Last year I applied for the ESA astronaut program and so keep an interest in general space developments. This weekend I read an excellent article this weekend by Lawrence Krauss (the author of “The Physics of ‘Star Trek.’”) who proposes a rather novel solution to the problem of the expense of a manned Mars mission: send astronauts on a one way trip!
Now this idea seems shocking at first. Sending astronauts off to die on Mars appears an horrific idea to our modern sense and sensibilities. It’s not humane, surely? First there’s the long are perilous trip through space to Mars, the risks of landing and then the reward of knowing you’ll die on the red planet. Don’t we owe it to man kinds brave space explorers to bring them home?
But let’s look at this for a moment. One of the obvious reasons why we as the human race haven’t travelled to Mars yet, is the cost. Some estimates put the figure of a Mars mission at up to $1Tn ($1,000Bn). Especially in the current world climate, that’s an awful lot of wonga.
Now a significant part of that cost, is in getting the astronauts back to Earth. Not only do you have to take all the fuel you need for a return journey with you (plus the return vehicle etc) but you also need more fuel to go as you’re heavier because of it. Not planning a return journey would make the whole prospect not only significantly cheaper, but possibly affordable for the first time, especially as it looks like Obama will rescind Bush’s Mars mission plan.
The question is, is a 1 way mission to Mars really such an abhorrent thought? There are many good reasons why it makes sense, and not just the cost.
– More time can be devoted to experiments by the astronauts.
– More research can be done on the long term effects of a base on Mars.
– Many astronauts are actually older than you think, with an average age being 47 in 2007.
– If man kind is to populate the Galaxy, by definition we eventually have to send people out on 1 way trips, why not now?
– Necessity is the mother of invention – I expect you’ll find these first Martian colonists live longer than we expect.
There is one final obstacle that will need to be over come: volunteers. Would anyone want to go? To answer that, you have to ask this question: would you want to do something no human has ever done before? Would you want to go on an adventure that guarantees history remembers your name? Would you want to do something that would be watched by over a billion people, and potentially inspire a whole generation of scientists, explorers and adventures? In short, would you want to do something amazing? Or would you rather spend you life stuck in an office, writing your weekly management reports, raising your 2.2 children, mowing your lawn every Sunday and pondering what vegetables to grow in your retirement allotment?
It comes down to the fundamental human dilemma: Is it better for your candle to burn bright but burn out fast, or to simply glow until it eventually fades away? I strongly suspect, that this last hurdle would be the easiest to over come. I think it’s a no brainer that there would be millions of volunteers for a 1 way trip to Mars, it’s in our nature. And if people volunteer, who are we as a society to impose our collective morals on them and say they can’t go? A one way Mars mission should be a serious consideration for any space ambitious government.