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Professor Young gives Portuguese students a glimpse into future Mars missions

MIT Professor and former astronaut Laurence R. Young recently traveled to Lisbon to describe possible future Mars missions to an overflow crowd at a Lisbon high school, on behalf of an MIT Portugal Program outreach project.
Professor Laurence R. Young
Professor Laurence R. Young
Photo: Alexandre Almeida/Kameraphoto

Hundreds of Portuguese high school students were recently given a distinct privilege: a look at what future Mars missions could look like, as described by former NASA astronaut Laurence R. Young.

Young, the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT, director of the health science and technology program in bioastronautics, and founding director of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, spoke at the Escola Secundária de Camões in Lisbon as part of the MIT Portugal Program “MIT Professors Visit Schools” collaboration with Ciência Viva, an organization that promotes science and technology in Portugal. The series, which has reached more than 2,000 students so far, has sent more than a dozen MIT faculty to speak at schools across Portugal.

Student says, “I’m going to Mars”

Young’s talk at the school on Jan. 12, was titled “Going to Mars with Artificial Gravity.” A member of the MIT faculty team participating in MIT Portugal’s bioengineering focus area, Young highlighted the physiological risks for the human crews that will attempt the Mars mission sometime in the coming decades. These include exposure to radiation, bone loss, and elevated risk of cancer and psychological disorders. But he also sketched the background of Mars exploration, from the ancient Babylonians to NASA’s Mars rovers — and reminded the students that the Age of Exploration started in Portugal, with Vasco da Gama and others.

The audience, which filled the school’s auditorium beyond capacity, was inspired at Young’s certainty that a Mars mission was within the reach of humanity, most likely through an international consortium. After the talk, a 16-year-old student was quoted by Portuguese radio’s Antena 1 as saying, “I’m going to Mars. I’m going to be the first Portuguese astronaut to go to Mars!”

For his own part, Young said, "The enthusiasm, knowledge, and level of interest of the students at the Camões high school in Lisbon was fantastic. It makes it clear that exploration remains a motivator for science education all around the world."

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