Sunday, April 3, 2016

Is Building a Colony on Mars a Suicide Mission?

With the way humans have been developing technology over the past fifty years, it seems like a trip to Mars is inevitable. Whether it takes us twenty years or one hundred years, humans will eventually go to Mars. Many scientists today believe that we currently have the resources needed to send humans to Mars. For some of the plans that have been proposed, the humans we send would not come back. That is because once they get to Mars, they will attempt to build a self-sustaining colony there and a return trip home may be too difficult if the colony fails. So, if we send humans to Mars with the goal of building a colony, are we essentially sending people to their deaths? While there are many psychological risks that could have dangerous consequences, I will focus on the physical risks that could potentially kill the astronauts before or shortly after they reach Mars.

One of the reasons why people may die either before reaching Mars or shortly after is due to radiation. Without the Earth’s magnetic field and dense atmosphere to protect them, humans would be at a much higher risk to develop cancer. In addition, high radiation levels may have an effect on the heart or central nervous system which could potentially cause death. This problem could be minimized if we choose people who have a genetic resistance to radiation. In places such as Ramsar, Iran, the beaches near Guarapari, Brazil, and Yangjiang, China, there are high levels of natural radiation, but below average cancer rates meaning many of them are more likely to have a genetic resistance to radiation. However, even with people like this, there is still a high chance that they would die much sooner than they would had they stayed on Earth.

Many of the other heath risks associated with going to Mars have to do with the effect of weightlessness and reduced gravity on the human body. When humans experience an extended amount of time without gravity, their muscles atrophy and and their bones quickly become weaker as they experience bone loss. Weightlessness also causes humans to experience cognitive problems similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These medical concerns could cause a huge problem when the astronauts actually get to Mars. Since their bodies will be much weaker, it could be difficult for these people to lift the heavy objects necessary to build their colony in reduced gravity. Allowing the astronauts to run on a treadmill in microgravity as part of their training could minimize the risk, but again it would still be very difficult for these people to not only live a long life on Mars, but thrive.

It has been no secret that a trip to Mars could have deadly consequences. As with any exploration, venturing into the unknown comes with risk. However, there is some concern that even if the Mars trip is successful, the astronauts will probably die much sooner than they would have on Earth. So, is building a colony on Mars a suicide mission? It absolutely is. No matter what happens, the people we send will most likely not come back. But, this should not cause too much concern. These volunteers would die doing something remarkable by having the chance to go where no human has ever gone before. We should not be afraid to let them face this challenge.


- Autumn Hair