If you’ve ever read 1,001 Ridiculous Ways to Die, then you already know every sorry and often bizarre ending you could possibly encounter—on Earth. Planetary scientist Pascal Lee of NASA’s Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute believes that Mars is crawling with much worse fates than having a piano fall on your head.
Mars colonization, or at least putting boots on the Red Planet, has lately been a topic as burning as the planet’s extreme radiation, but it seems one thing no one wants to discuss (at least on the internet) is how potential Martian citizens could perish. And this is in addition to the looming specter of health risks for even seasoned astronauts. Glaze-eyed space cowboys may want to believe in a Jetsons future, but Lee is skeptical. If your equipment glitches without a viable solution 33.9 million miles away home, you could end up buried in six feet of red dust with a scrap of space junk as a grave marker.
"If you are unprotected on Mars … your blood would boil, even at ambient temperature," said Lee, referring to the low pressure of the planet’s dangerously thin atmosphere. Try a hundred times thinner in comparison to Earth. Meaning any Martian gases that got into your bloodstream would dissolve into bubbles not unlike soda fizz. Except, like some twisted science fair experiment, you would turn into something of a human soda can and actually fizz to death.
Radiation is the the most obvious lethal force on Mars, so much so that there was actually a study done to determine whether The Martian’s fictional NASA astronaut would actually survive given he touched down on a mission in the year 2035. Most of the Martian atmosphere has been brutally stripped away by solar winds. Unlike Earth, Mars is missing a strong magnetic field, which leaves it vulnerable to solar storms. No magnetic field and almost no atmosphere mean the surface is being showered with solar particles and cosmic rays. The intense radiation that gets through will kill you in months. Cause of death: radiation poisoning or cancer.
Mars is also freezing. At its equator, a summer day that registers at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is actually considered a temperature high. Even in the middle of July, what seems like a warm, breezy weather (those breezes are probably deadly solar winds) will plunge to negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll end up as a human popsicle if your space suit doesn’t have the right insulation. Cause of death: hypothermia.
The perils of the Red Planet don’t stop there. What is left of the atmosphere is almost completely carbon dioxide. Compare the 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen we breathe in on Earth to a lethal 95 percent carbon dioxide. If your oxygen supply ran out, it would be like inhaling exhaust fumes. Cause of death: hypoxia.
Speaking of things you shouldn’t ever be breathing, you’d better keep your helmet screwed on at all times because dust is floating around positively everywhere. Breathe it in and your lungs will eventually fail from all the abrasive and fine-grained particles that will scrape relentlessly at the insides of your lungs. Not to mention this dust is highly toxic. Cause of death: poisoning and pulmonary hemorrhage.
NASA aims to make sure the Red Planet won’t turn into the Red Death. While it has its sights set on blasting off to Mars approximately by the time The Martian’s Mark Watney landed, and while the whole world (and the whole internet) is impatient to see a Mars mission happen, the space agency’s priority is developing over three dozen new technologies to send astronauts back to Earth as healthy as they were before takeoff.