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NASA Science

Sending Astronauts On a One-Way Trip To Mars 917

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-don't-come-back dept.
The Narrative Fallacy writes "Cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss, director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, writes in the NY Times that with the investment needed to return to the moon likely to run in excess of $150 billion and the cost of a round trip to Mars easily two to four times that, there is a way to reduce the cost and technical requirements of a manned mission to Mars: send the astronauts on a one way trip. 'While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots,' writes Krauss. 'Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip.' There are more immediate and pragmatic reasons to consider one-way human space exploration missions including money. 'If the fuel for the return is carried on the ship, this greatly increases the mass of the ship, which in turn requires even more fuel.' But would anyone volunteer to go on such a trip? Krauss says that informal surveys show that many scientists would be willing to go on a one-way mission into space and that we might want to restrict the voyage to older astronauts, whose longevity is limited in any case. "
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Sending Astronauts On a One-Way Trip To Mars

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:47PM (#29292627)
    Just make sure my wife's on board.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:51PM (#29292687)

      Just make sure my wife isn't on board.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:55PM (#29292721)
      I second that. I want your wife onboard.
    • by spazdor (902907) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:56PM (#29292733)

      Hey, we can volunteer other people for this? See, I know his guy, he's a telephone sanitizer...

      Do any of you know someone?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by El Torico (732160)

        I know of a Cosmologist at Arizona State University.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BoppreH (1520463)

        Hey, we can volunteer other people for this? See, I know his guy, he's a telephone sanitizer...

        Do any of you know someone?

        Better change that to a management consultant. I heard of this place that got rid of all his phone sanitizers and got royally screwed.

      • by pdabbadabba (720526) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:39PM (#29294325) Homepage

        The death panels are real! And they're run by NASA!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:48PM (#29292637)

    The added bonus is that they don't have broadband at home, so they'll accept an 8 minute ping from Mars.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:49PM (#29292651) Journal

    'Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip.'

    Colonists heading to the new world were heading from a place of high resource (to live) contention to a place of low resource contention. A smart move if you wish to succeed--the resources were there for the taking. The astronauts, however, are not just heading to a place of higher resource contention they are heading to a place of no resources. None for living anyway. You might find platinum ore on Mars but you aren't going to find fur trapping, fishing and logging. This isn't little house on the prairie, this is the cold deadness of space.

    You're sending them there on a one trip for one reason and one reason only: saving money. You're not sending them to a new world with more people there and more people coming and food everywhere ripe for the picking. They will eke out a miserable existence and remember earth fondly and try to be live off of what they are doing for humanity.

    • by Abreu (173023) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:53PM (#29292695)

      Exactly.

      How the heck are those astro/cosmo/taikonauts going to find food and drinking water to subsist, let alone colonize?

      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:21PM (#29293031) Homepage Journal

        Its easier and safer to resupply them for life than to try to bring them back. But I wonder what would happen when they get very old.

      • by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:52PM (#29293973) Homepage

        How the heck are those astro/cosmo/taikonauts going to find food and drinking water to subsist, let alone colonize?

        I did a calculation one time about how much food we would have to stock for it to last the rest of our lives. It was entirely doable. If memory serves the cost for 20 years of food was something like $175,000 per person. Certainly within NASA's budget. You'd basically be packing enough consumables for a lifetime, which I'm guessing would be about the weight of the return fuel. Some rocket scientist here could give you a better estimate. They might be able to find ice on Mars for water, otherwise it's just another consumable. One that can be recycled to conserve.

        Some kind of underground dwelling, nuclear power source. Excavating equipment to site it. Back up power source, maybe two back ups with an optional resupply in 10 years in case something bad happens. I know the Russians have small scale reactors that have been in service almost that long. Some satellites are still transmitting after 30+ years. An underground greenhouse with nuclear heat and solar power might even be able to produce plants and some spare oxygen. Martian atmosphere has plenty of CO2. If it was built right they might even have some natural light coming in through the roof.

        With a resupply that consisted of manufacturing equipment, they might be able to make a go of it. Discovery of natural fibers probably isn't going to save them, but you take the good with the bad.

        • by pcolaman (1208838) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:15PM (#29295145)

          You forget about the gateway to hell that will open up eventually. So need to send at least one space marine to clean the shit up once it hits the fan.

        • by w0mprat (1317953) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:00AM (#29295397)
          Something to not is food is not the only crucial consumable.

          Consumables need to include, toothpaste, medicines, sanitary needs, shampoo/washing detegents. Clothing (wears out with use and washing)

          Yet a /. poster probably uses less of these than average. *ducks*

          Foods can be stabilised for years such as military MREs (Meal: ready to eat) packets that can have a 3-5 year shelf life. But most of the essiential nutrients in food are prone to break down over time. This is before you consider the effects of ambient radiation speeding up this process.

          Mars colonists would have no choice but to have a complete self contained bio recycling system right off the bat. And that manurfacturing capacity better be pretty comprehensive too, for everything from cleaning products through to chemotherapy drugs.
      • by Korey Kaczor (1345661) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:08PM (#29294559)

        It's just a slow news day. We're not sending anyone to Mars for a long time, and certainly not for one-way voyages.

        We haven't sent anyone to the moon in decades, because nobody wants to fund NASA for it. They're not going to fund NASA for Mars, either.

      • by thesandtiger (819476) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:32PM (#29294753)

        Massive quantities of supplies (and the equipment to build hydroponic or other renewable food supplies) from numerous care-packages sent from Earth.

        I see no problem with the idea of sending several tons of stuff every month over the course of 10 years in cheap (slow) trajectories before sending a team to Mars. When they got there they'd have quite a bit of material to be able to use to build shelters & set up hydroponic farms, & basically have a spartan but survivable place. Even if hydroponics or other farming methods weren't possible, they could survive on tons of freeze-dried rations sent by dumb couriers.

        Water is a problem, but again - tons of water sent (or, eventually, if it turns out to be feasible, scavenged from the planet itself) ahead of time. It could also double as a radiation barrier with some clever design. And water will need to be brought along anyway with the colonists - LOTS of water - to act as a radiation shield for the ship.

        Though, to be honest, the real problem here is that we just won't try to develop real propulsion systems for use in space - Orion (not the new Orion, but the one from the 60's using nukes for propulsion) would be fantastic out in space...

    • by Herkum01 (592704) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:53PM (#29292697)

      The first set of explorers are to seed the planet with their corpses so that the next wave will have something to eat.

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:58PM (#29292761) Journal

      They will eke out a miserable existence and remember earth fondly and try to be live off of what they are doing for humanity.

      There's no delusions of extended survival mentioned. That doesn't take away what they would be doing for humanity though.

      If we can figure out the kinks we have in our biodomes, I don't see why trying to start a colony there, even if it takes 3 or 4 seperate space missions of people willing to die for it - it would be as revolutionary as the moon landing.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:20PM (#29293003)

        There's no delusions of extended survival mentioned. That doesn't take away what they would be doing for humanity though.

        If there is any nation willing to do this, it certainly won't be the US. We can't even let terminal patients die without wasting vast sums to slightly prolong their misery.

        So if it happens, some other country will do it. But I guess that's good for us - we don't have to be jealous of their success if we can spin the whole thing as an inhumane travesty.

        • by thrillseeker (518224) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:32PM (#29293133)
          We can't even let terminal patients die without wasting vast sums to slightly prolong their misery.

          We're all terminal, son.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by El Torico (732160)

          If there is any nation willing to do this, it certainly won't be the US. We can't even let terminal patients die without wasting vast sums to slightly prolong their misery.

          Hey, it's their money. I'd probably go on a drug and sex filled romp around the world until I dropped dead, but with the value of the dollar, that would probably be a bus ride to Tijuana and a guest appearance in a donkey show.
          Anyone know where I can rent a donkey costume?

      • by cetialphav (246516) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:37PM (#29293193)

        That doesn't take away what they would be doing for humanity though.

        Which is what? This does nothing for humanity. It isn't like we don't know what is on Mars. We know exactly what Mars is like. For hundreds of billions of dollars we can send an almost limitless series of rovers equipped with a variety of instruments to explore and run tests. Having a couple of humans just trying to survive, is not going to provide a scientific breakthrough.

        The only point of sending men to Mars is to prove the point that we can send men to Mars. It's the same reason most people run marathons or attempt to climb Mount Everest. You just want to know that you can do it.

        Personally, I don't see the value in that (at least not a few lives and billions of dollars worth). Others may disagree and say that "because its there" is a good enough reason to try, but that still doesn't make it a breakthrough moment for humanity.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DiegoBravo (324012)

          > The only point of sending men to Mars is to prove the point that we can send men to Mars.

          Why we assume that those men/women will not figure out some better ways to survive, or develop better technology than in our terrestrial labs? To me the point is let a croud of people try to self-adapt (like the explorers in the artic, for example.) Since we never lived in Mars, we can't say that is not possible (despite the data and failures of the robots sent before.)

          Of course a good terrestrial food/water supply

        • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:39PM (#29293881)
          They're not loading up rockets with those dollars. That money is spent on research, design, engineering, and invention. Historically, the money spent on throttling men through space CANNOT be spent better when it comes to improving technology or your way of life. It's difficult to overestimate the importance that space travel has on your modern conveniences.
          • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:29PM (#29294249) Journal

            Historically, the money spent on throttling men through space CANNOT be spent better when it comes to improving technology or your way of life.

            Unfortunately, the same can be said about war as a technology accelerant. It's why Hitler was Time magazine's Man of the Year, and almost won the Man of the Century, as the person who had the most impact on the 20th century. War gave us ARPANET which gave us the InnerToobs. War gave us the cold war which gave us the space race which gave us integrated circuits which gave us cpu-on-a-chip and vlsi circuitry and all the other goodness we enjoy today. War gave us the impetus to research ways to treat injuries quickly and effectively and stabilize patients in forward positions, which gave us better techniques to treat trauma. War gave us soldiers who had to be treated, and the budget and will to try to create more effective treatments. War gave us practical radar. War gave us practical ICBMs which gave us satellites. War gave us higher-strength metals.

            But as humans, we'd be better off funneling the money into space. Problem is, we'd rather fight.

            • by rastilin (752802) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:20PM (#29295163)

              But as humans, we'd be better off funneling the money into space. Problem is, we'd rather fight.

              Or rather you mean we'd rather live instead of being the target of whoever thinks their life would be better if they had someone else's stuff. The self hatred is strong within you. Is it just my impression or do people actually think that animals never fight each-other?

        • by Progman3K (515744) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:43PM (#29294363)

          The only point of sending men to Mars is to prove the point that we can send men to Mars.

          To not have all our eggs in one basket.

          If the Mars settlers can achieve sustenance, the human race will have taken a small step toward the preservation of our species.

        • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:22PM (#29294661) Journal

          The only point of sending men to Mars is to prove the point that we can send men to Mars.

          If we were only going to send men then you'd be correct. However the real, long term goal is to send women as well as men and establish a permanent colony. The reason for this is to hugely increase the survivability of our species and probably other species as well. Once we have a self-sustaining colony on Mars it becomes a lot harder for nature to wipe us out. Obviously you cannot just land a self-sustaining colony there all at once - or at least we cannot yet - so this is just the first of hopefully several steps along the path.

        • by symbolset (646467) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:34PM (#29294773) Homepage Journal

          The only point of sending men to Mars is to prove the point that we can send men to Mars.

          No. The point of sending men to Mars is to establish a foothold on another planet. It's a step toward colonization. Eventually humans will establish themselves throughout our solar system and use the resources we find there travel to the stars. Or we'll die out. There is no third choice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ozbird (127571)
        Start with the Moon first. It takes less resources to get there, and a rescue mission if something goes wrong is feasible (though still unlikely.)
    • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:00PM (#29292791) Journal

      The astronauts, however, are not just heading to a place of higher resource contention they are heading to a place of no resources. None for living anyway. You might find platinum ore on Mars but you aren't going to find fur trapping, fishing and logging.

      Living resources might not matter as much if you can find other resources that make the enterprise economically viable. Every single British attempt at colonizing the New World failed (in spite of the ability to trap, fish, log, etc) until they find a profitable product [wikipedia.org]. Once they found that the settlements took off and the rest is history as the saying goes. There are lots of potential profitable products out in the solar system right now -- there will be even more if we are indeed running out of resources [slashdot.org] here at home.

      I doubt we'll see anything resembling colonization in our lifetimes (it took generations to carry that out right here on Earth in a much more friendly environment) but I do think it will happen eventually. We should be laying the groundwork for it and soaking up as much knowledge as we possibly can.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LordKronos (470910)

        Great, so now the astronaut gets there and discovers a vast wealth of economic resources. That's wonderful. Now he can use them to.....trade for things that the other astronauts on his ship brought with them? Oh wait, they've found the vast resources on Mars, too.

    • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:01PM (#29292793) Homepage

      Extremely well put. There's little on Mars to bootstrap a civilization with. Back in the pioneer days, you could show up with nothing more than the clothes on your back, a hatchet, a musket, a small chunk of lead, and a shot mold (plus a little food and water to keep you going until you got settled). Earlier human settlers didn't even bring such modern weaponry with them and did just fine, knapping knives and spearpoints and arrowheads.

      That sort of thing doesn't work on Mars. Colonists will be entirely dependent on modern technology to merely keep the things that keep them alive running. Try tracing back random pieces of modern technology to all of their component parts/materials, and all of those's component parts/materials, and so forth, with the components needed for manufacturing/refining along the way, and if any of those are consumable, trace those back. The challenge of building a colony is ridiculously daunting. This wouldn't be a colony; it's going to be a base. A cramped life support shelter with more and more things breaking every year. They'll be living largely off what they brought from Earth and what gets sent as resupply until the day they die (with the possible exception of local ice and a few other things).

      But you know people would volunteer nonetheless.

      • by joh (27088) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:39PM (#29293209)

        But you know people would volunteer nonetheless.

        Yeah, and *none* of these being even remotely qualified or even sane enough for the job. Who's willing to throw his very existence away for a few weeks or months on Mars just has no idea what he's actually talking about and very probably has many other illusions as well. You're not really thinking that you can successfully train someone to do the year-long transfer flight to Mars just to die there? You'd risk that they would be *begging* to do just a fly-around and come back instead after they've been through this. Everyone sane enough to manage that task would be too sane to do a one-way mission.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Fizzl (209397)

        But you know people would volunteer nonetheless

        I would.
        I am 30 and moderately well off. If I was offered the chance to live on Mars with some hope of continued sustenance from resupplies, I would take it. It would be the ultimate challenge to try to make the biodome self sufficient with local chemicals.
        I would perhaps regret my decision when I run out of oxygen because of missed launch window on earth, but still: I'd take it.

        Also, the battle royal of who is going to be eaten with other scientist on board us

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:02PM (#29292801) Homepage Journal

      The cost savings of a one-way trip are minuscule now as everyone has accepted that ISRU of propellant on Mars is an essential part of any mission plan. You don't take with you all the fuel you need to get back.. you make it there.. and most of the plans call for a fully fueled return-to-earth vehicle to be sitting ready on the surface before you send astronauts from Earth to it.

      The real problem is radiation exposure. 6 months there, 500 days on the surface, 6 months back. Any astronauts you send will never fly in space again and may have trouble getting x-rays for medical problems in the future. The only known solution to this is to make the habitat module more massive.. which of course requires more fuel...

      • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:11PM (#29292885) Journal

        The real problem is radiation exposure. 6 months there, 500 days on the surface, 6 months back.

        So just transfer some auxiliary power to the deflector shields. Geez, do I have to figure everything out for you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by r_jensen11 (598210)

        The cost savings of a one-way trip are minuscule now as everyone has accepted that ISRU of propellant on Mars is an essential part of any mission plan. You don't take with you all the fuel you need to get back.. you make it there.. and most of the plans call for a fully fueled return-to-earth vehicle to be sitting ready on the surface before you send astronauts from Earth to it.

        Why not just package it up from here on Earth, send it over to Mars and have it waiting for the astronauts? We've sent objects to Mars before (granted, with various outcomes)- why can't we send a fuel canister over there before we send any manned craft- we could either try to land it (probably not the best idea) or set it in orbit around the planet (probably better idea.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by popo (107611)

        OR build underground.

        OR -- best case scenario -- make use of natural caves. Mars has canyons which put the Grand Canyon to shame. To think that we can't find natural shelter on Mars is absurd. We need to stop thinking of the wide open terrain that our previous expeditions went to, and start thinking about places where radiation is minimal.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by realmolo (574068)

      I agree. And what exactly would they be "doing for humanity" that remotely-controller/pre-programmed machines couldn't do?

      There isn't much on Mars. Maybe there is some stuff to mine, but you don't need people for that. I suppose it could be terraformed, too, but again, you don't need people for that. As a test of our ability to send people to other planets, it isn't that great, either. We KNOW how to keep them alive. It's not hard, it's just expensive and time-consuming.

      Send robots.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:14PM (#29292935) Homepage

      A smart move if you wish to succeed--the resources [in the Americas] were there for the taking.

      Umm, no they weren't. The resources were controlled by a bunch of societies with millions of people. The attempts at colonization 1607 and 1620 were successful, but the resources in the Americas weren't just lying around free for the taking.

      Consider also that at least 2 previous colonization attempts (Vinland and Roanoke) were wiped out, and the Massachusetts colony only barely survived its first winter in Plymouth.

    • by moon3 (1530265) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:41PM (#29293239)
      Sign me in. I have a colon cancer with 2 year left to live (max).
  • by BlackusDiamondus (945259) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:50PM (#29292673) Homepage
    'Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip.' Indeed, they often did back in the old days, however, I am fairly confident that at the very least, they expected a breatheable atmosphere at their destination.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      not only that but what exactly is the point of sending astronauts to another planet knowing the whole time they're doomed? Are we planning on not returning to Mars again? If that is the case why bother sending anyone at all. Mars is important as a potential second outpost in the solar system not just because of the pretty rocks there. Mars is important enough to return and thus sending people to their deaths to get there a few years earlier for a few dollars less sounds nigh despicable.

    • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:48PM (#29293299) Journal
      And those going to Mars will also have a breathable atmosphere. It is just that it will be a limited confinement.

      Look, just because you are afraid of the unknown, does not mean that others are. Many would willing give their life to help build an establishment for their country or just for science. When my children are adults and able to take care fo themselves, I would volunteer (though my wife is likely to nix that). Why? BECAUSE IT IS A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL. We NEED to take RISKS. Without those, you do not have the opportunity to make huge discoveries.

      Personally, I am tired of those that want to conqueror others on this planet for their resources (read murder), but then get upset about out taking risks that MIGHT kill a person. The west use to be heroic and be willing to get it done. Now, we act like our individual life is all that. Give me a break.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:48PM (#29293309) Homepage

      Indeed, they often did back in the old days, however, I am fairly confident that at the very least, they expected a breatheable atmosphere at their destination.

      Not true! It's a little known fact that one of the reasons the Pilgrims were dependent on the natives for food that first Thanksgiving was because they'd wasted so much space in their ship's hold on canisters of compressed O2. You don't hear about this much, because the Pilgrims were so embarrassed when they first met the American Indians and wanted to know how they could survive without oxygen masks!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:13PM (#29292923)
    Tell them that there are 72 unspoiled virgins waiting for them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:14PM (#29292943)

    Just because there is no provision for returning to the Earth doesn't mean we cannot send as much help for survival as we can. Equipment and supplies to build structures, process waste water and grow food, generate power (nuclear, fusion, etc). Plus, if they could survive for a year or two, unmanned resupply missions could be sent out at regular periods until self-sustainability of the population on mars is established.

    Really people, if you want to have a human colony on mars, these are the kinds of tough choices that MUST be made. If they asked, I'd go in an instant.

  • by al0ha (1262684) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:28PM (#29293111) Journal
    spending any more tax payer money to send humans into space, to the moon or mars, is a ridiculous waste considering the catastrophic infrastructure breakdowns we are now facing in real time.

    In the short term, meaning next 20 years, this money would be much better spent repairing antiquated and unsafe bridges, damns, levies and sewage systems than it would be sending anyone to the moon or mars.

    Significantly more people will benefit through lives saved and catastrophes averted by wisely spending money instead of wasting it in a time when what we have to gain from space exploration by humans is very little in comparison

    Let's fix the continental infrastructure!
  • by Baron_Yam (643147) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:33PM (#29293143)

    I don't see why we don't shoot a couple of modules to Mars right now...

    1 that makes propellant from Martian atmosphere
    1 habitat module with some plants inside, some cameras, and an airlock.

    If we get good at landing the modules closely enough together, we could send a robot tractor to try and drag the first two together, and if that works send a power plant that could use the fuel from the first one.

    Not one person needs to be sent, and we could check if we're capable of putting down the basics of a Martian base for future use. We'd learn if we can really generate the fuel we think we could, if we can keep a habitat module in good shape for a few years at a time, etc. The power plant could just burn off the fuel just to show it works... or we could send some more power-hungry rovers and have them return to the power plant for refueling once in a while.

    After learning what we can, you repeat with the next generation of modules, and eventually you have a ready-made camp waiting for the first human arrivals...

  • I'll go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macemoneta (154740) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:54PM (#29293359) Homepage

    I'm 53, and I'd go on a one way trip to Mars in a heartbeat. Where can I sign up?

    There are things in life more important than personal safety. I think too many have forgotten that.

  • by NoPantsJim (1149003) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:00PM (#29293429) Homepage
    I suspect the first person to set foot on mars will be remembered for at least a thousand years beyond anyone who is currently living.
  • by Edmund Blackadder (559735) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:11PM (#29293539)

    I have to say this is completely idiotic. Think about why you would want to send humans to Mars in this particular stage of scientific development. It is clear that there is not a practical reason. Anything useful that can be done on mars at this point of technological development of the human race can be done easier by robots than by humans. Even if your goal is to prepare mars for human colonization you will do this faster if you send robots first until you can build a base on mars that produces its own oxygen, food, water as well as fuel for the humans' return trip.

    So why send humans now? Well the obvious answer is you do not send humans now. But let us assume for the moment that that we are to send humans. What is the only possible benefit for it? Well the only possible benefit is psychological, or spiritual or what have you. Just knowing that humans have stepped on Mars will make us all feel better about ourselves. And of course the country that sends the people first will have special propaganda benefits. Those were pretty much all the benefits of the moon landings. (And I am not knocking them, they were very real benefits, especially in the 60's when everyone in the US was scared of the Soviets)

    Now lets think about it for a second. Will this benefit exist if we send someone on a ghastly mission to die on mars. Would we all feel better as human beings and/or as american citizens that we have sent someone on a suicide mission to mars. That we have exported one of our corpses to the red planet, if you will. Of course not. The idea of sending someone out all by themselves to die alone millions of miles from the nearest other human beings is just terrible. Nobody will be happy or uplifted by such a mission.

    Therefore this type of mission would remove the only benefit of sending humans to Mars.

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:50PM (#29294413) Homepage Journal

    How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet, by Robert Zubrin, Three Rivers Press (2008), Paperback, 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0307407184.

    Once again, Zubrin delights and informs like no other. This concise, easy-reading, laugh-out-loud, little volume is packed with more solid scientific and engineering information about Mars, Mars exploration and settlement than even "The Case for Mars." Whereas the latter was informative and interesting, but fairly straight-laced, Zubrin here takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach, creating a fictional, early 22nd century guide to surviving and thriving on the new frontier.

    As usual, Zubrin's strongest suit is his ability to turn his caustic wit against the foolish, timid, bureaucratic, cowardly, thoughtless paralysis which presently cripples the aerospace establishment, and indeed, Zubrin suggests, the entirety of terrestrial "civilization" (if what we have down here still merits the term.) Perhaps my favorite example is the following passage detailing water reclamation from the exhaust of a space suit's methanol/oxygen fuel-cell (used to provide electric power) in order to extend the endurance of Martians on EVA.

    "The water you obtain will include a significant quantity of carbon dioxide in solution, which is why NASA has banned systems that plumb fuel-cell wastewater directly back to the suit canteen. However, despite the claimed medical problem, it is a fact that in the twentieth century, many people chose to drink carbonated water as a matter of preference."

    I do not hold with those who regard Zubrin's political asides as an interruption of an otherwise interesting presentation of scientific or engineering information. Zubrin's ability to decisively skewer folly of all sorts, technical, medical, political, social, is the primary reason that he has always impressed me, and in my opinion, constitutes the single best feature of this particular book.

    Zubrin's brutal and sustained critique of bureaucracy toward the end of "How to Live on Mars" is positively brilliant. If it doesn't make you yearn to give up the soul-destroying stagnation and conformity of Earth to live on a planet full of misfits, outcasts and rugged individualists, then there's just simply no trace of idealism, romance, nobility or heroism left in your black, flabby, little heart.

    I'm pleased to see Zubrin take such a radical turn, or maybe simply to more openly embrace the radicalism which he has never been able to entirely prevent from seeping into his work. This one is not going to win Zubrin any friends in high places, but I suspect it will contribute to the immortality he achieves when the Martians (descended from pioneers who will make the first crossings in Mars-Direct inspired spacecraft) finally throw off their tyrannical Earthling overlords and establish a truly civilized branch of humanity for the first time in far too long.

    Review by Eli J. Harman, stolen with impunity.

    Shoulda put it in the previous post.

  • by jwiegley (520444) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @12:52AM (#29295695)

    The "cost" for returning the astronauts back into orbit from a Mars landing is often quoted as the limiting factor in going to Mars. The return trip from the moon landings was practical because of the low gravity of the moon relative to Earth (or Mars). This made it easy to carry enough fuel to enable a rocket boosted departure from the moon.

    The mass of Mars is much greater than the moon and therefor the amount of fuel required to launch astronauts back into Martian orbit is prohibitive. But this thinking is inside the box; using the same method as we did for the moon as though it were the only possibility.

    But once you can build an orbital elevator... You just need to build a second. Send the second up into orbit using the first and then place it on a trajectory into Marian geosynchronous orbit. Now the cost is negligible to return to Martian orbit.

    The Orbital Elevator is essential to the evolution of space science. Yet we do practically nothing to develop it even though we have already discovered all the basic technologies that will be required. They just need significant refinement.

  • by strangedays (129383) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:32AM (#29295923)
    1. Professor Stephen Hawking is probably right, we do need to get off this rock, sooner rather than later. "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species"

    2. We evolved to survive on an unguided mudball, third rock out from a slightly variable star; we haven't found the thermostat yet. Sooner or later, our luck will run out, one natural extinction level event and it's game over.

    3. It's worth boldly going somewhere that will probably kill you, if and only if, there is a damn good reason to be bold.

    4. Our current space drive technology consists of throwing stuff as hard as we can in one direction so we get a bit of usable thrust in another. It's a losing game, a pathetically inadequate method, compared to our needs and dreams.

    5. Mars has a deep gravity well, with an unbreathable, and (worse) unflyable atmosphere. We have no known scientific or commercial reason to go there, or means of survival if we did.

    6. Robots are expendable, cheap to make, specialized, and inexpensive to remotely control, even in space. Humans, are expendable, cheap to make, generally useful, but ridiculously expensive to operate, especially in space.

    7. Robot probes in space, historically have produced vastly more science per dollar expended, than humans. We should boldly go somewhere when we intend to colonize, not to send back wish you were here postcards... 8. To colonize, there must exist usable resources, in vast and accessible quantities, easy pickings. At minimum we will need Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen (CHON), plus metals, trace elements and usable energy. There must be shielding from radiation and the other obvious space hazards. Such resources do in fact exist in limitless abundance, in open space, as the larger comets and asteroids. The orbital vectors and masses (that we know about) are currently a little inconvenient.

    IMHO:

    a. We (Humans) need to invest heavily in science and engineering that may lead to much better space propulsion, techniques for mining and commercial and civic use of such open space accessible resources.

    b. We need to develop much better remote probe and manipulation technology, so the robots can investigate anywhere we want, and possibly alter the orbits of low mass, high value objects, as cheaply as possible.

    c. We need to develop space habitats, on comets and asteroids, to exploit their resources as a long term (effectively infinite) space habitat.

    d. Our most likely cause of extinction as a species is our non-existent space colonization strategy. We are led by a clueless collection of dumbass politicians who cannot see beyond Buck Rogers pointy spaceship sci-fi and (much more importantly) their own short term military and pork barrel political aims. There is no coherent, international, long term, human survival and colonization oriented strategy.

    e. When some damn big rock arrives at 5 miles per second, we are all going to look equally stupid and just as extinct; fossilized human politicians will look almost identical, as the "intelligent" humans remains.

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