One-Way Human Mission To Mars

One-way human missions to Mars are being suggested by researchers as the best and lowest cost way to colonize the red planet. According to a new paper by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a Washington State University associate professor, and colleague Paul Davies, a physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University, this is the best way to get the whole project off the drawing board.

A human mission to Mars is undoubtedly technologically feasible, but unlikely to lift off in the very near future, because of the enormous financial and political commitments associated with it. As remarked, however, much of the costs and payload of the mission are associated with bringing the astronauts back to Earth. Furthermore, the returning astronauts would have to go through an intense rehabilitation program after being exposed for at least one year to zero gravity and an extended period to reduced gravity on the surface of Mars. Eliminating the need for returning early colonists would cut the costs several fold and at the same time ensure a continuous commitment to the exploration of Mars and space in general.

The first colonists to Mars wouldn’t go in "cold." Robotic probes sent on ahead would establish necessities such as an energy source (such as a small nuclear reactor augmented by solar panels), enough food for two years, the basics for creating home-grown agriculture, one or more rover vehicles and a tool-kit for carrying out essential engineering and maintenance work. In addition, the scientific equipment needed for the colonists to do important research work should be part of the preceding unmanned mission. All this equipment could easily be put into place using current technology before the astronauts set out. The first human contingent would rely heavily on resources that can be produced from Mars such as water, nutrients, and shelter (such as in form of lava tube caves). They also would be continuously resupplied from Earth with necessities that could not be produced from the resources available on Mars. This semi-autonomous phase might last for decades, perhaps even centuries before the size and sophistication of the Mars colony enabled it to be self-sustaining.

The first human contingent would consist of a crew of four, ideally (and if the budget permits) distributed between two two-man space craft to allow for some mission redundancy such as in the Viking mission or for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Also, if any technical malfunction occurs on one space craft, the other craft could come to the rescue. Further, any critical part of equipment after landing would be available in duplicate in case of an emergency.

A one-way human mission to Mars would not be a one-time commitment as was the case with the Apollo program. More than 40 years after the last Apollo mission, no human has set foot on a planetary body beyond Earth. Such a hiatus cannot be afforded if humanity is to commit to a grander vision of space exploration (Davies and Schulze-Makuch 2008; Schulze-Makuch and Irwin 2008). No base on the Moon is needed to launch a one-way human mission to Mars. Given the broad variety of resources available on Mars, the long-term survival of the first colonists is much more feasible than it would be on the Moon.

While the pragmatic advantages of this approach are clear, we anticipate that some ethical considerations may be raised against it. Some in the space agencies or public might feel that the astronauts are being abandoned on Mars, or sacrificed for the sake of the project. However, the situation these first Martian settlers are in, who would of course be volunteers, would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return. Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt. A volunteer signing up for a one-way mission to Mars would do so in the full understanding that he or she would not return to Earth.

I'm sure everyone has their own favorite scenario for one-way missions in science fiction; perhaps you could share yours.

From To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars .

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