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Elon Musk won’t get any humans to Mars by 2026, warn astronomy experts

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Billionaire SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk may be the richest man in the world, but even all his wealth can’t buy his dream of a Mars colony by the end of the decade.

The South Africa-born Tesla supremo promised in 2017 that the first unmanned missions, carrying essential supplies for future explorers, would be blasting off in 2022.

By the end of last year, that goal had slipped to 2024 with, Musk predicted, the first humans setting foot on the cold, dry Martian soil in 2026.

Musk also predicted in 2020 that he would have sent a million people to Mars by 2050.

But there are still significant challenges to overcome before any manned Mars mission could be attempted.

Space industry expert Greg Autry predicts it could be as late as 2029 or 2031 before Musk, possibly in partnership with NASA, send the first crew to Earth’s sister planet.

The distance to Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, varies. The closest it’s been is in August 2003 when it was still an impossibly distant 34.8 million miles away.

When Mars is at its most distant it can be over 250 million miles away. Crewed missions can only realistically be attempted when the planets are at comparatively close approaches.

Even then, journey times would be anything between six and eight months, raising significant engineering challenges.

Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov currently holds the overall record for longest space mission, having completed a stay of 437 days aboard the ISS, and the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew made it furthest from Earth when they reached a 248,655 mile distance in April 1970.

The longer a space mission gets, the greater the risk of the astronauts being exposed to deadly radiation.

From complex shielding to advanced medical precautions, NASA is currently studying how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation.

But any long-term exposure to the harsh environment outside the Earth’s protective magnetosphere runs the risk of damaging cells or DNA.

That damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, if the spacecraft is in the path of a strong solar flare or coronal mass ejection, acute and potentially fatal radiation sickness during the mission.

All of these dangers have to be taken into account when designing and building a Mars lander.

Greg Autry says that while none of the obstacles are insurmountable, Musk needs to be realistic about how much work is involved.

"When he thinks about how long it will take to build a rocket,” he told Business Insider, “he is perhaps guilty of imagining 5,000 Elon Musks on the job at SpaceX and more of them at his suppliers and in the governmental offices he needs to license or fund his project.”

  • Elon Musk
  • Nasa
  • Spacex
  • Mars

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