With both SpaceX and NASA ramping up plans to go to Mars, maybe it’s time to consider the other side of the discussion – that traveling to Mars might be a terrible idea.
Issue number one: Radiation.
Outside our protective magnetic sphere, space is a shooting gallery of solar radiation and cosmic rays that would wreak havoc on our bodies to a level that right now we can only speculate.
And then there are the 18 months you would spend on Mars, which doesn’t have a magnetosphere and a very thin atmosphere.
Humans have never been exposed to this type of radiation for this long. It’s a problem we’ve never dealt with before, and it’s going to be a huge challenge to overcome.
Number two: Extremely low air pressure.
The Martian atmosphere has only 1% of the air pressure of Earth.
Walking outside on Mars is not that much different from walking on the moon, from a life support systems perspective.
The thin atmosphere is also a nightmare for landing on Mars.
That’s why smaller rovers like Spirit and Opportunity used bizarre airbag systems to land and Curiosity, which was much heavier, had to use a combination of parachutes, thrusters, and a cable system to get there safely.
So SpaceX’s vertical propulsive landing option is probably best for Mars, but this is something that’s never been done up to this point, so it’s hard to know what challenges there are in attempting this with the thinner atmosphere and lower gravity.
Number 3: Perchlorates in the soil.
In the Biosphere 2 project, they grew their own food and struggled to have enough for everyone to eat. When they emerged at the end, many were malnourished and emaciated.
In 2008, the Mars Phoenix lander found significant quantities of perchlorate in the Martian soil.
Perchlorates are salt compounds that are often used in rocket propellants and they’re extremely harmful to humans.
They interrupt the thyroid gland and prevent the body from absorbing iodine, which leads to aplastic anemia.
That’s when your bone marrow can’t make new red blood cells. Red blood cells are what carry oxygen through the body. Minor problem.
Or, if aplastic anemia isn’t your thing, you might get agranulocytosis, which prevents your body from making white blood cells.
Chris McKay at the Ames Research Center said that if your backyard had this much perchlorate in the soil, it would be considered a Superfund site.
Basically, Mars is a giant toxic waste dump.
Number 4: The gravity problem.
Mars is smaller than Earth, with gravity only 38% of what you’re used to here. An average 150-pound person on Earth would weigh only 57 pounds on Mars.
We do have some idea of what to expect from long-term zero gravity thanks to astronauts like Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, who just this year completed a year-long space mission.
Although the record was set in 1995 by Valery Polyakov, who flew on the Mir space station for 437 days.
And last but not least, number 5: The Contamination Problem.
We’ve talked in videos about the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation in the search for intelligent life in the universe.
Because if life could form twice in one solar system, the potential for life in other solar systems, and intelligent life, becomes very significant.
So one of the biggest problems when it comes to traveling to Mars is that we’re not just bringing ourselves… We’re bringing our microbes.
The second we land on Mars, we have contaminated it.