Earth’s neighbour Mars is yet to host human beings as the existing technology makes it impossible to survive on the red planet.
The success of Chandrayaan-3 has ignited a renewed interest in space exploration and what lies beyond the Earth. Alongside studying the Moon and the Sun, a major planet of interest for human beings remains our neighbour Mars and whether it can ever support life, to ensure the survival of humanity amid the escalating climate crisis on Earth.
Sending humans to Mars with the existing technology is not possible as of now, says NASA scientist Doctor Michelle Thaller. While SpaceX founder Elon Musk remains hopeful about wanting to transport one million people to Mars by 2050, as indicated in many of his interviews, the actual mission needs cutting-edge technology to become successful, some “we haven’t even thought of yet,” says the NASA on its website.
Among the major challenges to reach Mars, one remains the distance itself – the 34 million-mile trip. This poses a huge challenge to the survival of the crew and their safe return. At present, NASA’s Perseverance rover is collecting carbon dioxide from the planet’s thin atmosphere and converting it into oxygen so that astronauts can use it, but there are other threats to survival as well.
Other key challenges:
NASA said even if we overcome the distance while ensuring a safe, functional life support system for the astronauts for such a long period of time, upon reaching Mars, the radiation will kill us. “…With the current technology, protecting astronauts travelling to Mars will be difficult because of the radiation from the solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) that will kill human beings long before they reach,” Thaller said.
The surface of Mars is extremely hostile. Unlike the Earth, Mars has a very thin atmosphere and no magnetic field to deflect energetic particles, so we would need technology to protect the astronauts from two sources of radiation, the NASA explained. The first is from the Sun, the second being galactic cosmic rays shot from other stars. “Some of these energetic particles can knock apart atoms in the material they strike, such as in the astronaut, the metal walls of a spacecraft, habitat…,” the space agency said.
The existing unmanned spacecrafts sent to the red plane have provided data about its weather, surface conditions and landing techniques. NASA said the exploration of Mars and the Moon trips are intertwined. “The Moon provides an opportunity to test new tools, instruments and equipment that could be used on Mars, including human habitats, life support systems, and technologies…,” it explained, adding that its upcoming manned Artemis mission to the Moon will be key to building new technologies in this regard.