The latest in our exploration of interesting questions people send me on Twitter will look at one of the most important and fundamental questions in the history of space exploration…
Will we ever be able to have beer on Mars?
Good grief, I hope so.
As a Canadian, I find this question to be deeply personal, and as a human being this raises some more interesting questions about the general sustainability of life on Mars… because let’s face it, a life without beer isn’t worth living, and what you need for beer is a lot of the same things you need to make a life on the red planet.
So – what does it take to make beer on Mars? Well… water to start, grain, hops, yeast, heat… we’ll need filtering technology and science and some seriously careful pressure measurements.
To begin, beer needs water. Well, that’s pretty much done – to an extent. Any manned settlement on Mars will need to harvest water – either from the polar ice caps which are mostly frosty and dirty but are still water, or from the atmosphere – which has water in it, though not much at all. Anyway, there’s water there – it’s just an ass-pain to get at it. Odds are that several processes will be used by future colonists on Mars, but either way – if it’s bringing our own, or making it there – we will have water.
Second on the ingredients list are the plants, barley for example and hops – which are like pine-cone looking things? I don’t know, they’re green. Moving along – plants on Mars will be damn tricky. First off, there’s water again, then temperature – Mars averages between -90 celsius and +20 celsius… it’s a wide swing, and not very conducive to farming – so there will need to be greenhouses and heaters, and we’ll need to figure out ways to get around whatever background radiation there might be – and in addition to that, we also have the idea of pressure.
The atmospheric pressure of Mars is roughly 6 mbar which is way way way below Earth levels – and plants move water through their system using a series of tubes (like the internet) that rely on a certain kind of pressure, and so we might have to grow our barley and hops in special pressurized greenhouses. We’ll also definitely need some sunlamps and fertilizer… in fact, general thinking is that we could be better off using one of the hollowed out lava tubes that lurk under the surface of Mars, and turning those into an underground planting bed – with lights and hydroponics and pressure-seals to make it all much more earth-like. However, that’s not to say that over time we couldn’t work toward developing crops which could be more tolerant of the atmospheric pressure and conditions of Mars. Though, I’m probably not the one to get that done.
So that’s water and plants… next is heat – for boiling. We’ve talked about fire before, and how tough a nut that is to crack, but that sort of goes away once you put actual colonization into the picture. Humans need Earth-like pressure (a minimum of 61.8 mbar), and so we will be nicely holed up inside, in a pressurized building with an Earthy atmosphere. So odds are, we’ll have a stove, and we can boil the water. Done and done!
All that having been settled, we boil the malt and water and hops and such, and then pour it all into a bottle with some yeast. The yeast, we can probably bring to Mars with us – though as a fungus, there’s no reason to think we couldn’t make it on Mars. We let the bottle ferment, let the yeast convert the sugars in the wort into some delicious alcohol, and blammo – we’re pretty much at beer.
Now, bottling and capping might also be a problem given the pressure of Mars – but we’re living there, so we’re inside again – and I think we’re going to be all right.
So let’s wrap up here: Water, check – though a bit of a trouble to get. Plants, tricky – but we can do it with technology and a science. Heat to boil? No problem – just need pressurized, oxygenated buildings and some fuel. Yeast… bring it along! The bottom line is, and this is good news people, if humanity can colonize Mars… we can brew beer!
We can brew beer on Mars. It’ll cost us like, a trillion dollars – but we can do it. And honestly, isn’t a trillion dollars a small price to pay for a nice cold beer?
Oh wait… refrigeration… okay, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Just keep swimming, people! Just keep swimming.
Science can make this happen everyone. Science can make it all happen!