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Before any future astronaut can set foot on Mars scientists must overcome many significant challenges including deadly radiation from the cosmos, possible vision loss, and atrophying bones according to NASA officials on Tuesday.
The US space agency thinks they will be able to put humans on Mars within 25 years. However, the technological and medical hurdles are extraordinary.
Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, who flew on four space shuttle missions before retiring in 2001 explained that the cost of solving those problems means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it’s going to take about 25 years to find a solution, so it’s essential to get started now.
At an average distance of approximately 140 million miles (225 million kilometres), Mars poses scientific problems that are far greater than anything seen by the Apollo lunar missions.
With current rocket technology, it would take an astronaut up to nine months to reach Mars — the physical toll of floating that long in zero gravity would be massive.
For example, scientists believe prolonged weightlessness can result in irreversible changes to blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision loss. Plus, after too much time in zero-G, the skeleton starts to leach calcium and bone mass.
Mars’ gravity is only one-third of Earth’s, so scientists don’t yet know the effects of a one-year mission to the surface of Mars.
However, one way to reduce the adverse effects on the human body is to cut down on travel time to the Red Planet drastically.
Jones called for nuclear propulsion systems that would have the added benefit of producing electricity on flights.
He said, if we begin now, in 25 years we might have technologies available to help us and protect us from these long transit times.
In today’s conditions, just an outbound trip to Mars would take so long that any astronaut would receive the same amount of radiation than ordinarily would be deemed safe throughout an entire career.
Jones added that they don’t have the solution yet when it comes to shielding or protecting astronauts from cosmic rays and solar flares that will be experienced during the transit time.
Aerospace experts have pointed out several technologies that need rapid development, such as a spacecraft that can survive the harsh entry into Mars and land gently enough, in addition to the ability to lift people off the surface and take them back to Earth.
Presently, NASA has a new robotic lander known as InSight making its way towards Mars. It is set to land on November 26 after taking off from California on May 5.
The project costs $993 million, and its goal is to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send explorers there, and show how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.
What’s more, in 2020, NASA will send another rover to Mars who will aim to ascertain the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and evaluate natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Moreover, private firms including SpaceX and many other nations are developing technologies that could be used on future missions to the Red Planet.
Some experts view new exploration of the Moon as essential to a future Mars mission because astronauts there could learn about extracting water or using technology and then apply those lessons on Mars.