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Space Science

One-Way Ticket to Mars? 1242

Posted by michael
from the all-aboard dept.
ahogue writes "Paul Davies, who has written several very accessible books on physics and cosmology, proposes an interesting way to get a manned mission to Mars - leave them there. [NYTimes, free reg. req.] While it may sounds shocking at first, the financial and exploratory benefits seem to outweigh the social negatives. Any volunteers?" Reader docanime writes with some sober news: "All this recent talk about Mars rovers and orbiters has made one space fan checking out how well Mars has been deflecting and destroying the space probes. The Mars Scorecard lists all the known fly-by, orbital, and landing attempts/failures made by humans. In case you're curious, Mars is winning 20 to 16."
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One-Way Ticket to Mars?

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  • Hardly original.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by kriss (4837) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:22AM (#7998613) Homepage
    Kim Stanley Robinson wrote about this very scenario a while back. It's a series of books about the colonization of Mars, both from a technical and a social viewpoint. Very good sci-fi.

    (Search for 'Red Mars' on amazon)
  • Mars is NOT winning (Score:5, Informative)

    by Waab (620192) * on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:24AM (#7998639) Homepage

    Mars may be up against the world as a whole, but by my count, the US has been kicking some Martian tail.

    The US leads Mars 10-5.
    The USSR is trailing Mars 5-16
    Japan trails Mars 0-1
    And the ESA is up on Mars 1-0

  • by AzrealAO (520019) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:27AM (#7998674)
    In their one current mission, the orbiter survived and the lander is presumed lost.
  • by dema (103780) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:30AM (#7998721) Homepage
    As noted in the article, it is suggested that a four-peron crew be sent, so there would not be a total loss of human contact. Read the article, it's rather interesting.
  • Re:Sending water (Score:5, Informative)

    by kippy (416183) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:36AM (#7998818)
    Seems to me one of the biggest issues is sending enough water.

    Mars has two ice polls and probably underground water. No need to send anything and in fact, you can make a lot of stuff just from the air water and dirt that you find there.

    And I've been bothered by politicians who claim launching from the moon is cheaper. While the moon might be a decent staging area, stuff to launch still has to get there from Earth's gravity well before it goes.

    me too. I've read that even if there were spaceships fully built and fuled waiting on the moon, it would still be cheaper in every way to just launch straignt to Mars. I think you should read up on Mars Direct [nw.net]
  • Re:Indeed! (Score:4, Informative)

    by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:39AM (#7998861) Homepage
    That's one thing I've been wondering about. If it takes a HUGE construct of boosters, launching equipment, and fuel just to escape earth's atmosphere, how exactly do we expect to return anyone from mars?

    The same way they returned from the moon...Mars is smaller than and has less atmosphere than the Earth. Lift off for the return trip takes much less energy.

  • Not a new idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by J05H (5625) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:47AM (#7998989) Homepage
    "One way to stay" mission designs are not new. George W. Herbert, an aerospace engineer and regular on the sci.space newsgroups, has made several detailed proposals like this. Most of them revolve around the point that sending a life-time's worth of food to Mars is not that expensive, especially compared to the scientific and engineering returns on such a project. One way missions to Mars should be considered the start of colonizing, not "abandoning" astronauts there. Also, even with a nominal one-way flight, there is always the possibility of getting home 10, 20 years in the future.

    http://www.marsinstitute.info/rd/faculty/dportree/ rtr/ma26.html [marsinstitute.info]

    -Josh

  • by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdot@m0[ ]org ['m0.' in gap]> on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:50AM (#7999027)
    that delivery method would not be used of course.

    the reason it was used is because it reduces the variables of an automatic landing. you can test drop something from 150 feet off the ground all day, but you cant test a landing by a computer program using retro rockets.

    in a manned mission, the landing would be by parachute with retro rockets to slow acceleration to 0 on the surface, because the trained pilot has that ability.

    currently, programs don't have that ability, so they didn't do it.

    -jeff
  • Re:Sending water (Score:3, Informative)

    by kippy (416183) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:52AM (#7999043)
    The ice caps are water. It was believed for a while that the south cap was pure CO2 but this is currently not believed. Every winter part of the C)2 atmosphere freezes down on the surface of whatever cap is going through a winter. So it's just a coating 6 martian months of the year.

    I'm too lazy to dig up the links but do a google, look at the NASA mars site and search the slashdot archives for info on the Martial polar caps.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:55AM (#7999084)
    Not www.goatse.cx [nytimes.com].
  • by Pakaran2 (138209) <windrunner@gm a i l . c om> on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:18PM (#7999392)
    In contrast to a lot of the comments along the lines of "Let's send Bush/Gates/whomever" nobody is supporting sending astronauts to die after a few days when their air runs out.

    Sending the equipment to manufacture their own air, and grow some of their own food, as well as a couple of nuclear reactors, is cheaper then sending the fuel to go home, and also means the astronauts don't have to be confined for months twice.

    People have lived in the past with little or no contact with civilization - a few dozen scientists and support folks at the South Pole are gearing up to do so now. They won't be able to come home, except in *really* extreme emergency, between February and November because the temperature is cold enough to congeal the fuel of any jet that tried to land.

    Granted, they aren't stuck there for life, but they have far less equipment than a Mars expedition would, and they seem to be quite happy - they even develop their own culture over the winter. This is in a place where the average daily temperatures make CO2 a solid, and where it's possible to get severe frostbite just by touching the ground without gloves.

    The journal of a recent "winterover" is available here [harvard.edu]. Read it.

    Does Karina seem like she's someone to give up on life? Or merely like someone who was willing to put up with total isolation, being largely trapped in a small station for most of a year, in order to do basic science, and really enjoyed herself in the process?
  • by trtmrt (638828) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:34PM (#7999580)
    So no, it's not getting quite close. Let's say we need 1 unit of power to lift off from Earth, we would need less than half a unit to lift off from Mars


    Since kinetic energy goes like the square of the velocity you would need a quarter of the energy on Mars to reach escape velocity (since it's approximately 1/2 of earth's escape velocity). This still doesn't tell you much about the level of technical difficulty needed to achieve even that on Mars.
  • by Guncrazy (633221) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:55PM (#7999817)
    Paul Davies isn't the first person to suggest leaving astronauts on Mars. I doubt that Henry Spencer is the first, either, but he did suggest it back in 1997, in an article [wired.com] he wrote for Wired magazine.

    Also in that magazine, just last September, a convict volunteered [wired.com] for the trip, and suggested that others in his position might also be suitable and willing to make the trip.

  • by way2trivial (601132) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:01PM (#7999890) Homepage Journal
    http://www.stars4space.org/President.html

    "Historically, every dollar invested in the space program has brought seven back into the economy"
    http://www.ae.utexas.edu/Archives/bishop_moon_arti cle.html
    "We have documented the cost-effectiveness of space exploration, witnessing a 9-to-1 return on every dollar invested in the moon landings. "

    http://www.meteorobs.org/maillist/msg27191.html
    " For every dollar invested in space, economists estimate a return of
    |6-10 dollars"
    http://www.imagiverse.org/interviews/gre gjohnson/greg_johnson_17_07_03.htm
    "For example, it is estimated that for every dollar we invested in the lunar landings, our economy received 7 dollars in payback. "
  • Already a volunteer (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dashing Leech (688077) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:05PM (#7999928)
    This was proposed in the 1970s by an astronaut who volunteer to go and not come back. It was discussed, but he was turned down. I was just reading about this last week, I wish I could find his name.
  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:40PM (#8000325) Homepage Journal
    Kicking a few alpha particles into space is one thing. Exploding and spewing long half-life radioactive Plutonium, Cadmium, etc. etc. is another. It's not a extinction level threat if it happens once, but if we make this acceptable behavior, then the lines slowly get pushed further and further out, and our Solar System starts to become as contaminated as our oceans, air, and soil here on Earth.

    Just for fun, let's find the 2-dimensional area of the solar system... With Pluto's orbit at an average 5.946 Billion (!) kilometers, this gives an area of 1.11070744 x 10^20 kilometers for the solar system. Now, let's just multiply that by 10,000 kilometers to give it some depth (5k kilometers up and down is not unreasonable at all) and you've got 1.11070744 x 10^24 kilometers-cubed.

    Now, the earth masses 5.9742 x 10^24 kilograms. Say we assume that even as much as .1% of that is radioactive material (way, way, way high, by several orders of magnitude...), then you get 5.9742 x 10^21 kilograms.

    Now, divide for density, and you get 5.4 grams (!) per cubic kilometer. That assumes that you've taken every radioactive element in the Earth, and that there are many times more radioactive elements than actually do exist, and spread those over the solar system.

    5.4 grams/cubic-kilometer. I think we'll survive.

    -T

  • by xof (518138) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:40PM (#8000332)
    There is a SF novel on the subject by Pierre Boulle ("The Bridge of the River Kwai", "The Planet of the Apes"). The novel is "The Garden of the Moon" (Le jardin de Kanashima"). It was written in the sixties. It is about the rush to the Moon : Americans, Russians and Chineses compete to be the first on the Moon. The Chineses opt for a much more easy one way ticket and win the race.
  • by bluGill (862) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:42PM (#8000345)

    Nobody with any knowledge belived the world was flat. Columbus offered Protrigal first chance to finance his mission, and they said "your and idiot, the earth is 4 times as large as you have calculated and you will starve before you make it to asia." (or something to that effect.

    Spain said much the same thing until the queen took a fancy to the effort so they gave Columbus the cheapest ships and sailers they could and let the idiot starve himself far enough from land that they didn't have to worry about him.

    Columbus nearly did starve, but it turns out that there is land inbetween here and there, and he was able to get back safely. (without the gold and spices he was after)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:02PM (#8000597)
    Actually, the Viking landers and the russian lander used retro rockets to land, as did all the Moon landings, manned and unmanned.
    Retro rocket control was basically perfected back in the 60s.
  • Re:Parts (Score:2, Informative)

    by HunterZ (20035) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:48PM (#8001155) Journal
    Yes, it was supposed to be:
    "That's one small step for a man,
    one giant leap for all Mankind."

    But he accidentally left the "a" in "for a man" out and said:
    "That's one small step for Man,
    one giant leap for all Mankind," which doesn't really make sense...
  • by ghutchis (7810) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:56PM (#8001270) Homepage
    Granted, they're a series of novels, but the Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars books by Kim Stanley Robinson explores a lot of these issues.

    I won't give away the plot, since a lot of posters here seem not to have read the novels. But suffice to say I think he's written an excellent summary of many issues and I think it's a fairly reasonable scenario politics/sociology-wise.

    -Geoff
  • Citations. (Score:5, Informative)

    by rijrunner (263757) on Friday January 16, 2004 @03:41PM (#8001792)


    I really wish they would cite prior work here. George Herbert published a piece about this back in 1996, if not before. It's an old idea. It was also one of the proposals for a quick mission to the moon back in 1961. The newsgroup also sci.space.policy beats this to death every few years.

    The main issues right now are some specific unkowns when it comes to Mars. The core idea of what they are discussing is possible. NASA's baseline mission to Mars calls for a hab to be sent out in advance of the main mission. That will have working equipment running for a couple years converting the atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen and some form of fuel. Then, a few years of manned habitation, then return. It's an incremental increase in cost to make that an indefinately prolonged mission if you allow for repair and resupply.

    The author is downplaying one major item though. There is a definate conflict of resources between building a base and science. ISS is a very good example of that. A smaller crew has to be focussed on whatever task is required. I suspect that the initial crews sent would need to be focussed on building out infrastructure, then latter crews directed at the science.

  • by MouseR (3264) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:08PM (#8002103) Homepage
    In the wake of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, there was such a loud outcry and long delays because NASA has to do everything it can to make space a safe place for people. Loss of life is simply unacceptable for us "civilized" westernerns.

    It's not so much that lives were lost for the sake of discovery.

    The outcry was more about the fact that these lives could have been saved 2 different ways, as outlined in the final tragedy report.

    Although quite difficult, both another vehicle launch and a prolonged stay in space could have been done. The mere fact that NASA refused USAF photos of the underbelly of the shuttle shows how much incompetence was at the helm of the entire program.

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