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Mission to Mars discussed

JARRED WILLIAMSON
Last updated 05:00 11/07/2014
Kira Bacal
SPACE EXPLORED: Dr Kira Bacal answering questions from Pakuranga U3A members on Monday.

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A mission to Mars involves much more than simply launching a space craft.

That's what Pakuranga University of the 3rd Age members are discovering after three meetings with a former NASA employee talking about logistics of a mission to the red planet.

Dr Kira Bacal is running a series about planning a hypothetical mission to Mars with the group.

She now works as a director in Auckland University's medical programme. But before moving to New Zealand in 2007 she was involved in improving medical systems in space, working at the Johnson Space Center in the United States.

She says there is often a blur between fact and fantasy when looking at space travel.

"There are a lot of misconceptions with the space programme with what we can do and can't do.

"It's important that we have as much information out there as possible," she says.

"People are often amazed and say ‘oh that's not what I saw on Star Trek, that's really interesting."'

Previous talks at the group's monthly meeting covered what goes into selecting crew members for the mission and some of the practicalities of space travel, like housekeeping and human waste disposal.

Bacal says the group selected a five-person mixed crew from multiple countries to undertake the virtual mission.

The monthly meeting on Monday looked at the journey itself.

Bacal took questions about communication and the mental and physical health of astronauts.

She says some current research is looking at finding materials to protect crew members from exposure to radiation.

The research shows radiation would have an immediate impact on astronauts, with side effects including dementia.

Lead, often used to shield radiation on earth, would be too heavy to use on a craft.

She says a mission to the planet has a high price tag.

"There are different attitudes about space travel in the US now than there were 40 years ago."

Bacal never went into space herself, but would have jumped at the opportunity given the chance, she says.

Now she enjoys supporting groups like U3A.

"They're providing some really stimulating, intellectual and cultural services and experiences for their members.

"The space topic is obviously a passion of mine as I've spent time in my professional career working in it," she says.

U3A usually gets a guest speaker from a factual background at its monthly meetings.

Member Gary Renwick says they have enjoyed learning from Bacal and her talks draw a big crowd coming back to hear more.

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Go to u3a.net.nz for more information on University of the 3rd Age.

- Eastern Courier

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