Long before man ever stepped foot on the moon, we’ve been thinking about life on Mars. Now, the Mars Rover is giving us the best idea we’ve ever had of what this might entail.
While the rover is an unprecedented victory for science, most of us down here on Earth are ready to see an actual human up there. Before this can ever happen, though, we’ll need to address the following major challenges.
Finding Where to Land
Of all the challenges facing a possible human tour of Mars, this is probably the smallest, but it still needs to be figured out before we send people there.
As we’ll cover in a moment, a major problem for humans on Mars will be getting around. We’ll need to figure out where on the planet will be best location for people to land in terms of safety, but, also, because we want to give them the greatest opportunity for meaningful exploration.
For what it’s worth, right now, the leading nominee for landing spots seems to be Gale Crater.
Preparing for the Trip
As you can probably imagine, Mars is going to be rough on the human body.
Back in January, Scott Kelly returned to Earth after a year in space. The entire time, his brother, Mark, remained here. This gave NASA an opportunity to objectively compare what life in space would do to the human body.
While this will definitely influence the planning for human contact with Mars, we still have a lot of uncertainty that must be prepared for.
What we do know is that just getting to Mars would take six months. Then people would have to stay there for a year-and-a-half before Mars and Earth would be in the required orbital positions for another six-month return.
That, alone, is going to take its toll.
However, once someone is on Mars, they have to contend with just 38% of the gravity they’re used to.
This environment can be mimicked at the international space system, at least to some degree. There will still need to be many studies done before we fully understand the toll traveling to Mars would take on the human body
Better Spacesuits Are Needed
Along the same lines, the adventurers who are sent to Mars will need better spacesuits than what are available at the moment.
The ones that are currently used for walking on the Moon or exploring outside of the space station weigh in at about 200 kilograms, making them far too bulky for the types of exploration intended on Mars.
Spacesuits that would be worn every few days would need to be much lighter and more flexible. Otherwise, explorers will quickly develop blisters and may even end up injured.
This same challenge applies to the vehicles we’d use, too. The moon buggies you’ve probably seen from the past won’t cut it up in Mars. Something more akin to a camper van will be required and it will need to be pressurized.
Even if we had everything at our fingertips necessary for the trip to Mars – including adventurers up for the risk and ready for the journey – one major challenge that would stand in the way is one of the oldest on this planet: politics.
Who would lead the charge to Mars? NASA? Would they allow other countries to participate? How would other countries feel about America making first contact? What rules would be in place to decide who else is allowed the honor?
Fortunately, these problems are a long time off. The Rover Curiosity hasn’t even returned yet. Even after it does, we still have well over a decade – maybe two – before we’ll make it to Mars.