Mars500 crew

The all-male six man crew of the 520-day Mars500 mission gives a press conference in June 2010 shortly before they began the grueling simulation of a flight to the red planet.

Photo courtesy ESA/IBMP - Oleg Voloshin

The Logistics of Getting to Infinity and Beyond

It's a different story altogether if you want to live on another planet or the moon of another planet (including our own moon). To understand why, consider all of the enormous challenges facing humans who venture beyond Earth's warm embrace. First, there's the issue of getting there, which is really an issue of distance and time. A trip to our moon -- about 238,607 miles (384,000 kilometers) on average -- takes about three days, which seems perfectly reasonable. But move the landing site to Mars, and the travel time increases to about seven months. Move the landing site even farther, to Saturn's moon Titan, and the trip will take longer than three years.

These distances don't sound insurmountable until you realize how many supplies the spacecraft will have to carry to sustain the crew. For example, the vessel required to get a crew to Mars would need to be three to six times more massive than the lunar lander [source Zubrin]. Using current technology and given the unique conditions of the Martian atmosphere, such a craft would be impossible to land. Now imagine the size of a Saturn-bound rocket, packed to the rafters with food, water and other resources.

Mission planners also worry about the the social effects of a long journey into space. No one is quite sure how humans cooped up in a spacecraft for months or years at a time will respond, although Russian scientists are running experiments here on Earth to find out. In May 2010, the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems sealed a six-man, multinational crew inside a simulated space vessel for 520 days to see how their mental and physical health fares in the close quarters. Other scientists think a same-sex crew, or a highly trained crew of any sort, is the wrong idea. An anthropologist at the University of Florida has proposed that large family groups would be better suited to making long voyages into deep space. In his plan, a starting population of 150 to 180 people, mostly childless married couples, would sustain itself over six to eight generations, enabling the group to reach planets far beyond our solar system [source: Keen].