Drawing straws for Mars mission – How NASA will decide who to send

NASA has just given 11 grants to various research institutions to determine what makes the perfect Mars astronaut.

NASA has been planning its revolutionary manned mission to Mars for quite some time now, and the logistical requirements seem bigger every day. According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, the space agency will be getting some help from researchers at Johns Hopkins University in deciding on the ideal candidates to send to the red planet.

A lucky team of pioneering astronauts will travel almost 34 million miles on the first Mars mission, and the group will need to be adept at working together in order for the mission to be successful. The group will remain isolated and cramped during the trip, facing problems like boredom and close quarters in addition to the massive technical requirements of such a trip.

Hopkins scientists were the recent recipients of a NASA grant that seeks to lay out a method for determining the best possible candidates for the trip. Above all, they hope to identify people who can get along well with others – the trip could take as long as three years. People with short tempers or a constant need for social interaction likely won’t make the cut – candidates need to be okay with the conditions of such an arduous journey.

The project is just one out of 11 NASA grants totaling about $5.7 million in funding for research in preparation for the first manned mars mission. Other studies will examine astronaut health and technical performance requirements for the trip, seeking to make sure that we give astronauts the best chance at success on the journey.

As of now, astronauts can spend roughly 18 months in space, as tested aboard the ISS. The mission to Mars will be significantly different – astronauts will have significantly less space, limited communications, and there will be no escape route to Earth if things go wrong.

So where are the most likely candidates for astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars? Since the trip is still at least a decade and a half away, most candidates are likely still in high school. Researchers are using data collected on the effects of space travel on human health so far to inform their decisions, but sending people this far from Earth’s orbit remains full of uncertainties.

The NASA grants to Hopkins and other institutions are a good start, but there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of such a bold plan. In order to be successful, the most important aspect of the mission is putting the right people behind the wheel.

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