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Humans are obsessed with life on Mars. In fact, Mars could’ve been habitable for life until about 3.5 million years ago. And for the past 60 years or so, researchers have been studying Mars to see how planets change over time and to see if it has ever had life. Or if it could host life again.
So, why do humans even want to go to Mars? For one, we’re way better at making scientific discoveries than robots. Scientists estimate that humans could make discoveries 10,000 times as fast as the spacecraft we send there, according to our fave fun scientist, Bill Nye. Another reason: we’re making it impossible for humans to thrive on Earth. With climate change and pollution, Earth is becoming less habitable, so we might just need to pack up our bags and get out of here.
So, what challenges would we face in trying Martian life?
For one, Mars is actually not that easy to land on, as it’s too far for mission control to do that remotely. That means the landing sequence has to be preprogrammed into the spacecraft, and that could lead to many errors. Mars’s atmosphere is almost non-existent, which adds to landing complications. Radiation is also a threat there, as there’s no magnetic field to lend protection. Nanoparticles of red dust present their own dangers to machinery and astronauts, carrying cancerous compounds and getting into astronauts’ eyes and lungs.
On top of all that, astronauts have to worry about bringing everything they’ll need, which is difficult for such a long mission. As scientist and sci-fi writer Simon Morden explained: “Every pound of lander – the batteries, the solar panels, the scientific experiments – needs several kilograms of fuel in the sky crane. And every kilogram of fuel in the sky crane requires several more kilograms of fuel on the rocket that takes it to Mars orbit. ... Rocketry is at the very limits of our capabilities, getting a rover the size of a subcompact down to the ground.”
To this day, only uncrewed spacecraft have landed on the planet – no humans yet. But NASA wants us to get there sometime in the 2030s. It’s currently creating a space capsule, Orion, to transport humans to the moon and possibly further.