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Is a Mission to Mars Possible?

Is a Mission to Mars Possible?

NASA and other space agencies have long harbored dreams of sending humans to Mars, and with growing interest and support this goal may now be closer than ever before becoming reality.

However, how should one approach such a mission? One-way missions would significantly simplify engineering challenges and costs while eliminating many dangers including planetary reentry.

Human Exploration of Mars

Since the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s, scientists have been looking ahead to sending people to Mars as the next big step. Unfortunately, no one knows whether it will be safe or feasible – only time will tell.

Journeying to Mars presents both physical and psychological obstacles. One-way astronaut missions would take two and a half years – during this time they must stay healthy, meet mission goals, communicate with Earth over extended periods, all while living in extremely limited conditions. Also important to keep in mind is that although Earth and Mars orbit close by each other in their oblong paths, the planet lies 35 million miles from us!

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Spaceflight can cause bone loss and muscle atrophy, increasing astronauts’ risk of osteoporosis upon returning to Earth. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy diet in zero gravity space is difficult, and finding activities other than breathing and moving is even harder.

NASA and private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX are both conducting studies into sending humans to Mars, with some experts believing this to be feasible in the near future. But most experts feel it may still take some time.

Evidently, sending humans to Mars will be both complex and costly. One possible approach would be to conduct extended experiments on the International Space Station where scientists could learn how to search for signs of life on a very different planet’s soil; develop flying machines suited for environments with gravity 40% lower than Earth; and send back information quickly back home.

Once scientists understand the fundamentals of traveling to Mars, they can begin planning for its actual exploration, which involves sending people there for longer durations at greater risk of being left stranded.

Human Habitation on Mars

Human colonization of Mars has long been an interest within the space industry, with numerous organizations proposing missions to Mars since 1972 under NASA’s Apollo program (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

Though robots have only ever visited Mars so far, plans are underway to send humans there one day – and to make this mission successful requires not just landing humans on its surface but ensuring their long-term survival as well.

Nasa has started exploring the idea of creating human Mars habitats to prepare for that scenario, beginning with a 3D-printed simulation which will house four volunteers for one year in an isolated chamber. 

Their day will consist of pre-planned tasks and activities akin to being on an actual Mars mission as well as psychological and physiological tests similar to what would occur during such an expedition, including maintenance issues and equipment breakdown.

As part of this project, volunteers are being evaluated to see whether they can operate effectively in isolation. Selection criteria for volunteers includes education, work experience and responses to stressors – among other qualities. The first volunteers will begin participating in Nasa’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog mission beginning June. Its results could aid future human Mars missions by informing hardware design efforts.

One of the many challenges associated with traveling to Mars are its challenging environmental conditions, such as its freezing temperatures and thin atmosphere that has less than one-tenth of Earth’s air pressure; additionally, there is no magnetic field and thus astronauts face radiation levels 20 times greater than on Earth.

Experts propose that, to address these concerns, the first humans to reach Mars will land using a vehicle called a lander attached to a spacecraft that transports them directly onto its surface and delivers them directly to their habitat, constructed within an inaccessible corner of its regolith – providing shelter from dust storms, micrometeorites and radiation.

Human Health Issues on Mars

With so much excitement surrounding human travel to Mars, it can be easy to lose sight of how long and difficult such a mission will be. Beyond technical obstacles that must be surmounted, there will also be environmental and psychological risks involved.

Astronauts on their way to Mars could spend up to two and a half years inside an enclosed spaceship and habitat, an experience unlike anything they have experienced previously in spaceflights, making the experience challenging for astronauts not used to such confinement.

One of the major obstacles involves astronauts traveling one way to Mars from Earth; unlike their counterparts on the International Space Station (ISS), who regularly receive food and medicine via cargo ships from Earth. Therefore, one-way journey astronauts would have to carry everything they require with them for years without replenishment – making packaging, processing and preservation systems crucial in keeping food viable over this extended timeframe.

Astronauts traveling to Mars will also experience increased levels of radiation due to its lack of magnetic fields and extremely thin atmosphere, which allows cosmic rays and solar particles to bombard them at high rates. An unshielded astronaut on an extended mission could potentially be exposed to up to 244.5 millisieverts (mSv) annually; which far surpasses NASA’s health and safety guidelines.

Behavior and psychological changes for astronauts on long-duration missions are a serious worry. Studies conducted on both the International Space Station (ISS) and other space analog environments have demonstrated how extended confinement can have negative impacts on mental and physical wellbeing, potentially due to reduced stimulation, longing for loved ones back home or feelings of isolation on such multiyear voyages.

Astronauts who remain physically inactive for extended periods will lose muscle and bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis upon return to Earth. To combat this situation, scientists will need to devise a system allowing astronauts to safely complete resistance exercises in space.

Human Return to Earth

Retrieving humans from Mars would be difficult, expensive and potentially hazardous; it would therefore be wiser and cheaper to send people directly there without needing to return back home afterwards. There are various methods of doing this. One is building a spacecraft capable of flying itself back home; although this technology currently doesn’t exist this could become possible in future; another method would be sending a lander which grows food in space; although research into this aspect continues. A third possibility involves sending robots that land on Mars to collect samples for scientists back here on Earth before returning with science for study back here on Earth.

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Numerous companies are working on spacecraft designed to transport humans to Mars, but haven’t reached production yet. NASA is also actively engaged but does not yet have enough funding available. This presents a major problem as President Obama has prioritized sending humans there and needs to ensure sufficient funds are made available for this endeavor.

Some engineers, such as Jim McLane, believe humans can visit Mars safely. He envisions such an endeavor unifying the world just like Apollo did during its sixties mission and stimulating new technology and reinvigorating science – although he warns there may be various technical hurdles that must first be cleared up first.

An important concern on any Mars voyage will be radiation exposure for astronauts. To minimize radiation intake, it’s vital that systems such as shielding or nuclear power are put in place. Furthermore, life support systems comprised of solar, thermal and chemical technologies should also be designed.

Boeing engineers have unveiled a Mars launch system concept designed to mitigate risks involved with any mission, which uses multiple launches of crewed spacecraft, habitat modules, and supplies en route to Mars. This would reduce costs associated with sending these items and lessen payload mass requirements while decreasing launch events as well as orbital insertions or Earth reentry times needed for returning home from Mars.

A One-Way Mission to Mars Has Never Been Considered

Mars One, a Dutch company, announced on Monday it is accepting applications from those looking to travel one-way to Mars on an “all or nothing” adventure – meaning once there, they may never return!

Timelines vary when it comes to reaching Mars, depending on a variety of factors and their relationship. We will take a deeper dive into those variables here in this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

NASA and private companies like Mars One plan on sending people to Mars, but always expect them to return home after spending time there. A journey to Mars requires much more energy and distance covered than one to the moon.

Human beings seem unlikely to ever colonize another planet permanently, even with wildest colonization plans at the far reaches of plausibility such as very few people living on Mars for short durations at a time. 

As is widely understood, it is expected that humans attempting to land on Mars as part of a one-way mission. Given current technology and costs associated with space travel, round trips would likely not be cost effective nor risk effective – hence why astronauts on a Mars expedition may die while traversing space on one way missions are far too risky. Thus it could be expected that some or all astronauts on a given mission might lose their lives on such missions.


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