Science Questions

Travel time to Mars

Sun, 25th May 2008

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Question

Brian, Harlow asked:

If a man voyages to Mars. If it takes 4.5 years to get to Mars and 4.5 years back I think it will be impossible for someone to spend 9 years aboard a space ship. What do you think?

Answer

That is probably quite pessimistic I think it takes less than 4.5 years to get to Mars, for example  Phoenix  only took 10 months to get there, and if you were carrying  people  you  would  probably  travel  faster. Probably somewhere around 6 months or so, depending exactly the orbits and the trajectories that you're looking at and how close Mars is to Earth at the time.

The way it's normally done is that every two years Mars does a close swing past of Earth. That's when we launch all our space missions: every 2 years. What you're looking at for a human mission is you're either going to go there and back, quickly while Mars is close or you go there, stay for 2 years and then come back again.

One of the worries with human health isn't just the microgravity and that making our bones thin.  Radiation on Mars is going to be a serious problem because it doesn't have the atmosphere that the Earth does and it doesn't have the magnetic field that the Earth does to protect us.  It's not just the space journey. It's also on Mars itself. we're going to have to think very carefully about how we shield our astronauts.

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