I read today that the current Mars rover is reporting that ambient radiation levels on Mars represent no threat to human life. So my buddy Henry and I were talking about it, and bottom line, I think I'm ready to move. I mean, I haven't talked to Sally about this or anything, but what an awesome project to be part of!
Apparently, the most serious challenge involved in colonizing Mars is getting your manufacturing base set up successfully before you send actual people. What you do is this: you send 20 tons of hydrogen, an electrolysis machine, and a small nuclear reactor to Mars ahead of time. Use the hydrogen to convert the extant Martian atmosphere--currently full of carbon, methane, and oxygen, but not in immediately useful ways--into water and liquid methane, which you can then either drink or break back into its components, oxygen and methane, i.e. rocket fuel. Wait two years. Then send people with inflatable buildings and the machinery they'll need to make Martian bricks.
Other serious issues include the flight time--between six and seven months--and dealing with low gravity for an extended period of time, though I imagine that last one could be dealt with via the use of habitually worn flack jackets, if necessary. Also, building with Martian bricks is apparently tricky when one considers the need to maintain pressurization. Which is to say that you can do it, basically by using the bricks to make a Martian igloo and then piling dirt of top to retain air pressure, but that doesn't solve the problem of installing windows with pressure seals. And I doubt anyone wants to live on Mars without windows. Plus, no windows equals no plants. Granted, you can send SOME pre-fabbed inflatable structures from Earth that might solve the problem in an immediate sense, but long-term, there is no way to survive on a planet seven months away from Earth without becoming quickly and reliably self-sufficient.
Luckily, you can, apparently, make nearly everything you need in order to live on Mars from actual Martian materials, provided that you're smart enough to plan ahead and have the right seed stuff handy when you get there. This isn't to say that life on Mars would be easy, but it's supposed to be possible. Also: Mars actually NEEDS greenhouse gasses, so at least in the short to medium term, industrial pollution on Mars would actually benefit human life by raising Mars's ambient temperature. Wild!
It's fascinating, right? I mean, what an adventure! I wish I could go; I really do.