NASA wants people on Mars within 25 years

Deadly radiation from the cosmos, potential vision loss, and atrophying bones are just some of the challenges scientists must overcome before any future astronaut can set foot on Mars, experts and top NASA officials said Tuesday.

The US space agency believes it can put humans on the Red Planet within 25 years, but the technological and medical hurdles are immense.

“The cost of solving those means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it’s going to take about 25 years to solve those,” said former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, who flew on four space shuttle missions before retiring in 2001.

“We need to get started now on certain key technologies,” he told reporters in Washington.

At an average distance of about 225 million kilometres, Mars poses scientific problems an order of magnitude greater than anything encountered by the Apollo lunar missions.


With today’s 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 huge.

For instance, scientists think prolonged weightlessness can cause irreversible changes to blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision degradation.

And after a while in zero G, the skeleton starts to leach calcium and bone mass.

With gravity only one-third of Earth’s, scientists don’t yet know the effects of a presumed one-year mission to the surface of Mars.

Better propulsion

One way to reduce wear and tear on the human body is to dramatically cut down on travel time to Mars.

Jones called for nuclear propulsion systems that would have the added benefit of producing electricity on flights.

“If we start now, in 25 years we might have these technologies available to help us and protect us from these long transit times,” he said.

Under current 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 over the course of an entire career.

“We don’t have the solution yet in terms of shielding, in terms of protecting you from cosmic rays and solar flares that you experience during this transit time,” Jones said.

Aerospace experts have identified several technologies that need rapid development, including spacecraft that can survive the harsh entry into Mars and land softly enough, as well as the ability to lift people off the surface and head back to Earth.

NASA currently has a new robotic lander called InSight zooming towards Mars, due to land on November 26 after taking off from California on May 5.

The $993-million project aims to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.

Jim Garvin, chief scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, said InSight would fill in “critical unknowns” and help build a key understanding of Mars.

In 2020, another mission will see NASA send a rover to Mars that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

Additionally, private firms like SpaceX and a host of other nations are building technologies that could be used on future Mars missions.

Some experts see new exploration of the Moon as key to a future mission to Mars, as astronauts there could learn about extracting water or using technology and apply those lessons to future Mars missions.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Thomas Watkins
Thomas Watkins
AFP's Kabul bureau chief.

Related stories

Nokia and Nasa to install 4G on the Moon

Installing a wireless network on the Moon is just one step toward establishing a long-term human presence there

Load-shedding’s silver lining: Lower levels of sulphur dioxide air pollution

Analysis of Nasa data shows that although SO₂ emissions around the world have fallen by about 6%, the levels are high enough to harm the health of billions of people.

YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

YouTube has driven millions of viewers to climate denial videos, a US activist group said on Thursday as it called for stopping "free promotion...

WeWork debacle exposes why investing in a charismatic founder can be dangerous

Were investors like SoftBank and JPMorgan duped by the hype of a charismatic founder, as happened with Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos?

‘One giant leap’: US marks Apollo mission 50 years on

President Trump has relaunched the race to re-conquer the Moon — this time with the first woman — and to journey onwards to Mars

Plutocrats in high orbit: Whether Musk or Bezos win the space race, we all lose

A new space race is being led by two notoriously greedy, egomaniacal billionaires. They’d do better to focus their attention and resources on Earth
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

‘Battle-tested’ vs ‘kind and fair’ — DA candidates’ last push...

John Steenhuisen and Mbali Ntuli both acknowledged the problems faced by the party over the past year, with each of them offering their own leadership vision.

A Landie icon is born

Replacing one of the most-loved cars in history, the new Defender pulls off the near impossible task of doing almost everything better

NSFW: The tricky business of OnlyFans

In an increasingly digital world, OnlyFans has given online creators a new way to make money on their own terms

Q&A Sessions: ‘Keeping quiet is not an option’ — Charlotte...

More than a decade after a brief stint on the opposition benches, Charlotte Lobe is helping to fly the South African flag as a senior public servant in the department of international relations and co-operation
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday