Inside NASA's Mission To Take Us To Mars

Astronaut James F Reilly on what it will take to live on the red planet

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With NASA currently working on a mission to send manned shuttles to Mars by 2040, moving your family out to the depths of space may soon be more achievable than it seems.

In order to see how realistic human life on Mars really is, we spoke to James F. Reilly, the former astronaut and doctor of geology currently helping NASA fine-tune their mission to the red planet.

Here are ten things they’ll need to address before we're ready to go.

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1 | Nuclear Rockets Could Get Us To Mars In Five Minutes

"The rockets we're currently using are more or less like sling-shots, which would get us to Mars in 3-4 months. If you really want to get anywhere quickly, we should be using nuclear rockets, which is something we're looking into now.

"Depending on how big you want to build your nuclear rocket, you could cut down on the time it takes to get to Mars dramatically. However, people tend to get worried abour nuclear power being used in space, even though it would have zero chance of doing anything bad."

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2 | We Need To Work Out How To Bring Astronauts Home Again

"The first stage of exploration is called the ‘heroic stage’ where we go somewhere – Antarctica say, or remote jungles – then come back with information. The next stage is the ‘exploitation stage’ where we carry out research. In order for the second stage to work, you have to be able to do the first. That's what we're working towards at NASA."

[Above: Reilly mid space walk]

3 | Space Is Full Of Lethal Radiation

"Technologically, there’s no real reason we couldn’t go to any planet, including Mars. But realistically, space is full of harmful radiation coming from the sun, which would be a problem.

"We put a radiation detector on the Curiosity Rover and found Mars might have too much radiation there for humans, which means we'd have to build something to shield us once we got there."

4 | We’d Have To Build Our Own Ecosystem

"We’ll have to recycle 97% of everything we use on Mars as there’s so few resources there. On Earth, the planet does most of our recycling for us. In effect, we’d have to work out how our planet recycles everything before we go into space, then carry that knowledge with us."


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5 | A Mars Colony Would Need Constant Repairs

"If we do build stations on Mars, I expect it will be a lot like stations they have in the Antarctic right now, which are primarily focused on research.

"Mainly, though, most of life on Mars would be focused on keeping the biosphere habitat running, from making repairs to structures and solar panels, to making sure we have enough water for plants and to raise fish – likely our key source of protein."

6 | We Need To Work Out How To Grow Crops In Space

"There’s a lot of things about growing plants in an enclosed environment that we really don’t understand.

"The main thing we’ve been trying to grow on the I.S.S (International Space Station) is wheat, because it has a high crop yield and also produces oxygen. The Russian cosmonauts love garlic because it’s so simple to grow. We've also got some spruce trees up there right now."

[Above: Reilly (left) preparing to blast off to the I.S.S]

7 | It's Unlikely We'd See Any Little Green Men

"We think there was a significant amount of water on Mars as far back as 3.75 billion years ago, which means life could have developed. If life is still there, it couldn’t survive on the surface due to the high levels of ultraviolet light and radiation. We might find life is under the soil, but DNA-wise, it will be completely different to anything we know here."

8 | We'd Have To Work Out How To Deal With Drastically Reduced Gravity

"Mars’ gravity is about one third that of Earth’s, so we’d probably build something into the biodome system to keep our muscles in Earth shape, in case we wanted to come home. This would be similar to how astronauts on the I.S.S have a daily weights and running programme to combat the effects of zero gravity."

9 | We’ll Likely Be Too Old To Go Up There

"In terms of Mars One’s mission statement, about sending people to colonise and stay alive on Mars by 2027, that’s probably a bit aggressive. In terms of what NASA are doing, we’re sort of operating on a 2036/2040 timescale, and even that would be a little bit ambitious to do work out all the things we need to prepare."

[Above: Reilly has logged 16.5 hours worth of space walks]

10 | We May Be Better Off Sticking To The Moon

"The political opinion is that they don’t want to go to the Moon again, but my opinion is that it’s a great place to test all the stuff we want to take to Mars. We’re only three days from the Moon so if something breaks or your crops fail, you can either come home or we’ll send you replacement parts and more food.

"We’ve done the heroic stage of Moon exploration, so let’s go do the exploitation stage and build those space stations on the Moon that will then take us to Mars."

James Reilly is a Kennedy Space Center ambassador,


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