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NASA needs to get cracking if it wants to keep its astronauts alive and well on missions to Mars.
That's the conclusion of a 54-page report issued by NASA's inspector general office Thursday.
The office conducted an audit of NASA's effort to keep astronauts safe during lengthy space missions. The audit looked in particular at the risks posed on trips to the Red Planet, currently targeted for the 2030s. Among the health hazards for three-year, round-trip Mars missions: space radiation, isolation, and limited food and medicine.
The report says NASA is making progress in identifying and managing health risks. But it says NASA is optimistic in thinking it can resolve all the issues by the 2030s. As a result, the first astronauts who fly to Mars may need to accept extra risk.
The space agency put out a report earlier in October in which it outlined it's three-stage plan to get Mars, saying that, "In the next few decades, NASA will take steps toward establishing a sustainable human presence beyond Earth, not just to visit but to stay."
The plan involves a gradually increasing set of challenges, from building out research on the International Space Station, to possibly landing astronauts on one of Mars' moons. Research into the effects of prolonged time spent in space is already in motion, with astronaut Scott Kelly now well into his year-long mission aboard the ISS.