NASA hopes Curiosity will do more than fire lasers and dig up water while visiting Mars. The trip is also a precursor to colonizing the Red Planet, even though such a mission would be expensive, dangerous, and lonely for astronauts who take the journey of at least 33 million miles, USA Today reports. In fact, with US politicians dismissing any such plans, private flights and a planned Dutch reality show may get there before anyone else.
Why the cold feet from NASA? Besides the price, consider that:
- Solar storm radiation would make the trip highly dangerous. Even hiding behind a shield on a spacecraft, travelers risk lifetime exposure to "cataracts, skin damage, central nervous system damage, and impaired immune systems," along with cancers, says one report.
- Daytime temperatures on Mars hover around freezing and dip to -103 Fahrenheit at night. The thin carbon dioxide atmosphere can kill in one breath, and the radiation is equal to 240 chest X-rays over six months.
- On the bright side, gravity equal to 38% of Earth's would make jumping around quite fun—if visitors weren't spending their days hiding from radiation underground, making oxygen and methane fuel from carbon deposits and water that may exist there.
- Calling home wouldn't be easy. The distance from Mars to Earth shifts from 33 million to 249 million miles, so a simple "hello" could take up to 21 minutes to reach either end.
Sound depressing? Not to everyone: "This would be the most exciting adventure I could possibly imagine," says SpaceX chief Elon Musk. Click for the full article.