After mankind reached the moon the next target set for manned space exploration was Mars. However if we learned anything from the Moon is that the conditions on other celestial bodies are not likely to be the same as those on Earth. Even though Mars is considered the most Earth-like planet in the Solar System, conditions on mars are quite harsh compared to Earth. Any astronaut going to Mars would have to face several obstacles in order to stay long term on Mars.
The most important aspect of what makes a planet is its atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere helps support life by the providing the oxygen most air breathing organisms need to survive. Mars has barely any atmosphere. In fact the Atmosphere of Mars is so thin that it is 200 times less massive than Earth’s atmosphere. On top of that over 95 percent of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. However breathable air is not the only issue. A planet’s atmosphere also acts as a natural barrier against high energy radiation from the Sun. Mars’ atmosphere is not thick enough to do this function effectively enough for humans.
Another challenge for any human explore on Mars is the climate. On average the temperature on Mars is minus 50 degrees Celsius. On top of that the tilt of Mars ‘axis gives it seasons just like Earth. This means during its winters it can get even colder. Another challenge from the climate is dust storms. Even though the atmosphere of Mars is less dense it can still produce winds strong enough to stir up dust from the surface of the planet These storms have proven challenging to operating landers and rovers on Mars.
High level radiation on the surface of the planet is another problem that astronauts would have to deal with. The amount of radiation on the surface of Mars is not lethal over short periods of time, but due to the distance of the planet from Earth a long term mission would be necessary. This means that the risk to high exposure over a period of time would be a major danger for astronauts coming to Mars.
Knowing more about the conditions on Mars is an important step to planning manned mission to Mars. Before Apollo 11 happened countless test flights and research was done to make sure that the spacecraft and equipment could support life in the harsh environment of the Moon. The knowledge of the obstacles that a manned flight to Mars entails is vital in making such a long and dangerous mission safe for astronauts.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about Mars. Listen here, Episode 52: Mars.