Off to Mars — to stay

Could it make sense to take a one-way trip to Mars? This notion has been floating around for years, but it got some recent press when Drs. Schulze-Makuch and Davies published a paper titled “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars.” Their thesis is that this might be the solution to several of the barriers to a crewed mission, providing among other benefits a major reduction in mission cost (up to 80% reduction, which is pretty dramatic!). This can only be accomplished by shifting our perspective on what such a mission is: not a there-and-back-again jaunt like a trip to the Moon, but the establishment of a sustained presence on Mars, paving the way for future colonists and expeditions. Schulze-Makuch and Davies declare that:

“… to attain it would require not only major international cooperation, but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of Earth exploration, from Columbus to Amundsen, but which has nowadays been replaced with a culture of safety and political correctness.”

The initial reaction to a one-way trip concept is often one that assumes that the humans involved would immediately expire at the end of their mission. “One-way” sounds like “suicide”. But it’s not more of a “suicide” than inhabiting Earth, which is just as much of an ultimate death sentence — we just don’t think of it that way. Well supplied and informed, an expedition to Mars could survive for a long time, albeit in a harsh and demanding environment. They might not live as long as they would on Earth — or they might live longer; no one’s going to get hit by a car on Mars! And just think of the amazing accomplishments this group of 21st-century pioneers would attain, in technology and in science, and also in poetry and psychology: making Mars a human location, not just a light in the sky.

This short paper is definitely worth reading to see how Schulze-Makush and Davies set out the arguments for, and the conceptual design of, such a one-way mission. I was heartened to see their clear statement that “No base on the Moon is needed to launch a one-way human mission to Mars.” This is true of any mission to Mars, but has become somewhat lost in the various Constellation program discussions.

If there really were an opportunity to volunteer for a one-way mission to Mars, where you’d live out your days in a “cave-centered biosphere”, exploring and discovering and serving as a pathfinder for future advances — I’d sign up in a heartbeat. It’s difficult to think of any more important and meaningful goal to which I could devote my life here on Earth. (I know some, or all, of you will disagree with me on this, which neither offends nor dissuades me in the least. :) )

2 of 6 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Judson said,

    January 2, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    If you went, we’d miss you. :)

    I found it quite amusing that the one of the authors of To Boldly Go was on NPR saying, amongst many other things, that he himself wouldn’t volunteer for the mission.

    As for the pithy contrariness, I think it’s easy to overlook the value of pure research (and hence: exploration) – as easy as it is to overlook the value of strong communities of discourse. I’ll cop to being guilty of the former, but I’d think that your participation in a larger scientific community has real value as well.

  2. Kiri said,

    January 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I’d miss you all too :) The authors point out that anyone involved in this mission would have quite a lot of contact with home, just time-delayed. In fact it’d be a lot more contact than historic explorers ever had. I don’t kid myself that I could be up to the physical rigors and horrendous challenges, physical and psychological, that Scott and Amundsen (among others) faced (though I love to read and admire their accounts). A well equipped mission to my favorite planet seems almost like a different ballgame (though with its own risks and challenges, to be sure).

    At any rate, I expect the comm links would allow you to maintain a presence in the larger scientific community — with even more impact than what you’d have as a scientist or engineer on Earth (for most of us).

  3. natarajan said,

    January 2, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    I’d sign up, if I had useful skills :)

  4. Mike said,

    January 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    I’ll be right there with you, Kiri, checking the fuel tanks and dash-k-ing while we set up the first tendrils into that next great frontier!

    [Sidenote: it’s strange to think that it’s almost been a year since our Mars mission. So much has changed!]

  5. Tyestin said,

    January 3, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I wouldn’t sign up due to my bad digestive system, but would
    closely follow everything about the mission. :)

  6. Scott Van Essen said,

    January 4, 2011 at 9:58 am

    (Knew it already.)

    We would miss you, but understand exactly why you were going.

    In another life, where I didn’t have so many wonderful things keeping me here, I would have been tempted to go too, but I honestly don’t know in the end what I would decide. If there was another Axis&Allies player on the trip, that would be a big swing factor. ;-)

  7. Jim in PA said,

    January 7, 2011 at 6:17 am

    (Knew it already.)

    This idea seems familiar.

    (Good part starts at 0:45.)

  8. Jeff said,

    August 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    My experience is that after spending 2 and a half years in Antarctica my friends complained that they hardly ever hear from me now I have returned home.

    Sending home the stories and picture from a place my friends would never be able to experience seemed important and strengthened my connection with home.

    So if you go tell everyone about the experience

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