What is dangerous for an astronaut to travel to Mars

New US President Donald Trump, contrary to expectations, did not cut NASA’s budget. In general, he left everything as is, having signed a paper on the allocation of funds for the projects planned by the agency’s specialists. One such project is the flight of people to Mars and the landing of the first Marsonauts. This should happen no later than 2033.

While some scientists are developing reliable ways to deliver a person to Mars, others are exploring possible dangers that lie in wait for astronauts and colonists on their way to the goal. There are many dangers such as on the way to the planet, and on its surface. Recent studies conducted by specialists from the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University show that among other problems of astronauts lies the threat of leukemia and reduced immunity.

The results of earlier studies indicate that the marsonauts will also be threatened by dementia with loss of memory from ionizing radiation. What are the challenges potential travelers face on Mars?

For example, a flight can end without really starting. To travel to Mars you need a powerful carrier rocket, which has no analogues. It is developed practically from scratch. Despite the fact that the rocket and each of its elements are subjected to multiple complex inspections, troubles still happen. Of the catastrophes of the recent history of space exploration, it is worth mentioning the explosion of the Falcon 9 carrier rocket due to unforeseen damage to the wall of composite material separating the fuel from the oxidant. According to Ilona Mask, the head of the company SpaceX, which developed this missile, the accident was triggered by a number of coincidences, series of refusals of materials and equipment, which had not yet been analogues. It is good that in this case only equipment was damaged, there were no people on board. Even more serious were the crashes of the USSR’s “N-1” lunar rocket, all four of which were unsuccessful and accompanied by casualties.

And what if unforeseen malfunctions arose on board a launch vehicle going to the first flight in the history of mankind to Mars? There would be casualties, an extremely expensive missile would be destroyed and, most likely, on the development of Mars in the near future would be put a fat cross.

Flight to Mars


Well, the rocket took off, there are no problems, people are going to Mars. The path to the planet takes about 9 months in one direction, that is, this is a real long-term space flight. And here a person is threatened by radiation. The fact is that most of the ionizing radiation does not reach the surface of the Earth because of the magnetic field of our planet and its atmosphere. The higher, the higher the radiation density. Perhaps, it is because of the radiation that the cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev, who spent 221 days on Earth’s orbit, lost his sight.

Specialists compare the protection provided by the atmosphere from ionizing radiation to steel with a thickness of 1 meter. That is, through such protection only particles of the highest energy can break through. As for the ISS or spacecraft, here the protection is due only to the thickness of the walls of the hull, and this, at best, is a few centimeters. According to NASA experts, cosmic radiation can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Some experts believe that it is better for women not to fly to Mars. “Since women generally live longer than men, according to NASA’s forecast, they have a higher chance of getting cancer for their lives, being exposed to the same amount of radiation as men. Calculations showed that women should not fly to Mars at all, because the cumulative effect of radiation over the entire flight time will exceed the maximum permissible 3% risk of developing cancer, “said Dorit Donoviel, deputy director of the National Institute of Space Biomedical Research (NSBRI).


On the way to Mars, a person will be in an almost complete absence of gravity for at least 9 months. And this is also a health problem. For humans on Earth, the body is adapted to ordinary gravity, and different systems of our body are struggling with it, seeking to deliver blood and other physiological fluids to the top. Immediately after hitting the ISS (or rocket), these systems continue to operate, so that even the appearance of people is somewhat changed. For example, because of intracranial pressure, the shape of the eyeballs changes somewhat.

Changing taste and smell, weakening the muscles of the body, including the muscles of the heart. The work of the vestibular apparatus is greatly complicated. In some people, without the power of attraction, taste and smell completely disappear or significantly weaken. Without exercise, a person loses about 20% of muscle mass in just a couple of weeks.

Specialists note the manifestation of such an effect as the syndrome of cosmic adaptation. At some people at microgravity the appetite is lost, there is a migraine, a giddiness. Actually, we are talking about seasickness, which in this case is better called “space”.

The longer a person stays in space, the more bone tissue is lost. Because of the lack of habitual loads, the bones become lighter and brittle. Each month about 1.5% of bone tissue is lost. It is not yet clear how serious this problem is and whether it is reversible. Of course, the ISS has simulators, so that the cosmonauts perform physical exercises, trying not to lose form. But will such equipment fit in a spacecraft that will go to Mars?

The spine also suffers – the distance between the vertebrae increases, and the person feels pain. Astronauts solved this problem, resting their hands and feet in the walls of the station, so the spine contracted and a few minutes was enough to ease the pain.

Psychological problems

If several people are locked in a confined space for several months, then problems will necessarily arise. No, it will not necessarily be expressed in conflicts, but the human psyche suffers at such moments. Some people can feel constant fatigue, irritability, bad sleep. Because of the violation of the usual daily rhythm, noise aggregates and other factors people feel not very comfortable. Some even have to take sleeping pills.

Another psychological problem is isolation from the outside world. The connection with the Earth will be, but the signal with the distance from the planet will start to lag. In addition, the Martian travelers will clearly understand that in case of any problems nobody will come to their aid. People are left to themselves, which undoubtedly greatly presses on the psyche.


On the ISS, people can not take baths or wash in the shower. The same can be said for a spaceship that will fly to Mars. Special wipes and compounds – that’s what awaits space travelers all the way. It is necessary to change less often underwear, and about washing in general it is necessary to forget – the dirty clothes, probably, it will be possible to wash already on Mars. But, most likely, it is simply recycled in one way or another.

Arriving to Mars


So, the marsonauts who stayed on the road for 9 months, overcame all problems and arrived to Mars. There is a need to land on the planet. But here, too, everything is not as simple as it might seem. The main problem is the descent. The fact is that the atmosphere of Mars is about 100 times less dense than the Earth’s atmosphere. Accordingly, when descending, more resistance is needed to avoid crashing into the surface at full speed. Heavy objects gain very high speed, so there are limitations in the mass, which can be delivered to Mars once.

This, according to NASA employee Bret Drake, a ton (that’s how much Curiosity weighs). “The way we will descend through the atmosphere remains an important task. With current landing methods, we can drop only a metric ton to Mars. It is not enough to establish a colony, more is needed for the colony, “Drake said.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) Project Manager Mark Adler, left, and JPL LDSD Project Principal investigator Ian Clark inspect the LDSD test vehicle, Thursday, May 28, 2015, at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), in Kauai, Hawaii. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Developers of Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator inspect the bottom of the system

He also says that, if necessary, the establishment of a colony on Mars at one time will have to drop from 20 to 30 tons of cargo. Now NASA and various private companies working on landing on Mars, are trying to create a reliable way to lower people to the surface of the planet. Perhaps it will be a disk-shaped device Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator.

Cold and hunger

If everything turned out with a descent, then it is worth remembering that the average annual temperature on Mars is minus 62 degrees Celsius. The temperature from the equator is gradually decreasing to the poles. Day on Mars can be hot, and at night – terribly cold. On the ISS, too, there is a problem of significant temperature changes. So, the ISS is heated to 90 degrees Celsius, facing the Sun and cooling to -90 on its opposite side. Scientists and engineers have found a way out of this difficult situation, having achieved the creation of specialized temperature control systems.

But the problem is that such systems are designed to work in a vacuum. As for Mars, scientists are still thinking about how to ensure a comfortable existence for marsons or colonists.

“We need a solution that will provide better insulation in cold conditions and another way of removing heat in hot conditions. A spacesuit in a vacuum is similar to a thermos bottle, but the spacesuit on Mars will look more like a cup of coffee on the kitchen table – the coffee in the cup cools much faster than the coffee in the thermos, “Drake said.

Food for people on Mars is also a problem. If it is a question of landing with a return, then it is possible to dispense with ordinary food for the astronauts dry freezing. If we are talking about colonists, then we will also have to grow food. How? While it is not completely clear, experts are still working on this issue. Some scientists believe that the soil of Mars with the addition of certain substances can be made suitable for growing crops.

In the second case, it is necessary to monitor the concentration of oxygen released by the plants in the atmosphere of the room where the colonists live. Too much oxygen is the probability of spontaneous explosions or even the departure of a crew.

And again, radiation

Specialists from the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of California have conducted research to verify how ionized radiation will affect astronauts on Mars. As it turned out, in 12-24 weeks after irradiation with weak doses of ionizing radiation (5 or 30 doses of 48Ti or 16O) in the experimental animals, signs of cognitive dysfunction persist. The problem is related to the change in the dendrite structure, the change in the level of the protein in the synapses and the inflammation of the nervous tissue. The problem is found in animals; Perhaps a similar problem will manifest in a person. There is a risk that, due to the decrease in cognitive functions in humans under the influence of ionizing radiation, people simply can not cope with the management of the systems they trust, without completing scientific and engineering tasks or even forgetting what to do.

Another manifestation of the effect of radiation is a rather high probability of the appearance of leukemia in people and a decrease in immunity. The reason is the same radiation. The problem was identified scientists at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University. They transplanted human stem cells into the body of mice and subjected animals to weak ionizing radiation. It is a special type of cells called hemacytoblasts. These cells give rise to all other cells of the blood. Hematopoietic stem cells are located in the red bone marrow, which, in turn, are located inside the cavities of most bones.

In this study, the hematocytosis of healthy adults aged 30-55 years was studied. As it turned out, under the influence of radiation, the ability of these cells to produce all kinds of blood cells decreased by 60-80%. In addition, radiation has led to mutations in genes that participate in the hematopoietic process, which has led to a decrease in the ability of hemacytoblasts to produce mature blood cells.

The next step was to check the operation of cells exposed to radiation. As it turned out, when they were transplanted into their mice, the latter began to develop leukemia. Scientists believe that this can serve as evidence that cosmic radiation can cause leukemia in humans.

Together with the already mentioned above decrease in immunity in the long-term stay of a person in microgravity conditions will have a negative impact on the successful outcome of an expedition to Mars of any type – even a temporary landing of astronauts, even if the arrival of the colonists on the planet.

And it should not be forgotten that in the first case, people will have to return to Earth, which will lead to a repeated influence of radiation, microgravity and other problems described earlier. Plus, experts need to find a reliable way to take off from the surface of Mars to return to Earth.

Be that as it may, specialists do not lose hope for the development of reliable security measures that can protect people from certain dangers and reduce the negative impact of others. The fact that scientists and engineers believe in the successful outcome of the journey can be said by NASA’s planned manned flight to Mars by 2033 and Ilona Mask’s plans for a similar flight and the creation of a colony on the neighboring planet.

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