AirTalk for April 8, 2014

Is it safe and ethical to send real people to Mars?

NASA's MAVEN Orbiter Set For Mission to Mars

Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

In this handout photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft as payload rolls out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad November 16, 2013 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The true story of six strangers, picked to live in a 1,000 square foot dome, work together, have their lives documented, to find out what happens when humans land on Mars. It sounds like the opening to a pretty cool new reality show but it's all in the name of science.

Three men and three women have been handpicked by NASA to live together for four months inside a Mars simulator dome on Hawaii's Big Island. The HI-SEAS 2 mission has been underway for just a few weeks and with the goal of exploring the psychological impact of sending astronauts on long term missions to Mars.

The participants will live and work together in an environment much like what NASA expects astronauts to encounter when they embark on a 2.5 year Mars mission slated for sometime around 2030.

The tight quarters and long duration of the Mars mission is leaving a lot of questions about how well a group of strangers will be able to get along. On top of psychological concerns, NASA also has to deal with other ethical issues when sending astronauts on years-long missions to Mars. The astronauts will be subjected to high levels of radiation, vision impairment and bone loss from the microgravity environment.

A new ethics report raises some questions about NASA's plans for a manned mission to Mars. Is it ethical to send people into space for several years at a time? What sort of health risks are there? What are the psychological impacts of being isolated in small groups for long periods of time?

Guests:

Kim Binsted, professor of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and principal investigator on the HI-SEAS 2 Mars simulator mission.

Jeffrey Kahn, professor of bioethics and public policy at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics


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