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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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  • A good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eric S Rayrnond (739458) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:24AM (#7998637) Homepage
    I'd like to add that I think Davies has come up with a good idea, but it needs one thing - property rights. A development regime which provides some form of property rights will become increasingly necessary as space develops. Professionals foresee an integrated system of solar power generation, lunar and asteroidal mining, orbital industrialization, and habitation in outer space. In the midst of this complexity, the right to maintain a facility in a given location relative to another space object may create conflict. Such conflicts may arise sooner than we expect, if private companies begin building subsidiary facilities around space stations. Eventually large public facilities will become the hub of private space development, and owners will want to protect the proximity value of their facility location.

    It also seems likely that at some point national governments and/or private companies will clash over the right to exploit a given mineral deposit. Finally, the geosynchronous orbit is already crowded with satellites, and other orbits with unique characteristics may become scarce in the future.

    The institution of real property is the most efficient method of allocating the scarce resource of location value. Space habitats, for example, will be very expensive and will probably require financing from private as well as public sources. Selling property rights for living or business space on the habitat would be one way of obtaining private financing. Private law condominiums would seem to be a particularly apt financing model -- inhabitants could hold title to their living space and pay a monthly fee for life-support services and maintenance of common areas.
  • by korTdev (36381) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:28AM (#7998700)
    Well, I think that mankind need to learn how to escape its home planet as fast as it can.

    As we do not know how long it will take, today is not too early to begin.

    Benefits are for the future.
  • by andyring (100627) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:28AM (#7998706) Homepage
    In all seriousness, I would be willing to volunteer for a one-way trip to the Red Planet. Crazy? Probably. Suicide? Who knows. Incredible opportunity? Darn right. Give me 5 or more years of notice, a hefty paycheck for those years ($1 million-ish, to toss out a figure) and I would be willing to board the ship on a one-way trip there.
  • by Chess_the_cat (653159) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:33AM (#7998759) Homepage
    I have never seen a compelling economic argument for manned exploration of Mars

    What does this have to do with money? Humans are naturally curious. We're explorers. That's what we do. I'll tell you something else, it wouldn't take a man a week to move off the lander. A guy in a suit would have already picked up half those rocks, drilled 30 feet into the crust, and sifted for gold. No robot yet built can outdo a dude in a suit.

  • by Inominate (412637) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:33AM (#7998761)
    The assumption is that it would be a crew of several people. Nor would they necessarily give up thier whole lives, it's quite possible technology would make the return trip practical at some point. Even given the risks involved, finding volunteers would be considerably easier than the engineering involved.

    Personally, the idea strikes me as a good one. Not only does it dramaticly cut the costs of the trip, but it leaves a long term commitment to space travel.
  • Moon Colony first? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ba3r (720309) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:33AM (#7998767)
    Clearly Mars has far more potential to colonize (maybe even terraform?), but how about trying to establish a Moon colony first. The moon certainly would have natural resources to build a colony, and we should be able to set up a self sustaining environment, with minimal needs for resupply. Once we conquer a barren vacuum rock, building up on a distant atmosphere laden planet is not so intimidating.
  • by jabberjaw (683624) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:34AM (#7998772)
    It could be a manifest destiny [wikipedia.org] thing, however I suspect other motives. Why not do a manned mission, sure it is dangerous, and yes the possibility of people dying is very real, but the old argument of "Why climb a mountain" applies. Probes cannot convey the human experience of standing on the Martain surface and running red sand through your hands, sure they do not need food/water/supplies and there is little chance of loss of life save a rocket exploding on the pad, but who here hasn't dreamed of going to Mars? It is hard coded in the human spirit to explore. From taking our first steps as a child, we have always wanted to go there (no, not Mars, a generic there), there which we have not set foot before, there into the unknown. In short, we do not need to colonize Mars as much as we want to colonize Mars.
  • by Deanasc (201050) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:39AM (#7998870) Homepage Journal
    Well actually, only the last person to die will die utterly alone. The other 3 will have someone to hold their hand. RTFA the trip will be one way but resupply will be a regular event. As will be the addition of extra crew as the surface is prepared for their arrival. This is the way to go about it. This is probably going to be the only way to go beyond our solar system.
  • by JanneM (7445) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:41AM (#7998900) Homepage
    Um, we _are_ there, it _is_ interesting, and it certainly _was_ a challenge (for "we" read humanity, and for "challenge", remember all those attempts).

    I do not see the point of having a human with a chin cleft deep enough to hide cookies planted on the planet when we can have a dozen semi-autonomous vehicles spread out all over the planet working independently.

    That said, the "humanity stuck on one planet" argument certainly has merits. But we are very much still on the "crawl-before-you-walk" stage here, and anything we can put up on the moon or on mars for the next fifty years will not be self-sustaining no matter how. Better to walk slow and get to that self-sustaining part as fast as possible, even if it means less spectacular manned stuf now.

  • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:43AM (#7998928) Homepage Journal
    If we used nuclear engines, we wouldn't HAVE to leave them there. Not only would be able to build high powered, fuel-efficient rockets, but we'd be able to refuel them from Mar's own materials. Plus we could build a Mars Shuttle for orbital to surface commutes. Didn't anyone read the article on Clean Nuclear Launches a few days ago?
  • I, Volunteer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LaCosaNostradamus (630659) <LaCosaNostradamus@@@mail...com> on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:46AM (#7998972) Journal
    I volunteer.

    I fully understand motivation. Take a ship over an ocean and then break the ship up for building material. You'll find a way to survive. Just make sure you brought enough stuff on that ship.

    NASA never had any lack of volunteers. What it has lacked since Apollo is the will to get things done. And what needs to be done now, is starting up Human civilization in space.

    There are better choices than Mars, but it's not so bad. Humans can even live on the surface while is is being kinetically terraformed. If an actual impactor is required, then settlements should avoid the latitudes where those will be aimed.

    The good thing about a one-way trip is you don't waste fuel and structure for a return. You can then stock with solar panels, tools, fuel cells, emergency rations, and oxygen extractors. And people. More people. People to get things done.

    Send me. I volunteer. My bones may end up moldering early in some sandy grave, a casualty of circumstance, but no one could say that I didn't try.
  • by been42 (160065) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:50AM (#7999013) Homepage
    Pet Peeve #1977833: I hate it when people inject their own personal beliefs into any system. Face it, some people are religious. Even people who write scientific articles. Reporters are not robots, and the news is full of personal bias. That's what makes you read one newspaper instead of another: you pick the one that agrees with your taste.

    That said, the word "genesis" did not come from the Bible, nor did the word "heaven". "Genesis" is a beginning or creation, "the heavens" describes the sky, and "reading too much into stuff" describes both of us, I think.

  • by dan dan the dna man (461768) on Friday January 16, 2004 @11:59AM (#7999144) Homepage Journal
    The case for Mars [amazon.com] by Robert Zubrin has a detailed plan on how you could do this with no moonbase, no LEO station and no need to leave people stranded. Interesting read.
  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:03PM (#7999201) Journal
    The Americas were discovered and colonized due to economic factors. Spain financed Columbus in the hopes of finding a cheaper route to Asia. The Conquistadors were primarily exploring for wealth, which they found in abundance. Land, resources, power were all factors that drove the colonization of the New World. Until the Moon and Mars demonstrate that there are similar payoffs to be had, colonizing them is going to be a tough sell.

    Some might say robots can do it for less. They would be partially right. Robots have a ways to go before they can move over and observe unfamiliar terrain as well as a trained human. One of the painful lessons JPL learned when they sent a prototype rover out to look for life was it missed a plant because the plant was just outside the rover's field of view.

    One technique we used back in the 1800's was to give away land to whomever would go West. 160 acres to anyone who would build a house and occupy it. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific were driven by greed to build the transcontinental railroad. They not only got government backed financing, they also got land and anything on it. So while the Union is fighting the Civil War, it's also driving the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Union could do both because the railroad didn't cost the Union anything. The land had zero value because no one was there and the bonds got paid off by the railroads. California gold and free land were a huge incentive to risk your life crossing the Humboldt sink or Death Valley to look for that perfect piece of land to call home. Seems to me that if a nation made a similar offer of lunar soil and financing, we'd see a lot more activity than we have to date. We won't know what's of value on the Moon and on Mars until people have poked it all over.

  • Freeze them! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Inflatable Hippo (202606) <inflatable_hippo AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk> on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:03PM (#7999202) Journal
    OK, your somewhat graphic concept gave me an idea that marries the one way trip with a potential ethical escape clause.

    The astronauts freeze themselves "before they die".

    It works like this: we send them with no ability to return but with the (mythical) cryogenic equipment to freeze themselves pre "death".

    The poles are pretty cold it would take less energy there.

    They and their families can at least cling to the hope that one day we'll return with the technology to bring them home and revive them.
  • by lonesome phreak (142354) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:03PM (#7999205) Journal
    Tha article memtions a few good reasons: 1) pandemic disease and 2) global war 3) some other extintion-level event (asteroid, ect). Eventually the colony would be self-sustaining by sending more people there. If it went well, within 20-40 years potentially. At least humanity wouldn't be wiped out. That is assuming, of course, that one of the acts of #2 didn't include some nuke being launched at the colony.

    Also, humans can do many more experients and studies than robots. If our rover gets stuck, that's all folks. A colony there with the proper manufactoring facilities could potentially do many interesting things, many which couldn't even be conceived at this point.

    IMHO, that's the main reason. Sending such a mission would enhance our technology in ways most of us can't even contemplate at the moment. We would have to come up with novel solutions to new problems, and those solutions would undoubtably have applications here on Earth. For example, say the colonists devised a new way to grow crops, or NASA had to design an ultra-safe reactor for the colony. Both of these could have major impact on our civilization. The myrid technologies that would be needed for this to be a reality could greatly enhance the worldwide standard of living.

    Finally, I personally feel we should go because we are, at least in America, by tradition frontiersmen without a frontier. Many of us feel a restlessness because there are few places left to go...no more western frontier where we can "make our own". Now, this still wouldn't probably happen in my lifetime (nor probably even in my grandchildrens)...but I would be content with the knowledge that someday one of my decendents could leave this overcrowded place and begin anew in the Martian Colonies.

    It's called hope for the future. It's something many of us have lost due to the Patriot Act I & II, our "jobless recovery", our world's biggest prision population, and so on. It's the potential to someday be able to leave if we feel the need. Not me, of course, but someday.
  • Re:Indeed! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JohnnyComeLately (725958) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:15PM (#7999364) Homepage Journal
    We need more general science, not just a space program

    You could almost say that's a rhetorical statement. It's a space program that has lead to huge increses in general science. The experiements the astronaughts perform on the Shuttle affect many different facets of life, from cancer research, farming, biology, and on and on.

    Even though I'm a space fan, I too questioned the need to spend a $1B (or whatever) on getting to the moon, when kids are homeless. However, I heard an astronaught (sp?) say, "You'd think people envision us going to Mars and burying huge bags of cash. That money doesn't go to mars, it employs people, develops science..." I may have slaughtered his exact words, but that was the general idea. And I somewhat agree. I don't mean to sound callous, but I have yet to see a society, whether capitalistic, socialist, communist, or totalitarian, that cures all social ills. So using that logic, we'd never spend money on anything except social programs. If history has taught us anything, it is that the government is often not a complete solution to ANY problem.

    But I digress...

    On a side note, I was a Ballistic Missile Early Warning (BMEWS) tracking control operator for a year up in Alaska (around 1995). The scorecard is correct, but might be misleading. BMEWS is intended to track ALL launches from Russia, and then immediately assess if they have a projectory that leads to North America (which is why we also had Canadian military there). It's also the mission at Clear AFS (the BMEWS site in Alaska) to track all objects within so close (I'm not sure if the distance is still classified) for cataloging purposes and to help Shuttle mission planners. You don't want manned spacecraft to fly through a bunch of debris. The BMEWS system formerly was a really old mechanical radar. The feedhorn would oscilate back and forth, while bouncing the signal off a large fence about the size of a football field. There were three of these. Since then, that has been yanked out for a Phased Array Radar system which is much higher in accuracy, sensitivity and is electronically alterable (where as the mechanical was fixed, you couldn't change where it looked).

    Just some useless trivia to add for any space-buffs interested.

    John

  • by Rommel (33210) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:16PM (#7999375)
    The one way mission concept is really that: a one way mission.

    As the article outlines, the living conditions are likely to be incredibly demanding. The environment on Mars is so harsh that there will also be a constant risk of death due to equipment failure or mistake. If any sort of medical problem develops (broken bones, organ problems, etc.) there is no large medical infrastructure to use, so odds of recovery are diminished. Additionally, the radiation exposure on Mars is almost certainly going to be higher than on Earth, so the risk of cancer developing is much higher. As for treating the cancer, see my earlier comment about lack of medical support on Mars.

    Assuming you live that long, once you spend 10 or 20 years on the much lower gravity of Mars, you'd have an incredibly hard time surviving in the Earth's gravity. Remember -- the gravity on Mars is only 38% of what we have on Earth. You start experiencing bone density loss and other interesting side effects.

    So a trip to Mars under in a one way program is highly likely to be just that. Don't delude yourself by thinking otherwise.
  • not NASA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:17PM (#7999378) Homepage Journal
    The final paragraph of the article is probably the best:

    Would NASA entertain a one-way policy for human Mars exploration? Probably not. But other, more adventurous space agencies in Europe or Asia might.

    Most of asia has a culture where the individual is seen as part of the whole society, and measured by its contribution to same.
    China would certainly have no shortage of volunteers, and no PR problems with such a mission. Neither would Japan.

  • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:19PM (#7999408) Homepage Journal
    I think it's important to realize that eventually we *will* get pegged pretty seriously by an asteroid. The scares are one thing, but eventually the numbers are gonna catch up with us.

    It's depressing to think that we continue to keep all of mankind's eggs in one basket when we don't have to. Zubrin says $20 billion and 10 years to get to Mars and $2B a launch after that -- that's 70+ Mars missions just for what we're spending for W's war in Iraq, which I suspect would do a lot towards addressing the idea of permanent colonization.

    Get some puny dictator who poses no threat to the US or do something so great that it'd be remembered forever so long as humans draw breath...

    ----

    asdbt

  • An old idea rehashed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mzs (595629) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:34PM (#7999575)
    There was a serious paper presented in 1962 titled The One-Way Manned Space Mission [marsinstitute.info] by John M. Cord and Leonard M. Seale. It described sending a Mercury sized capsule to the moon with a single astronaut. The capsule would have a cylindrical container attached to it with supplies. Before and during the mission more capsules and cylinders with supplies would be launched to the landing site. The astronaut was to use the empty cylinders as shelter. Later a two man expedition would be sent to retrieve the original astronaut when sufficiently powerful rockets were developed.

    Maybe this current plan for Mars is just a similar situation where in the eagerness of the moment some wild ideas like this get tossed about until technology catches-up.

    The idea for the moon mission lead to the novel The Pilgrim Project by Hank Searls which lead to the movie Countdown [imdb.com] directed by Robert Altman (of M*A*S*H fame) starring James Caan and Robert Duvall which was eclipsed by a certain other movie [imdb.com] set in space released shortly after this one.

  • Re:A good idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by johnjay (230559) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:38PM (#7999611)
    Let's assume that the first inhabitants carry with them property rights to a 100KM radius area from their landing spot. Who owns those rights? The explorers? Not likely, they're living soley on the charity of the country that supports them. The country? Sounds a lot like colonialism--a politically risky choice for the US. The private companies that help underwrite the mission (assuming they exist)? Unless Boeing (to take a company at random) paid for the entire launch and support, there's no way the government would let them own part of Mars. The voters would hate that.

    I agree that nothing would spur settlement like property rights. Once a US mission landed on Mars, China, Russia and the EU would be falling over themselves to get their own stake. But, I don't know how it would work in the beginning.

    The colonial model is the most logical: the US owns whatever part of Mars it's settlers are living on. But, how long does the US own the land? At what point does it revert to the settlers? At what point does the Mars-US relationship become like the American Colonies vs. the British Empire?

    It probably shouldn't be based on a strict timeline, but rather a series of developement steps. Once the Mars colony is reasonably self-sufficent (and the US has made a return on it's investment?) the land would become privately held.

    Just thinking out loud. There's probably an essay somewhere on the internet that works out these details...
  • Send some life first (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bsharma (577257) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:43PM (#7999679)
    I am surprised he didn't suggest a far more rational science. Create a modern day Ark and send a variety of life, weighted towards simpler forms, as they have a higher probability of success. Some algae, bacteria, protozoans should be good. Add some roaches, mice for extra effect. Just pick the most successful species and rain them all over mars. There is a more than even chance that some species will evolve and find a way to propagate. Definitely, this is more scientific and non-ghoulish way to establish life on mars.
  • The Prime Directive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by florescent_beige (608235) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:00PM (#7999877) Journal
    Just a thought, but what happens if one of these robot probes finds life on Mars? I don't think we will be able to go after that, due to the moral aspects of interfering with another life-forms destiny. Even if its bacteria.

    In fact, shouldn't man prohibit all travel there until its clear beyond a doubt that there is no life?

  • by madstork2000 (143169) * on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:13PM (#8000030) Homepage
    At last someone looks at the value of human life objectively. Our lives have an immeasurabley high value, but not so high that it is unthinkable to sacrifice one's life for the good of the group. It's just that our list of acceptable sacrifices is growing shorter.

    Sacrifice your life saving your family = acceptable
    Sacrifice your life in defense of your country = acceptable
    Sacrifice your life in hopes of new discoveries = no

    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.

    Space is dangerous, there is risk and will always be risk. We have to keep trying, and keep learning, and the risk will go down. But it will always remain. Wasting billions of dollars to make it an old program a wee bit (percentage wise) safer is ludicrous. We should set LOWER safety standards, and encourage our government to risk lives and we will have progress in SPace exploration.

    If we continue to place this high value on human lives we are doomed to low earth orbit for a long long time. We need to make dieing for scientific discovery as acceptible as dieing for terrorism. Heres a thought how much would we have learned if we lost the ~500 people attempting to establish colonies instead of fighting in Iraq?

    True there are plenty of people opposed to the war. Though, I imagine a lot more people can accept 500 deaths as the price to eliminate "terrorism" and threats of biological/chemical/nuclear arms against the US and allies, than could the nebuolous cause of better all mankind through discovery.

    Think back to the late 1400 and early 1500's. Our society was just leaving the dark ages, that set science and discovery back 500 years perhaps. We were waking up and things got done. At the time going across the ocean was a major risk, and often represented a one-way trip. We owe our modern western society to these early colonists and explorers.

    Granted they did some horrible things in the process, but we learned (and continue to learn) from the mistakes of the past. If I had the opportunity to voluteer for a harsh hard life on mars, leaving my friends and family behind, I would do it. I would encourage my children to do it. Everyone is going to die, and I'd rather I have some say in how it happens.

    Exploring in the long run is about survival of our species. All animals have the instinct to protect themselves, and to propogate. Adaptation and exploration are critical elements. As we, as a species, have gotten more intelligent we have become increasingly self centered on survival of the individual. Hence we place extremely high values on individual lives. For example, we often do things to our environment that are short sighted and produce positive effects for only a small subset of our population, while causing a negative effect for the larger community.

    Anyway, I applaud someone who has the courage to at least propose the idea. Obviously it will not get far, as it would be way too controversial for any government (at least any Western Government) to support. Maybe the Chinese would consider it?

    Another point worth mentioning is that while, we may not have the technology at the time we send them to bring them back. It is certainly possible that after a few years things will have progressed enough to send a "rescue" or retrieval mission. So if they can hold out a decade maybe there will be hope. . . .

    For what its worth thats my take . . .

    MS2k
  • Re:Freeze them! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The_K4 (627653) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:17PM (#8000082)
    I'm married (without children) and I would go in a heartbeat and my wife would understand. Don't get me wrong I love my wife very much and we have a great relationship but for me a trip to mars (even a 1-way trip) would be a dream come true and if I passed on it...it would be as Ray said in "Field of Dreams"..."It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it! God, they'd consider it a tragedy!" Some dreams are more important that a marriage, then even life. I would sign up to go even if I KNEW I would die when my air ran out after 2 weeks!
  • by El (94934) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:25PM (#8000167)
    Somewhere deep inside your body, there are millions of bacteria and virii thinking exactly the same thing: "We've got to get our of here, this place is dying!"
  • by latez (692440) on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:51PM (#8000456)
    I dont understand, why is it that no one is bothering to look for sponsors for such a project? Can you imagine what kind of a media blitz can be accomplished. The entire world will be watching, why not put a few fliers and posters up on that rocket? Why not have most of the equipment that comes from the commercial sector anyway be sponsored? If we as a race want to go some where I see it as only fair if everyone did their part! Order today and recieve your chance to win a one way ticket to mars! BLAH!!
  • Yeah, right... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ayanami Rei (621112) <rayanamiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:56PM (#8000526) Journal
    and I'm sure you could otherwise survive the unending, deadly wind of alpha particles, free neutrons, and other ionized nasties streaming out of the sun. You do know that if the van allen belts suddenly failed, you'd be a dead man.

    Setting off hydrogen bombs in space is a drop in the bucket, my friend.
  • Re:Emotional Horror (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jcoleman (139158) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:05PM (#8000632)
    Beagle had no pilot other than it's own automatic systems, which clearly were not designed to deal with whatever befell it. A human pilot would be able to make decisions that could save the probe. A human-piloted system would almost certainly have fared better than the fully automatic system that was Beagle2.

    If it's just a communications problem, that too could have possibly been salvaged with a human up there checking the systems for failure. You'd better believe that a human would have multiple methods to communicate with the home planet.

    Thirdly, they don't land humans inside of big beach balls. :)

  • Terraform First? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jmpoast (736629) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:14PM (#8000748)
    Would it be possible to begin the terraforming process before we sent actual humans to Mars? Send enough bacteria or whatever microbial life needed in mass quantities to begin converting the atmosphere to a more human-friendly one? Seeing how this is one theory how life on Earth started:

    "An alternative possibility is that life started on Mars and spread to Earth inside material blasted into space by the impact of comets crashing into the Martian surface. Mars and Earth trade rocks, and hardy bacteria could have hitched a ride to seed our planet with microbial Martians."
  • by brahmsnotbombs (661527) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:18PM (#8000798) Journal
    This is why Bush is so interested in Mars... [petroleumnews.com]
  • Why Single Track (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LinuxMacWin (79859) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:30PM (#8000901)
    I see all plans having narrow focus. Send the people to Mars, leave them there. OR. Do full return missions. OR. Build a colony and then have supplies only. OR so on and so on.

    Real life will probably turn out to be a compromise. I do not think anyone will volunteer to go stay on Mars with only annual supply missions to help them out. And I do not think Mars colonies will develop until we start having multiple Mars trips every year.

    I think the first point we have to prove is that the travel is viable. This might be expensive if we need to plan for the return trip, but I do not think any sane government is going to "sell" a one-way mission. Once we have proven the travel, we might send pieces of a return shuttle to Mars and demonstrate it works (no people to be launched, just that it can be assembled with robots and sent back to space...with maybe some help from a manned mission) - mainly that we will take the shuttle when needed, but we can assemble from pieces if needed. Once we demonstrate ability to configure / launch such flight from Mars, we can think of keeping one or two such shuttles available on Mars and talk about a colony of 4-6, so that the people have an exit plan. This does not mean these people die of old age at Mars. Once you have proven and established the travel basics, if you can have 1 Mars mission per year (initially) and Mars remains your focus, you should be able to scale up to 20 missions per year in a decade or two. People would be coming and going on a fairly regular basis, with some staying back for a longer period.

    The other challenge is this discussion is about Mars being in a good position for launches only once in 2 years. We will need to get around that, maybe with a space station, maybe by willing to take a longer trajectory. And an Earth centric space station will not work, cause Mars might be directly opposite to us. The space station does not need to be a Star Trek type thingy, but just something which has supplies, maybe just a few boxes floating in space might do.

    Ok, that is a non-rocket scientist's thought on how this could work. I think the progress will be slow. It is easier to say "go live on Mars", than to realize that we would pretty much freak out on Antartica, except for maybe a couple of hundred people. There would be times when mobility will be low. There would be times when it will be hot. Gravity would be an issue. Transport would be an issue. Cost will be exorbitant. But the colonies would emerge. And it will most likely not be the result of a gameplan developed now, but improvisations every step of the way.
  • Say What? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:48PM (#8001150)
    I would go in a heartbeat and my wife would understand... I love my wife very much and we have a great relationship...

    We have three interesting alternatives to choose from here:

    1. You don't actually love your wife (you don't know what love is).
    2. You have no wife.
    3. You, sir, are an idiot.

    Seriously, what are you, 25, and too young to know what the hell you're talking about?

    Sheesh.
  • Re:Freeze them! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 5KVGhost (208137) on Friday January 16, 2004 @03:00PM (#8001308)
    Larry Niven already thought of that one, sort of. In his Known Space short story "Wait it Out", equipment failure leaves two astronauts stranded on Pluto. They're gonna die, so one astronaut decides to take the quick way out and remove his helmet outside, freezing instantly. The second realizes that, hey, someone just might be able to thaw us out alive someday. So he does the same, and is surprised to discover that he's not dead - his flash-frozen brain becomes a superconductor and he regains consciousness after Plutonian sunset.
  • Send prisoners (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Milo77 (534025) on Friday January 16, 2004 @03:09PM (#8001431)
    Why not send prisoners that already have a life sentence? Find four that might not kill eachother (probably the biggest problem - they're more likely to kill eachother in transit), and give them some science and medical training. It doesn't have to be a lot because you'll always have the real "brains" here on earth guiding them through anything tricky. They'd basically be robots, but better. Oh, come on - we were already being pretty far-fetched. Send twelve and we can call them the dirty dozen.
  • by Dieppe (668614) on Friday January 16, 2004 @03:33PM (#8001697) Homepage

    Actually if you think about it perhaps it makes sense.

    At least in my addled mind. Here goes.

    1:Look for caves or a region of Mars that is likely to have caves without the constant hazard of caveins.

    2:Look for that in a region of Mars that tends towards the more Tropical and is lower altitude. That way even if it's a high of 10F during the day the explorer wouldn't have to expend as much energy trying to stay warm. Besides, if you have a cave chances are you will be able to better survive one of those nasty (max 25mph?) dust storms.

    3:Send the astronaut (or two, or three) in a vehicle that can return to Earth, but don't necessarily send all the fuel required to do so the first trip. Instead send food, water, etc.

    4:Send the supplies in a device similar to the way the recent landing were: with parachutes and airbags. Send the astronauts in a vehicle that can "land" but don't burden them down with all the supplies. An astronaut can better walk to where the bags bounced (hopefully) to pick up the new supplies of PowerBars than a rover could.

    5:Someone suggested a nuclear reactor. I agree with this one, and ship it separately. But have enough spare solar panels for backup too.

    6:Free lifetime subscription to the Playboy Channel. Oh, and DirectTV. But only during the day when the earth is facing Mars. (Wouldn't PPV be a real bitch?)

    7:At regular intervals send airbag protected supplies, but also smaller probes that could be launched with rocks, sand, and other materials back to Earth. Don't burden them down with parachutes for Earth entry, just pick them up in orbit when it's convienent.

    8:Did I mention send Fuel for that rocket back?

    9: Find astronauts who don't mind drinking their filtered recycled urine.

    10: Send tanks of O2 as well.

    I could be mistaken, but I'd think that making a shipping system similar to the Rover's lander, without having to add a rover, would be less expensive and you could launch a bunch of them at a time and just keep sending them..

    Martians are gonna get pissed off about us littering their planet.. but hey...

  • Re:Freeze them! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Friday January 16, 2004 @03:58PM (#8001987) Homepage Journal
    On the other hand, it makes a valid point. Send a group of *volunteers*, who fully understand the consequences. The biggest cost is the return vehicle. We send supplies/more people there every 2 years. Eventually, they should be relativly self-sustaining. Getting hydroponic hothouses set up and working would be a major step.

    For something this big, you can find highly qualified volunteers who will compete for the mission. The article even mentions the popularity of extreme sports that are very risky by nature, and that people of this type would be more than happy to sign up.
  • Re:Freeze them! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JudgeFurious (455868) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:05PM (#8002071)
    In all honesty, I'd send you one way to Mars in a heartbeat.

    I am speaking for myself and you're a fucking idiot. No doubt about it.

    The pioneers in pretty much every case that I can bring to mind had a reasonable expectation that they would not die. In most cases they could expect hardships and possible death but nobody crossed the plains knowing full well that they were going to die there. They all held out hope that they would prevail over whatever odds there were and live.

    Comparing someone who took a chance with someone who's agreed to die in advance for mankind (to learn things that could be obtained at a later date without a guarantee of death) IS STUPID. Explorers who never returned planned on returning, People who did things that led others to burn them at the stake did not sign up for this because of the promised "Chrispy Critter" plan, and people who died in accidents and malfunctions did not get into their capsules/shuttles/whatever knowing that those things would happen. They knew there was a chance that those things could happen.

    Just to clarify, that makes them brave. If they were like you and climbed into their spacecraft knowing that the plan was for them to die that would make them stupid, a condition they would apparently share with yourself.
  • Only read "Red Mars" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by johnjay (230559) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:08PM (#8002108)
    I've only read "Red Mars". It was good, but I decided at the time that "Green" and "Blue" would be concerned with changes to Mars that were so far in the future they couldn't possibly be as scientific as "Red". I still might read them because I liked the first book, but I didn't feel compelled to follow the story. I thought that Red Mars was very interesting for about 3/4ths of the way through while it followed the course of the first colonists, and only somewhat interesting describing the struggles in the last part of the book because it was more fiction and less science. Not bad, just not why I picked up the book.

    Maybe I should read the other books to see how property rights are hashed out in the new world. From what I remember of the first book, the colonists wanted to own Mars in a sort of joint trust (it's been a while since I read the book, so I could very well be wrong). I find this too utopian to believe it could survive as a system, but a reasonable first attempt by idealistic colonists. It's possible Mr. Robinson addresses the problems with this in his later books. The first book had bigger issues of survival to deal with, so property didn't come into play much.
  • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:12PM (#8002158)
    Very noble of you. You could however not go to Mars to die in a year and contribute to society to the extent that you are capable (whatever that may be, I don't know you) and then maybe live to see one of your grandchildren go to Mars and actually return when we have actually figured out how to do that.

    I fail to see how this is less worthy a plan than your noble sacrifice. Mankind has been around for a pretty long time and I expect will be around for some time to come. This isn't something that can't wait to happen for 30-40 more years and I personally believe that in that time frame you can expect a "There and Back Again" plan appear that's got a reasonable chance of working.
  • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Friday January 16, 2004 @05:10PM (#8002818)

    A one-way trip would be an interesting idea if there were a reasonable chance of survival on the other end. The problem is that we humans have a very primitive understanding of what it takes to make a self-sustaining ecosystem, particularly one complex and robust enough to support humans. Full-ecosystem projects like Biosphere 2 [bio2.com] are not only spectacular failures, they are so far beyond our understanding that most scientists don't even believe they yield scientifically valuable information.

    If you believe that building self-sustaining colonies away from Earth should be a long-term goal of humanity (as I do), then we need to start with research here on Earth focused on understanding and learning to engineer these kinds of self-sustaining ecosystems. We have to be modest enough to realize there are many baby steps between our current understanding and any hope of self-sufficiency away from Earth.

  • by willtsmith (466546) on Friday January 16, 2004 @06:12PM (#8003438) Journal
    WHAT RESEARCH!!!!

    If you do research, you need control subjects. How would you perform a controlled research experiment on the effects of Mars. That would be like sending some seventy something year old guy up on a single shuttle mision and ... ooops, did that and it was a waste of time too.

    Beyond this, exactly what would the benefit of people on Mars be to civilization???? Every time space missions our brought up, advocates are very quick to point to the few scurrilous benefits to "society". What they rarely point out is that they really don't care about any benefits to society. They just think space travel is cool and want to do it.

    I might as rob someone of gold and claim that I saved them orthopedic problems because they no longer have to carry it.

  • Re:Freeze them! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @06:24PM (#8003515)
    Right now it's nothing more than another President saying something to try and get some good reviews in a History book.

    It actually may be just that. I've been told that you Americans are going to be holding another presidential election soon. Other than his pissing off much of the planet and getting the American people into a war that nobody except he and his close friends wanted to be involved with, there isn't much GWB is known for.

    First, because of the looming election, he's got very little time to win some brownie points with the populace. That's if he wants even a shot at being re-elected. Second, if he doesn't win, he probably wants to do the legacy thing -- so he doesn't fall in next to LBJ in the history books.

  • Mars Direct (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Roger_Explosion (709412) on Friday January 16, 2004 @07:29PM (#8004011) Journal
    There's no need for a one way trip, there is Mars Direct.

    Mars direct was devised by an aerospace engineer called Robert Zubrin a few years ago in response to the previous Bush's original estimate of the cost of sending humans to Mars. Bush's administration devised a plan whereby a giant spaceship would be constructed in Earth orbit. This spaceship would package together everything required for a trip to and from Mars, and a stay of a few months.

    Mars Direct proposes a multi-stage approach whereby the required supplies, infrastructure etc. are sent over several years. It is safer, has more redundancy, allows a longer stay on the surface, and best of all, it's cheaper. Much cheaper. The cost of the original plan was estimated by NASA to be $400 billion (1989, unadjusted.) When researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center considered Zubrin's Mars Direct proposal, they decided to be generous, and scale it up by a factor of 2. The ultimate cost still only came out at $50 billion dollars.

    Mars direct can be implemented now, using current technology, with no need to leave people on Mars, and no exotic propulsion methods. Of course, with the development of more exotic nuclear propulsion methods, the cost can probably be brought down even further, and the travel times reduced.

    Mars Direct could constitute as little as 20% of NASA's annual budget if implemented. This means that by retiring the Space Shuttle, and ending the commitment to the ISS, Mars Direct could probably fit within NASA's current budget.

    Any NASA plans to send humans to Mars will almost certainly emcompass elements of Zubrin's Mars Direct plan.

    For more info [sciam.com]

    For a more recent critique of the plan [thespacereview.com]
  • Re:Emotional Horror (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iabervon (1971) on Friday January 16, 2004 @09:11PM (#8004573) Homepage Journal
    That's why you wait until unmanned missions are routine. If the crew doesn't contact Earth, one of the current rovers drives over to see what's up with them. In order to put people there, you're going to have to put a bunch of construction supplies and equipment in place first, and be able to send further supplies reliably. At that point, there's enough monitoring equipment in place to report on landings from the ground with existing and functional equipment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @09:50PM (#8004765)
    The thing is, Moore's law doesn't apply to space travel. That's why we've been stuck with the shuttle for the past 20 years, and haven't been on the Moon since Apollo 18. The reason why Moore's law works in semiconductors is that there has been a steady progress in making chips smaller and smaller. Combined with massive research efforts, this has succeeded in the much lauded 18 months per doubling of computer performance.

    What you don't hear about is that some people think this rate of advance is a result of Moore's law, as people target this rate for their technological roadmaps. Furthermore, many technologies develop much quicker than semiconductors; telecommunications increase in their bandwidth at a rate something like 10x every 18 months.

    Now compare this to aerospace, where there's very little productive investment in developing new manned space vehicles. It should be no wonder why technological progress here is so slow; progress isn't something that happens out of thin air, without the sweat and toil of human beings. This is why we must begin, for you can't get from here to there without traveling through in between.
  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Saturday January 17, 2004 @02:57AM (#8005986)
    I can't believe you are even making this argument. One good (or even decent) geologist on Mars could learn more than 10000 rovers could.

    For starters, consider where we even land rovers. There is only a narrow band where they can even go because we have to keep them at low elevations, and on top of that we can't put them in any kind of terrain too difficult to navigate. By contrast, a human could go 1000x farther and faster than a rover (because they could drive a rover with actual human skills at driving, not a hazcam worse than a 90 year old grandmother in Florida) and then wander on down a ravine if they feel like and not shy away from a hillside because a camera yields uncertain data about soil composition. A human can literally just poke a stick at the hill and figure out if it can be climbed - and probably get upright again if he/she falls.

    But let's get away from being able to see 90% of Mars that rovers cannot or will not see. Let's just fall back on sheer analytic ability. A geologists can look at a whole skyline, see something a bit funny, and wander over to check it out. A camera sends back images which them people scratch heads over for a few days and decide perhaps instead to spend a while looking at *one* rock, not even seeing the rock to the left because it was obscured or whatever. I'm saying a human could do what they do best, use intuition, to bring forward a million more interesting observations than a rover had.

    Finally of course there is a selfish desire - to see what art could come from mars. I myself really love photography, and cannot think of anything more exciting than photographing a planet we have hardly seen!

    So despite the huge advantage in data to be returned, the incredibly wider range of exploration, and the artistic merit I guess there's no reason at all to send one of us to Mars.

"Pascal is Pascal is Pascal is dog meat." -- M. Devine and P. Larson, Computer Science 340

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