One-way ticket to Mars, redux

Paul Raven @ 04-09-2009

Earth-Mars montageThe one-way mission to Mars is becoming one of those hardy perennial stories, earning a mention here back in the spring of 2008 when former NASA engineer Jim McLane spoke out in favour of the idea.

Now it’s the turn of Lawrence Krauss, who sums up his attitude to Mars missions with the phrase “to boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again”.

The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the Sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.

There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

His arguments focus on finance (a one-way mission is far cheaper and more logistically simple) and anthropological pragmatism (the journey might well reduce the astronauts’ lifespans considerably, so why waste the remainder of their lives dying in an Earth hospital when they could be doing useful stuff on Mars?). It’s a very cold set of equations, of course… but as has been pointed out before, there’d probably be no shortage of volunteers, be they elderly scientists or younger bold adventurers. Hell knows I’d love to go.

Furthermore, Krauss is probably correct in suggesting that Congress and NASA would never take the political risk of a mission that could be seen as signing a definite death warrant for American citizens, even if they chose to go. So perhaps that one-way ticket will be supplied by a private company… if it’s ever supplied at all. [via SlashDot; image by Bluedharma]

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2 Responses to “One-way ticket to Mars, redux”

  1. Adam Roberts says:

    I’d say you’re right about this becoming a meme. I’m reading Douglas Copelland’s latest novel, Generation A, and he talks about it there.

  2. Andy says:

    I’m sure finding volunteers would be no problem. Any scientist could produce a huge amount of new papers up there – it would be any geologists dream. I personally would go just for the chance to make a name for myself as a pioneering human explorer. I question the value of having humans up there when robots can perform fantastic science with a much lower financial cost and without any ethical compunction about letting it run out of batteries. The logistics of air, water, shelter, heat, are all largely irrelevant when we send up a robot. Oh wait, I doubt I’d have broadband Internet on Mars…. hmm I’m not sure I volunteer afterall!