills
Mars has a harsh climate. With an average temperature of -62 degrees celsius, which dips to around -140 degrees celsius around the poles, this is not a typical tourist destination. The atmosphere is mainly carbon dioxide and it’s very thin, exposing you to all sorts of cosmic rays. The surface is covered in rocks, sand, and soil.
This means that the typical survival skills that are useful if you get shipwrecked in the Pacific will not be of much use. Starting a fire, building a shelter of branches and hunting for food will not be an option.
At first, the settlers will be dependent on Earth and the equipment they bring. To eventually become self-reliant, the skills required to survive on Mars are more long-term. The ability to protect yourself from the environment, produce food, energy and water becomes essential. Problem-solving, critical thinking, and the ability to adapt to unexpected situations are highly valuable. The skills needed to survive on Mars are many, which means that you’re more likely to survive if you arrive with a group of people with advanced knowledge in a range of skills.
2. Engineering skills
When we arrive on Mars, there will be nothing but rocks and sand. This means that we need to build everything. For this job, we need all types of engineers to create, build and design things. Mechanical, electrical, chemical and civil engineers will all be required.
People who understand how to construct buildings, set up systems for energy supply, produce water, fix robots, and engineer an environment to grow food are all needed. Although the first people on Mars can get help from Earth with anything, it’s a lot easier to instruct someone who knows what they’re doing.
In addition to understanding what needs to be done, the job also has to be done. An engineer who can lift, dig, weld and do all sort of physical tasks will be way more valuable than someone who can only design and tell others what to do.
3. Emotional and psychological stability
When you go on a space mission, you can’t easily make new friends. You’re likely to be stuck with the same people for the foreseeable future, possibly for life (SpaceX has no plan for how to return the people they’re sending to Mars, yet). Once on Mars, it’s your home. Although you will have a whole planet for yourself, the reality is that you will be stuck in close quarters with the other members of the crew, and your ability to avoid conflict will be valued.
Therefore, it’s vital that the astronauts are emotionally and psychologically stable, supported by personal drive and motivation. If one person ‘lose it’, it could risk the lives of everyone else. The ability to get on with the same people for months and years and not create unnecessary conflict is essential for success. Equally important is the ability to not be in conflict with yourself. The ability to perform well when things get challenging is critical in unexpected situations. Some of the expected mindsets of astronauts are the ability to be adaptable, agreeable, conscientious, highly emotional stable and resilient.
4. Spacecraft piloting and rover driving skills
Although much can be pre-programmed and directed from Earth, it will be valuable to have someone who can land a spacecraft and drive a Mars-rover. All communication with Mars has a delay of between 5–20 minutes, which means you cannot respond very well to any unexpected event. Having a person who can interact with real-time events will be much safer, both for equipment and people.
The ability to self-reflect on your performance is essential to improve and achieve your potential. The first people on Mars will not have many people above them (at least on the planet), so their ability to motivate themselves and think of ways to improve will support their ability to excel. Moreover, they will be in situations than no one has experienced before, which means that their ability to reflect on their performance is critical.
In combination with self-reflection, you should be creative, resourceful, adaptive, curious and resilient. The goal is to be flexible in how an issue/situation is solved and teach others how things are done rather than just showing off your skills. The ability to be self-directed is also essential, as there is a possibility that you will be unable to contact Earth for extended periods.
6. Growing food — farming skills
The farmers that will be required on Mars are very different from an average rice farmer. Someone more likely to have success is a person who can consistently grow potatoes in Antarctica.
The person will need a deep understanding of soil, nutrients, and creating growing conditions in harsh environments. Degrees in biology, chemistry and genetics will be of value. The farming skills will have to be combined with advanced nutritional knowledge, to ensure that all the colonists eat what’s required to stay healthy.
7. Teamwork and collaboration skills
The ability to successfully negotiate conflict and plan and make decisions as a team will be essential to perform well. The mission is likely to use a shared leadership model, where each member of the crew will be experts in different areas. This makes it essential to both be good at leading and at being led.
Some days you may need to perform at a meeting, presenting your thoughts coherently so that others can learn. The next day you may have to contribute by planting potatoes, lifting equipment or solving an unexpected problem. Being ready to deal with any situation that comes up and enthusiastically try to solve it will be highly valued.
8. Medical/Nursing/Dental skills
People will get sick and need care also on Mars. Losing a single crew member could be devastating as you will be so few, and they could be the only person on the planet with a specific skill. At least one person should know medical procedures. It would be useful if they also learned how to do surgical procedures, had some dental skills and understand the effects of medications. This is a lot of skills to demand from one person, so you may bring several people with these skills, especially in case that person gets sick/injured.
9. Ability to learn new skills
You never know exactly which skills you will need when you arrive on a new planet. Therefore, the ability to quickly learn anything will be super useful. You don’t necessarily need to learn the skills to an expert level. In most cases, it’s enough to develop skills to a good enough/intermediate level.
The ability to learn new skills can be continually enhanced by always learning something new here on Earth. The more varied the skills you learn, the better your ability to learn a random skill in the future. Improving your understanding of meta-learning is also extremely useful. This involves how we best learn, understand, and perform to plan our practice most efficiently.
10. Adaptability — The ability to tackle any situation and challenge
As the first people on a new planet, it’s impossible to know what to expect. The ability to adapt to any crisis or situation will be paramount. It could be a technical problem or a social, interpersonal and psychological issue. You don’t know what will happen and how people will react. Perhaps you will lose a person who has a unique skill that you all depend upon. Then someone needs to step up and take over the responsibilities.
Although specialised skills are highly important, I think it’s people who can quickly adapt and handle any situation that will be of most value. On top of being intelligent, creative, psychologically stable, and physically healthy, I think its the ability to adapt to any unexpected situation that will be most important to succeed on Mars.
Take home message
- Going to Mars will valuable in case a disaster happens on Earth.
- Experts skills will be highly valued, but so will the ability to learn any new skill quickly.
- Being intelligent, creative, and in good shape will be expected.
- Above all else, it’s your ability to work with other people and solve unexpected problems that determine if you would be suited to go to Mars.
Thanks for reading! :)
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