Argentina set up a “colony” on Antarctica a couple of decades ago in order to solidify their claim to the entire continent and any wealth found there. Antarctica is worse than a cold place – it is isolated by severe weather and some of the harshest seas in the world. If you go there, they expect you to stay there for months if not a full year. Going there can be seen as a trial run for a trip to Mars. We can use Argentina’s colony as a lesson for any Mars mission, as well.

I’m not going to refer to the Argentinian search for women of childbearing age to give birth to children there in order to solidity their claim to it as an extension of their territory. Instead, the medical requirements they laid out based on experience are reasonable ones to be applied to any Martian colonists.

The first requirement is being appendix-free. This rule the Argentinians had at one point was probably based on the experience of Doctor Leonid Rogozov. (We know about it because they wanted a woman without an appendix to give birth to their claim-staking citizens.) Doctor Rogozov is a little-known badass from history notable for having done an appendectomy on himself. Why? Because he was the only surgeon in his Antarctic group. That’s a problem when you’re the one with the inflamed appendix. Argentina simply said if you want to go to Antarctica for a couple of years, be without an appendix. A Mars selection committee may give you extra points for already lacking the organ or ask you to have it out before you join the training program.

The next requirement will be near-perfect teeth. I draw this requirement from the U.S. Antarctic Program requirements. They state that they can treat dental emergencies and many medical emergencies, stabilizing someone before they are evacuated. On Mars, there is no evacuation. It would take months or years to return home. Given the similarities between a Mars expedition and an Antarctic one, the Martians could handle fillings. They’d have to, since tooth decay is the most common disease on the planet. They might handle a cracked tooth or severe cavity with extraction, since that’s easier to do than creating crowns. However, if you’re wearing dental guards, braces or regularly need fillings for your degraded teeth, you’re not going to Antarctica. And you won’t be going to Mars, either. This may mean that people with perfect teeth aren’t just more photogenic – they’re higher up on the list of potential recruits for a Mars mission.

The third obvious requirement is a near-paranoid medical examination for any and all health problems. We had a horror story a few years ago about a woman realizing she had a cancerous lump in her breast while in Antarctica during the winter. Dr. Jerri Lin Nielsen ended up being evacuated and treated for cancer, but any such evacuation is dangerous and expensive. It won’t be an option if you’re on Mars. Nor do your team mates want to deal with DIY chemotherapy in cramped quarters.

This means any potential colonists to Mars will receive a thorough medical examination. Paying to perform an MRI on every candidate is reasonable if you’ll find those little cancerous tumors the person doesn’t realize they have yet. It would also identify partial arterial blockages that could lead to strokes and heart attacks later. Weed these people out at the very start, and you avoid having to deal with cancer treatment and cardiovascular problems on the mission. That is on top of the screening to weed out people at risk of diabetes, thyroid problems and long-term health conditions that degrade performance and require maintenance medication a colony probably cannot provide. For the good of the community, they’ll look over the great scientific expert with minor health problems in favor of the scientific expert who lacks such issues.

One question we need to ask is regarding child-bearing. It is obvious the answer will be not having kids on Mars or on the spaceship. The bigger question is: what will we do about it? Do we want to limit the mission to people who’ve been sterilized so that they can’t potentially get pregnant on Mars or have a child with unknown birth defects after returning? Or will the mission prefer people who are over childbearing age, because they’re more willing to dedicate the remainder of their life to a life on Mars? Or do we compromise and mandate fool-proof contraception as a condition of going and hope we don’t end up with a Valentine Michael Smith?

What would you add to the likely health checklist for those going to Mars?

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