Monday, 28 April 2014

On traveling to Mars

NASA has released an infographic concerning its path to Mars. However, there has been increasing criticism to NASA’s strategy. At the same, studies suggest that a travel to Mars is an extremely dangerous endeavor, to the extent of being viewed as unethical under current astronaut health standards.

According to the infographic, NASA’s plan to reach Mars consists of three phases. In the first phase, Earth reliant, the ISS will be used to obtain basic knowledge of long-term human presence in space. The second phase (by 2025), Proving ground, includes a mission to redirect an asteroid to cislunar orbit and traveling beyond low Earth orbit with the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. The third phase (by 2030s), Mars ready, is about developing interplanetary travel capabilities and visiting Mars, its moons and ‘other deep space destinations’.

NASA’s plan has been criticized mainly on two grounds: first, for being financially unrealistic under current budget constraints; second, for not including manned missions to the moon, which on the one hand could be helpful to gain knowledge on long-term human settlements on celestial bodies, and on the other hand is attractive to NASA’s international partners, mainly ESA. See more here.   

Meanwhile, a medical study commissioned by NASA has suggested that sending people to Mars would be so dangerous to human health, that it would be unethical under current astronaut health standards. This includes both known and unknown risks (click here for a brief overview of the know risks). Furthermore, a recent study showed that in space the human heart becomes rounder, and thus weaker, owing to the lack of gravity. Another study tested the effects of long-term, deep-space radiation exposure to the brain function of rats and showed lapses in attention and slower reaction times - effects presumed valid also for humans and causing serious risks to human health and the safety of a manned mission to Mars.

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