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19 February 2015updated 05 Oct 2023 8:08am

People, please don’t go to Mars – you’ll die

The Red Planet is bad for humans in all kinds of ways, and being first there may be little consolation if you die before you even reach the surface.

By Tosin Thompson

A hundred people – “The Mars 100” – have been chosen by Mars One as the longlist in their selection process for a one-way trip to Mars. The mission aims to establish permanent human life on Mars by 2025, and the competitive open application process (asking “who wants to kill themselves on another planet and have Earthlings watch you do so in amusement on reality television”?) has had the interest of more than 200,000 applicants from at least 140 countries. All 100 Martian martyrs are happy to take the next leap for mankind, or die trying – or so they think.

Applicants have been awarded points and levels depending on how much money they “donated” to Mars One, and filtering the list reveals the highest pointer and leveller are Christian O Knudsen and Steve Schild respectively. Of all of the 100 candidates, a total of 40 finalists will be chosen to train for the mission. For the rest of us who are content with where we already live – or who are annoyed at missing out – here are just some of the reasons why Mars isn’t good for humans:

The atmosphere isn’t breathable
Breathe in Mars’ air and you’ll suffocate and die in about three minutes. Mars doesn’t have much of an atmosphere; it’s about 100 times thinner than Earth’s in fact, so you’d struggle to breathe at all. Its atmospheric pressure is so below the limit for human survival that your saliva and the interior of your lungs would boil. If you do get a chance to breathe it’ll be predominately carbon dioxide, which, at such a low pressure, wouldn’t do the damage it could. Unless you have an indestructible spacesuit and an unlimited supply to oxygen (which, by the way, Mars has virtually none of) you’re as good as dead.

It’s cold – really, really cold
We assume Mars isn’t cold because we only see ice at the poles, but that’s because it’s dry and thin. Experiencing  Antarctica would be like a nice summer’s day out compared to Mars. 

Mars’ thin atmosphere means it’s unable to retain heat energy. To add insult into injury, it’s farther from the sun than Earth, meaning its temperature can reach a low of -153oC near the poles and, at best, at high of 20oC during the summer near the equator. The temperature can change drastically within one week, making it a dangerous playground for fragile, delicate creatures such as humans. Its temperature variations can also often result in global dust storms lasting for weeks, which can block as much as 99 per cent of sunlight, clogging electronics and interfering with solar-powered equipment. If that equipment is used to grow or cook food, starving to death is highly likely.

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Deadly UV radiation
Due to the virtually non-existent atmosphere, Mars has in high levels of UV radiation, limiting the time spent on the surface without protection – otherwise the chances of you getting skin cancer will rise. Gold spacesuits and SPF 9000 anyone?

Low gravity
Mars’ gravity is much lower than Earth’s – about 62 per cent lower. So, for a person whose mass is 100kg on Earth, they’ll feel as if they weigh a mere 38 kg when on Mars.

Nobody knows whether humans could remain healthy long term in Martian gravity, but we know from other space missions that prolonged time in zero gravity can lead to bone loss at a rate of about 1 per cent per month, muscle atrophy at a rate of about 5 per cent per week and blood loss at a rate of 22 per cent in just a few days (a possible major contributing factor to heart atrophy). The record for the longest time spent in space goes to Valeri Polyakov, who spent almost 438 days on the Russian space station Mir in 1994 and ’95. Living in zero gravity for so long meant he suffered from muscle and bone loss on his return to Earth. 

Long-term exposure to low gravity can also lead to serious vision problems. Unless you want to spend all day in a tank harnessed to a treadmill – meaning no time for the main objective of Martian exploration – you’re likely to suffer physical damage beyond repair after a relatively short amount of time.

You’d get bored to death of the scenery
The landscape of Mars wouldn’t hold the attention of human eyes for too long. Some photos of Mars might seem amazing, but these have been digitally enhanced with white balance so geologists can analyse the rock types. The naked human eye will interpret the sky and land as dull homogenous reddish-grey or brown.

How would you even get there?
As advanced as we think we are, humans are not yet capable of producing the type of technology needed to successfully land humans on Mars. “Mars is pretty far away,” Nasa’s director of the International Space Station, Sam Scimemi, said during a conference. “It’s six orders of magnitude further than the space station. We would need to develop new ways to live away from the Earth and that’s never been done before. Ever.”

Travelling to Mars poses issues such as fuel shortages, designing (within our current capabilities) the right spacecraft to operate such as mission and how on (or off) Earth we’re able to keep astronauts alive – and this is after overcoming the inherent risks involved in launching any spacecraft, let alone a human-carrying one, as we all well know. There’s little room for error.

In 2013, MIT researchers developed a detailed settlement-analysis tool to assess the feasibility of the Mars One mission. Their study, published last year, contained an estimate for how long they thought this mission would go before the first fatality. The answer: 68 days.

So is this mission technically and financially feasible at all? Not very, or at least not yet – the farthest any human has travelled from Earth is 400,000 km, and that was sort of by accident (the Apollo 13 accident). Mars’ average distance from Earth is about 225 million km away – and given the state of current space technology (which won’t magically improve overnight even if enough money is thrown at it), the candidates are unlikely to last 68 seconds on Mars, let alone 68 days, even if they even get there.

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