Mars and why we’ll get there

Posted by Dick McNally
on Sunday, October 22, 2006

Recently a learned scientist called me to tell me why we’ll never make it to Mars. According to this fine gentleman, humans will not be able to stand up to the assault of solar radiation while traveling to the Red Planet or while on Mars’ surface, especially because of the extended length of time such a mission would take.

His argument made sense.  It seems there is currently no way to adequately shield humans from the lethal radiation outside Earth’s magnetic field (Apollo astronauts were in danger, but not nearly to the extent Mars voyagers would be).

While the scientist on the phone was probably correct about the potential danger of a Mars mission, I feel quite certain he was wrong about whether we will go there.  We will find ways to protect humans during their voyage. Here’s why:

Anyone looking at potential lunar missions back in the ‘50s could have easily concluded that they would be far too dangerous to undertake. Many knowledgeable people would have agreed.

But when President Kennedy declared in 1961 that we would visit the Moon within the decade, danger became an academic discussion. We decided to go and then dealt with the danger. In 8 years and 2 months, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were walking on the Moon.

That’s what we’ll do with Mars. We’ll find innovative ways to keep astronauts from being injured by cosmic rays. We’ll successfully fly humans to Mars and then return them, and then ask:
“What’s next?”

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