Earth Science - Other

Is Space Travel to the Planet Mars too Dangerous – No

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"Is Space Travel to the Planet Mars too Dangerous - No"
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The dangers of a manned mission to Mars are significant. Between the long duration exposure to the various cosmic radiations that need to be endured outside the protection of the Earth's magnetic field to the issues of consumable supplies and life support considerations, there are any number of things that could result in a fatal end to the mission. Many of these same issues were concerns during the Apollo missions of the 1960's, yet we managed to achieve what prior to 1968 was thought to be an impossible task of landing a man on the moon.

To label an endeavor too dangers is to apply subjective terms to known risks in achieving an objective. During the Apollo moon missions the public sentiment in America was vastly different than it is today. We were in the midst of the space race at the time. Each stride in the race to the moon meant another technological achievement over the Soviet Union, not only in the domination of space but in something much more sober, the missile race. We were motivated then by factors that simply don't exist today. The absence of the incentives offered by the Apollo program make us look at any current long term dangerous manned space missions with much more caution, skepticism and budget considerations.

While there were truly legitimate scientific reasons for the moon landings, the real motivation was more political than scientific. A manned mission to Mars lacks the political implications imparted on the Apollo missions. Mars missions would be purely for scientific purposes. Purposes which seem to be filled by the efforts of the current crop of low cost unmanned craft currently on the planet and in the design phases. These unmanned missions allow us to gather the scientific data we need within the budget constraints of a much indebted economy without risking the lives of our astronauts.

Our current approach to the exploration of Mars is a very safe and secure way of gaining the scientific knowledge we desire. The same approach could have been applied to the moon missions without risking any lives at all. What was realized in the 1960's was that exploration is more than just obtaining data, it's about the very act and adventure of exploring. This is a mindset that seems to have been lost since those monumental flights from Florida almost forty years ago. Man has a need to explorer, something that was self evident since the earliest examples of human existence on our planet.

Missions to Mars by men are something that we will one day achieve once we recapture that adventurous explorer spirit again. Until we are ready to take the risks necessary to move us to the next level of space exploration we will be relegated to obtaining our data through the cold, unfeeling instruments of our marvelous little automated inventions. While they can roam the red planet collecting images and analyzing soil and chemical samples, they simply cannot capture the public's imagination like having a human being set foot on the planet for the first time. We need to recapture that essence of exploration and overcome the concerns so that we can take the risks necessary for further exploration.

We have the technology today to make a trip to Mars possible. A six month trip through the cold and dangerous void of space with today's technology is not without its risks. Nor will it be risk free in the foreseeable future. Space travel is a very dangerous business no matter when or how you partake in it. Just as exploring the sea was equally dangerous six hundred years ago when the western world was convinced the world was flat. Such risks and fears did not hold back the adventurous explorers of Europe then, nor should it hold us back today.

Using today's technology we can provide a modicum of comfort and safety to small crews traveling through space. We've already proven that long duration space exposure is possible through the studies done on both the Russian MIR Space Station and the International Space Station. Plans have already been put forth for vessels capable of making the six month trip to Mars, setting up a research environment and returning the explorers safely back to Earth. These plans have been deemed too dangerous not because of some impossibility of safely returning the members of the team. They are too dangerous because we as a society are incapable of extending our curiosities to the point of allowing such explorations to take place today.

Perhaps it's the lack of the political competition with the Soviet Union that has robbed us of our adventurous spirit. Perhaps it's the repeated tragedies that have befallen our near Earth space shuttle program with the losses of the Challenger and the Columbia shuttles. Each catastrophe that we are struck with demonstrates just how dangerous even orbital flights can be let alone interplanetary flights. While these losses are tragic to everyone, those that have given their lives in such a way would surely have disagreed with our current practice of allowing fear to halt our explorations.

We must move past the notion that space travel can only be allowed if done safely. Space travel will never be safe, despite what many people would have us believe. At least it will not achieve any desired level of safety in our lifetime. Regardless of what marvelous technological advances we may make over the coming years, space travel will always be dangerous. Whether that travel is suborbital commercial flights, orbital shuttle flights, manned missions back to the moon or interplanetary travel to Mars; it will continue to be dangerous.

We cannot allow fear of the possible dangers hold us back. The brave men who put their lives on the line during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions did not, nor did the brave souls who gave their lives in the shuttle tragedies. Therefore we must look at the risks involved in traveling to Mars, do our best to overcome them and accept the dangers we cannot control, pushing onward with our quest for exploration to the Red Planet.

More about this author: Joseph Whalen

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