Travelling to Mars

NASA is going back to the moon. The Artemis Project is the next step in human exploration and seeks to establish a human presence on the Moon. This is for future exploration to take humans to Mars.

Mars: Credit NASA

There are considerable issues with sustaining the health and fitness of humans with long journeys into Space and on planets with different gravitational forces than our own.

A research team from the Australian National University (ANU) has simulated the impact of prolonged exposure to zero gravity on the cardiovascular system to determine whether the human body can tolerate Mars’ gravitational forces — which aren’t as strong as on Earth — without fainting or suffering a medical emergency when stepping out of a spacecraft.  

Dr Lex van Loon, a Research Fellow from the ANU Medical School, explained:

“We know it takes about six to seven months to travel to Mars and this could cause the structure of your blood vessels or the strength of your heart to change due to the weightlessness experienced as a result of zero gravity space travel.

“With the rise of commercial space flight agencies like Space X and Blue Origin, there’s more room for rich but not necessarily healthy people to go into space, so we want to use mathematical models to predict whether someone is fit to fly to Mars.” 

Due to a communication delay in relaying messages between Mars and Earth, astronauts must be able to carry out their duties without receiving immediate assistance from support crews. Dr van Loon said this window of radio silence differs depending on the alignment of the Sun, Earth and Mars in its orbit, but could last for at least 20 minutes.  

Dr Emma Tucker, Astrophysicist and emergency medicine registrar, said:

“When you’re on Earth, gravity is pulling fluid to the bottom half of our body, which is why some people find their legs begin to swell up toward the end of the day. But when you go into space that gravitational pull disappears, which means the fluid shifts to the top half of your body and that triggers a response that fools the body into thinking there’s too much fluid.

“As a result, you start going to the toilet a lot, you start getting rid of extra fluid, you don’t feel thirsty and you don’t drink as much, which means you become dehydrated in space. 

“This is why you might see astronauts on the news faint when they step foot on Earth again. This is quite a common occurrence as a result of space travel, and the longer you’re in space the more likely you are to collapse when you return to gravity. 

“The purpose of our model is to predict, with great accuracy, whether an astronaut can safely arrive on Mars without fainting. We believe it’s possible.” 

“This is why we must be absolutely certain the astronaut is fit to fly and can adapt to Mars’ gravitational field. They must be able to operate effectively and efficiently with minimal support during those crucial first few minutes,”  added Dr van Loon.

The research, ‘Computational modeling of orthostatic intolerance for travel to Mars’, is published in the journal npj Microgravity


The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission are rolling to Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of launch, currently targeted for Aug. 29. At about 10 p.m. EDT, August 16th, the crawler-transporter began the approximately 4-mile, journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Pad 39B.

See also: Beginners Astronomy: Mars Part 1 and the series Manned Mars Missions – 1 and Manned Mars Missions 2. There are several other articles relating to Mars in The Orkney News – you can find them using the search button.

Ed ‘Old Mars’, ‘New Worlds for Old’ Plate 5, , bw in John Grant, ‘Dictionary of Discarded Ideas’, 1983

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