On July 19, 1969, a human being set foot on the surface of the Moon. Now, 50 years later, it’s time to consider the question, will scientists ever put a human being on Mars?
The scientific community certainly hopes so, but there are massive obstacles to overcome before that happens.
Back in 2018, Prospect took a look at that question, and the answer the magazine came up with is a disappointing one. For all of the hope of putting a man on Mars (and note that here “man” is shorthand for “a human being”; the very first person to set foot on Mars may very well be a woman), and for all of the research and investment, public and private, that’s gone into it, it may be too big of a goal.
Putting a man on the Moon was a massive undertaking that cost billions of dollars, required the cooperation of tens of thousands of individuals, as well as an entire government, and claimed lives in the process.
And the Moon is only a quarter of a million miles away, give or take. Mars, when it’s closest to Earth, is about 35 million miles away, or about 130 times that distance. Getting to the Moon took a few days; getting to Mars would take months, according to Mars-One. Then, once a team of astronauts were there, the explorers would have to wait until Mars and Earth were properly lined up before undertaking the trip home. Long story short: a Mars mission would last at least years.
I can’t wait for the journey that started with one small step on the Moon to lead to boot prints on Mars.— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) July 19, 2019
Follow @NASA and tune in to https://t.co/Nq8YKBcjEZ for special #Apollo50th programming July 19-20, including rebroadcasts of the landing and first moonwalk in real time. pic.twitter.com/pGMK91Za5i
At those distances, even communicating with mission controllers back on Earth would be problematic. Even moving at the speed of light, it would take half an hour, on average, for a message to get from Mars to Earth, and half an hour for it to get back, meaning that even one snippet of conversation could last an hour.
Apart from the fact that any medical emergency that takes place between Earth and Mars, or on Mars, will have to be dealt with on the spot, there’s the matter of radiation. Without getting into the specifics, suffice to say that the amount of exposure to cosmic radiation a would-be Mars explorer would get in five years would be equivalent to five times what the average, Earth-bound human would get in a lifetime.
And that’s even if the spacecraft survives the journey. Mars’ thin atmosphere is just enough to be problematic, and more than one spacecraft has burned up on entry into the Martian atmosphere. A slight error in calculation, or a slight mistake by the pilot of the Mars mission, could doom the mission and everyone aboard.
Despite these obstacles, the space community is determined to make it happen, and has even taken steps to get the ball rolling. As NASA explains, the thinking of the space community is that any Mars mission should begin at the Moon, and indeed plans are already underway to get a Moon base up and running, with a view towards getting manned craft to Mars.
When will that happen? If all of the funding comes through, and if all of the proposed test missions go through without a hitch, humanity might launch a man into space, in the direction of Mars, some time in the 2030’s, according to Science.
If so, that means that between 60 and 70 years will have passed between the time man set foot on the Moon and man will have set foot on Mars.