back to article Dry, cold and volatile: How to survive Mars, and your fellow crew

What did you want to be when you grew up? Chances are as a follower of Dr Who, you wanted to be a Time lord. While travel in time sadly isn’t on the cards, space travel is becoming a reality with Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo working through 50-plus rocket-powered test flights to qualify for passenger flights and with the …


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    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "While travel in time sadly isn’t on the cards"

      I would go but only accompanied by 150 nubile young women. If they radiation didn't get me then the physical exertion would, at least I'd have a smile on my face.

      1. paulc

        Re: "While travel in time sadly isn’t on the cards"

        with strict weight limits, you'd be lucky to take a blow-up doll, pump and puncture repair kit with you... ;)

        it's that or get used to taking turns in the "Barrel"... old navy joke...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You will of course need a visa

      From Martian Immigration, failure to have the provided documentation will result in you being eaten or sent back after spending time in the deportation centre.

  2. Crisp

    They do a lot of work on the psychological of people

    I'm sure they do.

  3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Mental health

    I didn't sign up for Mars although the prospect of going there sounds terribly cool (and I don't mean just the temperature). But I would seriously question the mental health of everyone (including me) wanting to go there on such a suicide trip.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mental health

      but if the only mental health flaw is "wanting to go to Mars on a suicide trip", then such a person might well be mentally) ideal.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        @AC 11:56 (Re: Mental health...

        Sounds like a catch, a Catch-22!

    2. Lottie

      Re: Mental health

      I dunno. Travelling to Mars and dying of old age/ whatever is a suicide trip, but I feel that it would be much cooler than waiting the same amount of time to die on Earth.

      Yes, there are added dangers in the journey and hostile environemnt, but offsetting that is the removal of earth based problems like motorways and facebook-instead-of-concentrating truck drivers.

    3. Chozo

      Re: Mental health

      Bill Frug's (aka Pinback) video diary from the movie 'Darkstar' should be required watching.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Mental health

        Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tensing were on a suicide trip, for all we knew.

        The Wright brothers.

        Scott of the Antarctic (actual suicide mission!)

        Just about any pioneer, adventurer, or explorer, in fact. Because the whole point is that you need people willing to push boundaries and PROVE that it's possible, and those kinds of people tend to have a little bit of "nutter" about them.

        Thank God for that. Or we'd still be stuck in the Stone Age.

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: Mental health

          There I make a light hearted comment about the impossibility to find suitable travellers and you're going all serious! ;-)

          Seriously, I agree with you, Lee D. But I believe even Scott, with his untested material, didn't think he would die. Mars on the other hand...well, once there is some habitable space there, why not...

    4. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

      Re: Mental health

      Mental health: To think that that AC on 21st November 2013 12:02 GMT wants to go with 150 women. He'll be crazy before he even gets into earth orbit. Talk about cold and volatile... Anyway, that's just my view.

      It sounds to me like this whole radiation problem is going to be the thing that will keep you people on earth for a long time to come.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So only about 140x further than human kind has *ever* traveled

    One thing continues to baffle me.

    Why send a single ship?

    Given the learning curve it makes much more sense to build a pair (or more), given how much they will have sunk in R&D.

    1. Roger Varley

      Re: So only about 140x further than human kind has *ever* traveled

      So that would be the Arcs A,B & C then?

    2. Grave

      Re: So only about 140x further than human kind has *ever* traveled

      Why send a single ship?

      actually if you read through the mission roadmap:

      crew missions are sent every two years, with cargo missions inbetween

    3. Chris Johnson

      Re: So only about 140x further than human kind has *ever* traveled

      Exactly right.

      How this for an idea:

      1) 2x manned ships, reduced cargo requirements due to 2 with enlarged engines/fuel capacity.

      2) 2x unmanned ship for cargo such as food, water, camping equipment sent prior to manned departure

      3) 1x unmanned ship such as the pogo-ing rocket being tested at the moment for return journey.

      They are looking at 2020/30 before this goes live so there is plenty of time.


      1. Grave

        Re: So only about 140x further than human kind has *ever* traveled

        i would also include:

        space travel - liquid nutrition only, its much more efficient than solid nutrition (waste management/etc). this is both well researched and tested form of nutrition. people who want fancy and tasty food should stay on earth if they can't control themselves and are slaves of their bodies :)

        as for power source, there are several small and safe reactor designs capable of providing power over decades

  5. Nigel 11


    They are looking for completely sane well-adjusted people willing to take a one-way trip away from almost all of their fellow humans. Volunteers for a certain death much sooner than would be expected if they didn't go. Hmmm.

    Worse, they're looking now, not a few months before departure.

    Their best hope would be to look for candidates much closer to departure. They might find some suitable ones, but only if they select from people with terminal cancer who will survive long enough to get to Mars and do a bit of exploring. Such people would also have a lot less to fear from solar flares, since the (almost) worst case radiation damage has already happened to them.

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: Catch-22?

      They are looking for completely sane well-adjusted people willing to take a one-way trip away from almost all of their fellow humans.

      One might argue that a willingness, nay a desire, to get away from almost everyone else on this planet is one of the classic symptoms of sanity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Catch-22?

        Send a hermit?

    2. annodomini2

      Re: Catch-22?

      Nuclear sub crew, they are accustomed to cramped, radiation riddled, cut off from the world environment already.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only a few hundred years ago, people undertook ocean voyages with only a 50:50 chance of making it through alive.

    Those that didn't die in storms the scurvy rest did slaughter!

  7. jubtastic1

    I honestly don't see the point

    It's almost as inhospitable as space, and there's nothing humans could do there that robots couldn't do on our behalf, and the argument about all our eggs being in one basket is dishonest, no colony is going to survive long term if earth stops sending supplies.

    Orbital space stations make more sense for ensuring humanities survival, coupled with a *very* long term automated terraforming project for Mars to get it to the point where you're not dying the moment you step outside your habitat.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: I honestly don't see the point

      The point? Getting there only to find the remains of an ancient civilisation who set out to move to earth because their own planet was bloody cold and hostile. Now that is what I'd call irony.

      Other valid points are because we can (although not yet) or for the fun of it. That's sufficient reason for me.

    2. Grave

      Re: I honestly don't see the point

      while orbital space stations make sense and it is a logical expansion of "earth > space stations > other planets" progression, this isn't necessarily how stuff works in reality, people weren't building floating islands before they ventured to other islands/continents.

      as for terraforming, that is such a narrowminded way of thinking:

      it makes much more sense for people to adapt to the environment, over generations. we are human, we adapt and therefore we survive :)

      imo this will be a combination of light terraforming, natural adaptation and geneforming (genetic engineering). over time process of adapting planet to human condition and humans to planetary conditions meet halfway. people and worlds will be so different in future, amazing and awesome.

    3. No, I will not fix your computer
      Thumb Up

      Re: I honestly don't see the point

      The point is purely because (we think) we can.

      For survival, space stations are quite limited because of the complete lack of any resource available.

      The moon is a far more logical step, the very limited gravity has the disadvantage of not being long-term healthy for humans evolved for stronger gravity, but has the massive advantage of being able to leave the surface with a relatively light fuel requirement.

      Mars has a few advantages, the stronger gravity means the effects of things like osteoporosis (while still significant) are reduced, it looks like there's more water, and even a few big chunks of metal laying around (although processing meteorites is far from trivial).

      For me, Mars feels like trying to run before we can walk, the Moon just seems so much more sensible, we could have been shipping automatically assembled living quarters there since the 1960's or even just lightweight structural materials for later assembly when the robotic technology catches up.

      It's quite a soft landing on the Moon compared with Mars - anyone who watched the animations of how the latest rover got to the surface of Mars will understand that the gravity coupled with almost no atmosphere means getting delicate things like rovers and people on the surface isn't easy.

      I see two parallel programs;

      #1 Get "stuff" to Mars, oxygen/water harvesters, automate resource collection, investigate metals processing, habitat creation, get it full automatic and stable, iron out the bugs before it's life and death, have plenty of multiple redundancy systems in place.

      #2 Get "stuff" to the Moon, this will be far more "escapable" so redundancy is less critical, a return pod is possible, orbiting resources that can be staged to the Moon or Mars, trial run the stuff that will be used at Mars, the Moon is a perfect test bed (OK, not identical, but it really is so good I can't see the reason not go go there first .

      My guess, while the western world is sending corpses to Mars, the eastern world will create moon bases and colonies that naturally populate the less trendy places like the Moon and Europa.

    4. jubtastic1

      Re: I honestly don't see the point

      Replies to points made above.

      1) Because we can.

      No, we can't, we're arguably within grasp of sending people there to die horribly, but a sustainable healthy colony or even a return trip isn't on the cards.

      2) For fun.

      A hotel on the top of Mt Everest would be fun, we're not doing it though, something about a death zone.

      3) Terraforming? pft, evolve humans to the mars environment.

      It's pretty much a vacuum, if we could design humans for life on mars why not go the whole hog and design them to live in space? there's loads of room in space. If we terraform Mars while mutating humans we're not going to meet in the 'middle' we're going to meet when Mars is mostly terraformed.

      4) We didn't build floating Islands.

      We would have if it turned out that you died as soon as you stepped foot on the land we just discovered, if the only way of exploring them was in an airtight pressurised suit, or maybe we wouldn't have bothered until we could build machines that could survive in that hell hole.

      5) No resources in orbit, We'd be better off building stations on the Moon or Mars.

      The reason Orbit is good is that it's just at the top of our gravity well, easy to supply compared with the Moon, loads of free sunlight and if it all goes pear shaped you can come back down the well.

      We are nowhere near the tech capability that If Earth was ever so fucked up that coming back down wasn't an option a moon or mars colony would be ok, and until that changes orbit is where we should be focussing.

  8. MJI Silver badge

    Getting back

    My own approach is send fuel or boosters for the return flight a few years before on a slow flight and use them when you get there.

  9. MJI Silver badge

    No Starbuck

    Which one

    Dirk Benedict original or Katee Sackoff off the TPBTV* remake

    * Well it was after they stopped showing them on Freeview.

  10. Phil W

    Improper definition of distance.

    On the first page the article says " but at its nearest Mars is less than 35 million miles (54.6 million kilometres) away".

    This is not an appropriate way to describe a distance.

    My keyboard is less than 35 million miles away from me.

    My local supermarket is also less than 35 million miles away.

    The Earth's moon is also less than 35 million miles away.

    Does that mean they are all also a comparable distance to Mars?

    Saying "a little less than 35 million miles" or "just under 35 million miles" or "approximately 35 million miles" are all significantly more accurate (though still not very specific) than saying "less than 35 million miles", which by definition includes all values between 0 and 34,999,999.999...

  11. John 110

    There is always...

    ...the Aldrin Cycler ( Earth to Mars in 5 months. Sounds OK, I'll have two...

  12. All names Taken

    Huh! Don't believe any of that at all!

    The Tardis doesn't need you to be superfit n healthy.

    Just watch any of the episodes (the Earth bound ones) and you'll also see that the whole cluster of dwellings can be carried in the Tardis and (it is a really big A-N-D) with its time warping features the Tardis could arrive on Mars a few days before it set of from Earth.

  13. i1ya

    As far as I remember, actor on the first picture plays Chuck Yeager, not Sam Shepard

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Correct: actor Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager - and not a Mercury astronaut. Unlike Alan Shepard who is also in the film (played by Scott Glenn. Not John Glenn, he's a different Mercury astronaut, played by Ed Harris. Sadly I think the name game stops here :-) )

      1. Ian 55

        It is still a film about the Mercury astronauts, and who got to be one and who, despite having the Right Stuff, was a hick from the sticks and didn't. Plus the derision the astronauts got ('spam in a can') from the 'real' pilots until they performed.

  14. Graham Jordan


    Maybe down to my complete lack of scientific knowledge but I've never understood the fascination with terraforming Mars.

    I appreciate once on the planet even with today’s technology an astronaut could survive in a pod until his resources run out so that makes a trip there encouraging. Turning the planet green is a dam site easier on Mars than anywhere else in the solar system but a blue sky and plenty of oxygen won't change the gravity (or lack of it) situation.

    In a future where getting to Mars takes days/weeks rather than months/years the idea of travelling between two worlds, even for just a holiday isn't unrealistic. But doesn't the lack of gravity fuck up your body? Isn't that why astronauts are meant to work out all the time? To keep their bone density acting normally?

    If theories are correct then water was brought to Earth on a comet. A big smash is also theorised as to the reason the Earth is on a wonky angle giving us seasons. So therefore would it not be possible to send a shit load of probes out to the Oort cloud, use gravitational pulling or any other means (would nukes do the job?) to push ice balls into the inner solar system and strike Venus? Run away greenhouse gases can be curbed even with today's technology, as long as we can cool the planet down enough to set foot on it.

    Venus is ideal for us in size, density and gravity. The insanely long days aren’t as detrimental to our health as obesity with no bones, and I’m pretty sure the right sized rock(s) at the right angle could speed up the rotation.

    My knowledge on the workings of the solar system are based on Wikipedia, Morgan Freeman’s dodgy Through the Wormhole and that other documentary with that man in it. I’m hardly the pinnacle of expertise. Just based on what I know it seems a no brainer to go elsewhere.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Terraforming

      You couldn't terraform Mars to be perfectly livable. It's just too small and lacks gravity. But you could, with enough super-engineering, get it to the point of 'close enough' - a place where you could nip out for a stroll in a lightweight environment suit and breather, and grow your crops under an inflatable dome.

      Venus, on the other hand, is hotter than Hell. And it rains acid. Not going to happen unless you want to try building a gigantic sunshade the size of an entire planet.

    2. noominy.noom

      Re: Terraforming

      Not sure why the downvotes. You didn't really say anything deserving an upvote, but since you didn't deserve a downvote have an upvote.

    3. Benjol

      Re: Terraforming

      As I understand it, the rather larger problem is having a solid core, so no magnetic field, and thus even if you did manage to create an atmosphere, it would just get 'blown' away again.

      But I also have your level of expertise...

  15. Gene Cash Silver badge

    REALLY really good book about this

    I just finished "Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach... this was kind of an eye opener, and it wasn't the usual "space is so WUNDERFULZZ!" nor was it another "do you know how people POOP in SPACE?" book either. She talked to a lot of astronauts, cosmonauts, and the sort of people that organize things like Mars 500.

    She talked about what it's like to sit in a Gemini capsule for two weeks right next to another guy who can't go anywhere either, and what happens to your skin, and the smell and all the joys of not being able to change clothes or shower. She talks about space sickness and why it's apparently different from sea sickness. She talks about how the Skylab shower was an exercise in not drowning and why it was only used a couple times. She talks about 8Gs for nearly 5 minutes in a Soyuz ballistic re-entry after 6 months of weightlessness. She talks about some of the unexpected things, like how a folded sheet of plastic can become a cup for drinking tea in space by utilizing surface tension. She also talks about how one of the MIR commanders didn't hesitate to settle an argument with a punch in the snoot.

    It's pretty damn good. I'm going to have to get her other books. I think the sort of folks that would like this article would like that book.

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: REALLY really good book about this

      For those who prefer fiction, or more precisely science-function with "science" part not omitted for a change, I strongly recommend The Martian by Andy Weir.

    2. Zebo-the-Fat

      Re: REALLY really good book about this

      Yes, I read it about 6 months ago, I remember a nicely gruesome description of the effects of high G deceleration on rat testicles!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Without radical progress in reducing the speed of the Mars journey"

    Err, duration, not speed?

  17. Arachnoid


    Wouldn't it make more sense to send an automated home kit and energy station first and have it report back when established.Given the need for weight reduction maybe having a way of making large room size voids under the planet surface and filling with a balloon type liner might be a better structure to start with that way the building material is kept to a minimum.

    1. Mike Brown

      Re: Habitats

      I think the problem would be that robots wouldnt be able, even with cameras and controllers back on earth, to make habitats without people being there to ensure saftey and sustainablity. There is only so much info you can get from a TV screen.

      1. No, I will not fix your computer

        Re: Habitats

        >>I think the problem would be that robots wouldnt be able, even with cameras and controllers back on earth, to make habitats without people being there to ensure saftey and sustainablity.

        Why not?

        The electronics could test a stable pressure, a balanced N+O2 air environment

        >>There is only so much info you can get from a TV screen.

        And being there when you discover that the Nitrogen/Oxygen ratio was round the wrong way or that the habitat has no roof due to a meteorite smashing into it has what advantages? at the end of the day, sensors will tell you everything, whether you're there or not, when Apollo 13 sprung an O2 leak, they could see venting from a viewport, this only confirmed that the sensors were right, they got back alive because a massive amount of hands on work, which was only required because they were there, and was only possible because of the dry runs and testing on earth, the crew of Apollo 13 achieved a massive victory against fate because of their skill and because they exactly followed a plan designed on earth from sensor readings.

  18. Grave

    winds estimated to be upwards of 90kmph

    "Low thermal inertia contributes to freezing winds estimated to be upwards of 90kmph (60mph)."

    sounds like a sensationalist nonsense, if i'm not mistaken because of WAY thinner atmosphere and lower pressure, effect of wind at this speed is comparable to a light breeze on earth.

    1. No, I will not fix your computer

      Re: winds estimated to be upwards of 90kmph

      >>sounds like a sensationalist nonsense,

      Sounds like a factual statement

      >>if i'm not mistaken because of WAY thinner atmosphere and lower pressure, effect of wind at this speed is comparable to a light breeze on earth.

      Wind, yes (perhaps) but when there's Martian dust, which is very fine (and microscopically "sharp") means it's only comparable by it's difference - it's not air, and don't forget the inverse square, rovers tend to be small, exposing a small surface (of mostly hard-wearing materials), habitats with joints (for doors), large surface areas, the fine dust will (individually) carry a lot of energy - like a small metal fragment of space junk in orbit carries a lot of energy if it's travelling faster (and that's without taking into account of any corrosive effects of the dust).

  19. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Surely the way to do it is send a teleporter base station first.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I knew all my endless hours of Doom training were not for nothing.

  20. Marshalltown

    Pretty sure ...

    "Without radical progress in reducing the speed of the Mars journey ..."

    I'm pretty sure you would want _increased_ speed. There are several propulsion systems being studied that appear to be practical and would decrease trip significantly once they are deployed.

  21. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Radiation issues can be addressed.....

    1: using a magnetic deflector for particles

    2: bringing LOTS of water, and storing it in the bit of the ship that's between you and the Sun...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Radiation issues can be addressed.....

      Are you aware of the power needed for either a magnet that can deflect high energy charged particles, or to accelerate that much water to the necessary velocity?

      Your solution is to fix the radiation problem by making the trip energetically impossible. Works, but not as intended.

    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: Radiation issues can be addressed.....

      Isn't there an area in Russia (or former USSR) with a naturally high radiation level, which does not pose any problem for its residents? They, allegedly, have adopted to the radiation through evolutionary selection.

      Breed with them - there's anyway enough time till a manned mars mission is ready - and send the offspring.

  22. OrsonX

    Crispy Chilli Beef

    So are you saying that I couldn't have CCB & spring rolls on my way to Mars?

    Screw the radiation, there's the deal breaker.

  23. Herbert Fruchtl

    We don't need no stinking planets

    We are not made for other planets. Not in this solar system, anyway. If we anyway depend on lots of supporting technology, we may as well just stay in space. In a rotating space station, you can adjust gravity to exactly what you need. The radiation problem is solvable. Just make the walls thick enough and of the right material (I know it's not quite that simple, but it can be done). Energy is free and comes from the sun. Water and organic material can be largely recycled (it's called composting). It just has to be big enough. You will need some external supplies (unless you start mining asteroids or at least catching cosmic dust. That will take some technological development, but again, it can be done).

    And then those staying behind can continue destroying their stupid planet, because we're outta here!

    1. Grave

      Re: We don't need no stinking planets

      We are not made for other planets.

      only first half of that sentence is right. we are not made.

      we adapt to environmental changes, either through direct changes in physical conduit (body) or through high level control systems (you as a sentient and sapient entity) which allows us to modify and create other support subsystems for survival machine our body is (clothing, buildings, technology, etc). its not a binary system, its an everchanging balance of all subsystems. how do you think we got to survive harsh european environment (when compared to paradise point of origin was, with non fatal weather and plenty of nutritious sources throughout entire year).

      observing, thinking, learning, imagining and inventing. there would be no modern civilization with advanced technologies without people who ventured to these harsh lands and survived. humans would be still living in trees.

  24. Outcast

    Penal Colony Mars

    Now where could we send all those peado's & murderers etc that's out of the way and they won't be coming back, Well. Not for a long time anyway. ?

    Don't knock it as it's worked a couple of times before and now one of those colonies is the most powerful nation on the planet and the other is a really nice place !!

  25. LordHighFixer

    I am one of the mars one applicants

    And for how mentally stable I am, well, I frequent this place, and I think that says it all. Also, I am old enough that by the time I were to get there the increased risk of death from radiation exposure would not really be much of an issue.

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