Why will we go to Mars?
It certainly is not ideal to build a colony on Mars. There are many threats to human life there - it is one of the deadliest environments a human could be in.
To Elon Musk, inspiration is the key to human progress and motivation - we will go to Mars for the same reason that humans do space exploration at all - it inspires us and we get to see what no man ever saw before - further we go towards infinity.
Effects on humans
There are theories that a pregnancy on mars (
0.38 G) could be harmful to the child. Certainly, children of this kind would have serious problems when returning to earth - just like our astronauts when returning from the space station.
Certainly, artificial gravity on a space station would be another option - and will continue to be developed. However, there are major disadvantages:
- The artificial gravity you mentioned also acts different on humans than earths gravity (even when their magnitude is equal)
- A space station is way more vulnerable than a base on the ground (fuel explosions, thin walls and vacuum around).
Comparison: What is harder to build?
As you figured, both, a huge station (with artificial gravity) and a colony on Mars will be incredibly hard to build - it requires thousands of engineers all over the world to make such a project work.
Building a space station, even of the size of the ISS (
51 meters long, 420 tons) is an enormous project. Now think of something we could fit a hundred or maybe a thousand people in - the challenge of building it is even greater.
For a colony, despite having to transport resources further, it is easier to assemble. You can just take a few astronauts with tools to build something habitable (of course not that easy but easier than using shuttles to assemble it).
Another crucial question is:
Which one of the two is harder to maintain?
And that is definitely the space station.
On Earth, we hardly have to do anything to stay alive - we just live. In a colony on mars, once we bring the tools there that let us grow plants (thus get fresh air) etc. , we are safe. People could life there for generations with hardly any extra effort compared to earth (except or some safety measures etc).
A station is harder to maintain. Let's consider the ISS:
- The ISS has to be pushed back to orbit by a rocket every now and then, because else, it would fall into the ocean (less likely: land)
- Without artificial gravity, humans have even worse problems when they stay in orbit for long... in a colony, you wouldn't have to deal with that (at least it wouldn't be as bad)
I hope you (at least partly) understand, why we will go to colonize Mars instead of a huge space station ^^
I really liked all the other answers - make sure to upvote them too - thanks for this great thread I am glad to contribute ^^
PS: If I ever could, I would go to Mars right away ^^