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NASA decodes hazards of human spaceflight to Mars

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In a bid to make an organized effort to overcome the obstacles that lie before a human journey to Mars, NASA has decoded some hazards that astronauts can encounter on a continual basis on the Red Planet.

The space agency’s Human Research Programme (HRP) used ground-based analogs, laboratories, and the International Space Station (ISS), to evaluate human performance and countermeasures required for the exploration of Mars, expected to be in the 2030s.

The team divided the hazards into five classifications — radiation; isolation and confinement; distance from Earth; gravity (or lack thereof); and hostile or closed environments.

“Above Earth’s natural protection, radiation exposure increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, can alter cognitive function, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes,” NASA said in a statement on Monday.

To mitigate this, deep space vehicles will have significant protective shielding, dosimetry, and alerts.

Further, crews are to be carefully chosen, trained and supported to ensure they can work effectively as a team for months or years in space.

Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization, and work overload compound issue isolated and confined and may lead to performance decrements, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.

Another hazard is the distance from Earth. Mars is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth and, as the astronauts would be leaving for roughly three years.

For example, when astronauts aboard the ISS face a medical event or emergency, the crew can return home within hours.

Additionally, cargo vehicles continually resupply the crews with fresh food, medical equipment, and other resources. However, once you burn your engines for Mars, there is no turning back and resupply.

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