Possible Human Problems on the Mars voyage

The way it looks now, NASA will send 6 people on a appx. 6 month voyage to Mars, anound a 1 year stay on mars (I think) and many months return voyage to Earth. Wow!
I’m interested in the human story of the voyage, not the mechanical problems that will arise.
Can 6 people live together in what amounts to a small apartment for all that time?
What could possibly go wrong?
My thoughts:

  1. One of them has to be a doctor with the others knowledgeable in medicine.
  2. They should be married couples.
  3. There should be artificial gravity, by spinning the ship I suppose.
  4. ?? I would like to have your thoughts on this.

I think that they should model it on Gilligan’s Island. That dynamic seemed to work fine under similar conditions. Gilligan’s Island had 7 people however and there is only room for 6 on the Mars mission. One character will have to be cut. You get to decide who.

I’ve just listened to the unabridged Stranger in a Strange Land on audio. It starts with exactly that issue, and describes the selection of a sert of highly compatible married couples using exhaustive testing who also covered all necessary disciplines.
They ended up killing each other before the end of the expedition, at least in part (if not wholly) because of bad human interaction and jealousies.

Of course, Heinlein set it up that way because he wanted his eventual hero, the child of two of those pioneers (but not a couple) to found his religion of tolerance and love, and it makes a point that his parents killed each other in a most intolerant display of human frailty. And also because he needed to kill off the human parents for his raised-by-Martians child. So his book arguably isn’t even what Heinlein would’ve thought likely. But it is possible.

I suspect that I could’ve survived a Mars voyage without killing my cabinmates. But not if one of them was my sister.

I would argue that trips of this nature aren’t completely without precedence and I believe that a group of appropriate professionals could certainly maintain their sanity and working relationships on such a journey, if nothing else because they’ll have to.

The desire and need for human interaction is a strong one and I think it’s more likely that these people would share an almost inseprable bond than pull one another’s hair out.

In spite of personality differences or being put together randomly, there have been a number of very close-knit military units, expeditions, etc. Also, I think we evolved to live in small, close-knit bands that might approximate the social arrangement of going to Mars.

I’m not being glib, but I think this is a very solvable problem.

Sure as hell wouldn’t be Mary Ann!

This is something I’ve never thought of. Thanks for the insight, I look at it as a ray of hope!

Internet access is a must. Half the people on this board can go for months in close quarters with no problems as long as they can get their dope fix.

I’d tend to agree that the sociodynamics issue is manageable (although not trivial). The larger problems are provisioning, hazard abatement (radiation, impact, subsystem failures and redundancy), abort modes and planning, and so forth. In other words, everything you need to do in order to minimize the appreciable hazards of spaceflight with no realistic possibility of independent rescue for two years.

Earth-Mars transit time for a Hohmann orbit is roughly 8.5 months each way with about a 15 month layover on Mars. There are also the issues of staying on Mars, which is problematic in ways that are well outside of existing experience with extraterrestrial habitation.

NASA has no real plans or indeed even a fleshed out concept for a Mars mission. They have only an informal (although very public) mandate to eventually plan toward a manned Mars mission some time in the very distant future. And despite claims to the contrary, the currently-in-development Constellation system is in no way adequate for for an interplanetary transit.


I think they all have to be exceptionally broad polymaths - critical knowledge (such as medicine, ship control, etc) needs to be distributed throughout the entire crew in such a way that loss of a couple of crewmembers does not doom the mission (and the rest of the crew).

Not sure why that would be better or worse than any other crew makeup. There are going to be issues whatever you do.

My suggestions: Crew members will have to contract to be subject to euthanasia if they become ill in a way that consumes excessive resources or endangers other crew members.

Having personally done work at Biosphere 2 I can tell you the psychological obstacles are many. First of all the poster who said

The problem is the close knit bands are not confined in a closed environment for months on end. The first Biosphere failed with very qualified people “staffing” it. Married couples is not the way to go either - human nature tends towards jealousy it’s quite literally natural…I will write more when I have a minute.

This is something I’ve often wondered about. Given the example of Apollo 13, and the dramatically increased distances and operational time-frames we’d be talking about, might it not be reasonably to hold off on such a venture until we could build two separate vessels (each designed to support one crew, but able to accomodate twice that in an emergency), then train two crews, and hold one in reserve in case of emergency?

I know, I know, it’d cost a fortune and take time, but wouldn’t that be the ultimate precautionary measure for the first time we make each milestone step in space travel? Just an idle thought.

The problem here is one of orbital ballistics; unless you are proposing sending two vessels and crews simultaneously (and I’m taking by your statement of “hold[ing] one in reserve” to mean that you’re not) then this will do you no good. Once you’ve launched the first one on its way, there is simply no way a second craft, propelled on a low energy Hohmann-type orbit is going to catch up to the first. It will in fact be in an entirely different orbit, and even if you can manage to have both craft cross orbits simultaneously, they’ll be going a different directions at a different speeds, and at best can just wave at each other before speeding off into the blackness. And if the first craft is any distance away from Earth any intercept would take months, by which time any dire emergency will have resolved itself for better or worse. And the rescue craft will almost certainly not be able to make an effective return.

Now, if your plan is to send two or more craft on the same orbit, with the crew split between them, and capable of abandoning one craft, that is more feasible from a risk management point of view, and also brings in some other advantages, such as being able to justify building more test articles to evaluate reliability. The cost will almost certainly be more than building just one larger craft, but lower cost per unit. There may also be other benefits to mission flexibility and crew capability. But you’re also doubling your losses if some hazard (a large solar flare, for instancde) wipes out the entire mission, or some unforseen common flaw dooms both vessels, and I doubt anyone will be willing to bear more than the minimum cost for what is essentially a photo op mission.

Barring a dramatic improvement in propulsion technology, a manned Mars mission is little more than spacewonk fantasizing, and it certainly isn’t going to be done with the Constellation program hardware, even if that thing ever gets off the ground. Fortunately, our capabilities with unmanned missions are improving dramatically, and we’re able to obtain excellent scientific information at a fraction of the cost, and with minimal risk or hazard, compared to a hypothetical manned program. Crash a Mars Climate Orbiter into the planet because of a mixup in units and you become a joke; lose a manned mission for essentially any reason and you’ll be a pariah. There’s a reason that NASA is simultaneously risk adverse and risk ignorant, and the reason is as much from without as within.


There are already people stuck together for long periods of time on the space station and arctic stations. Unless they turn it into a reality show I don’t think that proper planning won’t prevent any major interpersonal problems.

Not for two and a half years at a stretch, though. The longest stay aboard the ISS was somewhat less than a year and a third, and arctic and antarctic station personnel typically rotate annually or sooner. It’s certainly a psychologically stressful environment, and anything like the Orion CEV will be totally insufficient to provide space or provision for that duration of a mission.

It’s not an irresolvable problem in my opinion, but first it has to be recognized that long duration isolation is stressful, and that astronauts are not robots who can turn emotions off. A solution will probably include managed work and leisure schedules, regular communication with friends and family, subtle psychological assessment, and pharmaceutical mood regulation. This is going to require more knowledge than what exists about they psychology and sociology of long term isolation.

The technical, logistical, and risk abatement problems of manned interplanetary transit remain, however.


And how much room/mass would two years worth of provisions require? I think that any Mars ship using ballistic orbits and not boosting continuously would have to have food-growing areas and would more resemble Biosphere 2 than anything NASA has made.

At least tending the food supplies and recycle systems would give the crew something to do…

Several tons per person. However, it is far less space and energy than even hydroponics would take, and I’ll note that Biosphere 2 was pretty much an abject failure at validating current methods of environmental self-sufficiency. And based on experience with the ISS the crew to have quite a bit to do with maintenance and other operations; the trick will be more managing the workload so that there aren’t massive and stressful increases in workload.


I saw an interview where Werner Von Braun was asked about a Mars mission. He suggested six ships in the same orbit capable of rescuing each other.

Would a single-sex crew be more/less stable than a coed one? Either way I think social and political reasons would prevent an all-male or all-female mission (are women more susceptible to radiation than men?).

Absolutely - it is an unfortunate fact. This is not to say the mission to mars will be all male, it may not be, but in terms of habitable space and enclosed environs nature takes over more often than not even for the most elite, disciplined scientists. Proved in Biosphere projects the psychological battery for which was pages long - simply didn’t work. As unscientific as that sounds it’s the truth. I was working for Columbia who was a major player in BS1 at the time, doing environmental studies on humans in their habitat - that is basically what my formal education is in, Environmental Psychology. And though many wanted it to work, and took every precaution for it to work - the plan failed.

According to former astronaut R. Mike Mullane, in his book Do Your Ears Pop in Space, NASA has (or had) a policy against assigning a married couple to any mission. The reasons he mentioned were that, if the couple had children, NASA didn’t want to risk both of the children’s parents on a single space mission. If the couple didn’t have children, though, there were still issues. He said that NASA is worried that the interpersonal dynamics in the marriage would potentially interfere with missions- a lot of married people would not like taking orders from their spouse, but one spouse might have to give orders to the other as part of the mission. NASA doesn’t want to get into this kind of issue, so they don’t (or at least didn’t, as of when the book was written in 1997) assign two astronauts who are married to each other to the same mission.

Posting to the boards from Mars would be really slow, given that light takes of order an hour to get between Mars and Earth (this of course varies depending on the relative positions of Mars and Earth)…