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Much like early voyages to the South Pole or the initial moon launches were incredibly dangerous, the first would-be Martian explorers will face huge risks. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There are so many good reasons to send humans to Mars. But there’s a cost to conquering new worlds and exploring hostile environments.

So what exactly makes a journey to Mars so perilous? Chris McKay, a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center involved in planning future Mars missions, walked us through some of the hazards. Some, like exploding rockets, are hair-raising; others, like radiation exposure, could prove more tolerable.

But it’s a good bet that something could go terribly wrong on any mission this audacious and complex. “Going to Mars is a big, big thing. It’s going to involve risks,” McKay says. “We’ll always try for perfect safety. But we all realize that part of the deal … is that there could be fatalities.”

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See Also:

Health Standards for Long Duration and Exploration Spaceflight: Ethics Principles, Responsibilities, and Decision Framework

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