As soon as we discovered the red planet, we have been planning ways of sending people to Mars. It is the most likely planet to host or have hosted life in our solar system and exploring it would lead to endless discoveries that could be useful to future generations. Of course exploration always has hiccups, the problem with space travel is that hiccups are disastrous. Here’s 2 examples of just how hard planning a trip to mars really is.
1. Radiation is an Issue
Radiation doses are measured in sieverts (sv) and on average human beings are exposed to about one hundredth of a sievert every year. The concern when thinking about travelling to mars is the radiation in the atmosphere. Curiosity uses sensors to count the number of energetic particles in the surrounding atmosphere and it picked up doses of around two thirds of a sievert on it’s trip to Mars. This could cause endless problems for astronauts.
For a start it would increase the risk of death by cancer from 21% to 24% more likely, and this falls outside NASAs guidelines for space travel. In addition to this prolonged exposure to radiation can cause side effects such as short term memory loss, blindness and an increased risk of heart disease. Any of these and many more things can occur at any point and considering the journey could take up to 16 months, that’s a bad time to suddenly forget who you are.
This doesn’t even take into account the risk of a sudden radiation burst from a solar flare or other reactions in space, which would kill them for sure. The way around this could be to create faster ways of travelling through space and the idea of that brings us onto the next issue.
2. How do you store enough fuel to get there?
Fuel is heavy and therefore expensive in terms of money and energy, mission planners say lots of fuel will be lost needlessly during the trip due to various factors. Up to 4% of hydrogen can leak every month and lots of fuels will vapourise due to sudden temperature changes. It is heavy and would take a lot to get to mars, not even taking top account the amount needed to get there fast enough to reduce radiation poisoning.
Solar-electric and nuclear-electric propulsion could fix this problem but both technologies need significant advancement before this would be possible. solar-electric powered spacecraft have been orbiting planets and exploring the solar system for years now, using solar rays to convert neutral atoms into charged ones, and accelerating them with magnets to achieve thrust.
Long lasting thrust would also cause a lack of power, which would be counterproductive in terms of getting the astronauts there alive and could take several years.
Nuclear fuel is hard to store and the technology is not really ready yet for space travel, but the idea of chemical rockets boosting a spacecraft out of the atmosphere and allowing solar-electric power to take over is becoming increasingly attractive in the use of getting people on mars.