Humans have big plans for planet Mars. Not only have we set our eyes on the Red Planet to study it, but people like SpaceX’s Elon Musk are actually making serious plans to start a human colony on Earth’s cousin very soon. 

U.S. space agency NASA has set its eyes on exploring the Red Planet via its Mars 2020 mission so it won’t come as a big surprise if humans will also be setting their footprints on Mars’ dusty surface. But how successful could this ambitious mission become? 

Although we have made significant discoveries about Mars, it’s no secret that we’ve barely scratched the surface of its mysteries. Humans are still not sure of what lies beneath the surface of the planet or if there are any living organisms that actually thrive in it. 

We do know a few things about Mars. First is that the planet has very high levels of radiation and that it has a very weak atmosphere and that the planet is very, very cold among others. With what little we know about Mars, some scientists believe that this could cause some significant concerns on how human health could eventually be affected if humans start invading Earth’s closest cousin. 

These concerns were recently discussed during the recent Space Health Innovation Conference where astronauts from NASA shared their views on health concerns for those willing to travel to the Red Planet. 

“When you think about it, it’s really for humans exploring deep space on behalf of all of humanity. Everything that we do creates a new way to do healthcare,” Dorit Donoviel, director at Translational Research Institute for Space Health, said. 

According to a report, scientists, health practitioners and members of the space industry discussed the very real problems of humans traveling to Mars. First of all, Mars will be the farthest that humans will ever venture to space, meaning astronauts can’t just return home to Earth if they encounter any medical emergency. 

“So, the round trip to Mars is nearly three years, and maybe one of [the crew] will be a physician and they are going to have to contend over that long-duration mission far away from Earth without any possibility of return or abort, or any ways of replacing broken parts with normal health concerns,” Donoviel said.

According to the director, even the simplest health concerns could have some major impact on the astronauts’ bodies. 

“Having a simple kidney stone in space, for example, can be life-threatening. In addition to those regular concerns that could occur in that mission, we are going to have the extremely hostile environment of the space environment and the craft. So, we are going to have to contend with situations where they are going to have to provide their own healthcare,” Donoviel explained.

Physical concerns are not the only issues. Even the astronaut’s psychological state could be greatly influenced by the long travel to Mars. 

“How do you relieve that concept of, I can’t have those things I had before? I have no access to that, and maybe you haven’t even anticipated how that confinement was going to affect you. How do you give people self-awareness when they are going down a road where they are going to struggle, and then have tools available when it is actionable that can help them? … It could be virtual reality, it could be augmented reality,” Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist at the NASA Human Research Program, said. 

Layers in Mars' Danielson Crater This image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft shows sedimentary rock and sand within Danielson Crater, an impact crater about 42 miles or 67 kilometers in diameter, located in the southwest Arabia Terra region of Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona