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Former astronaut says humans could have made it to Mars decades ago, but most would probably die

Published Jul 10th, 2018 11:40AM EDT

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You’ve heard a whole lot about humans on Mars in recent years thanks to advancements in various technologies that could allow us to get there safely, and maybe even set up some kind of a settlement in the not-so-distant future. Former astronaut Chris Hadfield, a visitor to the International Space Station and one of the more prominent faces among space travelers, just gave the scientific community a bit of a shock by claiming that NASA probably could have landed astronauts on Mars as far back as the 1960s if they really wanted to.

That statement comes with a huge asterisk. Hadfield, who made the claim to Business Insider, hedges his claim by explaining that while NASA’s older spacecraft could have flown all the way to Mars and landed there, the prospects of long-term survival were essentially nil.

“The technology that took us to the moon and back when I was just a kid – that technology can take us to Mars,” Hadfield said, explaining that the rocket technology that will get us to Mars isn’t all that different than the vehicles that sent astronauts to the Moon. However, “The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions wouldn’t make it,” he added.

There are a number of big, big issues with sending humans to Mars today, much less in the 1960s. The trip is incredibly long, and the antiquated technology of the Apollo era wouldn’t get travelers to the planet fast enough for it to make sense to send them. It all comes down to keeping the astronauts alive and healthy enough to continue doing their jobs, and a slow-moving ship on its way to Mars is a recipe for disaster.

Many different things could ultimately end the mission prematurely, including sickness in space. Deep space radiation is a real concern for space agencies dreaming of a manned Mars mission, and the spacecraft of yesteryear simply weren’t equipped with the kind of hardware needed to mitigate it. A 1960s mission to Mars might have gotten the crew there in one piece, but they wouldn’t have lasted long, and getting them all the way back to Earth in a healthy state would have been pretty much impossible.