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NASA Mars

NASA Can't Ethically Send Astronauts On One-Way Missions To Deep Space 402

Posted by samzenpus
from the but-everyone-else-is-doing-it dept.
Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "If NASA is serious about deep space missions, it's going to have to change its safety guidelines, because there's no conceivable way that, within the next few years, our engineering capabilities or understanding of things like radiation exposure in space are going to advance far enough for a mission to Mars to be acceptably "safe" for NASA. So, instead, the agency commissioned the National Academies Institute of Medicine to take a look at how it can ethically go about changing those standards. The answer? It likely can't.

In a report released today, the National Academies said that there are essentially three ways NASA can go about doing this, besides completely abandoning deep space forever: It can completely liberalize its health standards, it can establish more permissive "long duration and exploration health standards," or it can create a process by which certain missions are exempt from its safety standards. The team, led by Johns Hopkins University professor Jeffrey Kahn, concluded that only the third option is remotely acceptable."
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NASA Can't Ethically Send Astronauts On One-Way Missions To Deep Space

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  • oblig... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:41PM (#46644591) Homepage

    The only danger is if they send [them] to that terrible Planet of the Apes.

    Wait a minute....

    • by Darth Muffin (781947) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:45PM (#46644637) Homepage
      Whether sending a willing astronaut, who understands and chose to do this of his own free will, on a dangerous or even one-way mission is ethical is not a question for anyone except the astronaut. It's like trying to decide if gay marriage is "ethical". Unless you're one of the ones involved, nonya business trying to define ethics.
      • by BitterOak (537666) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:57PM (#46644733)

        Whether sending a willing astronaut, who understands and chose to do this of his own free will, on a dangerous or even one-way mission is ethical is not a question for anyone except the astronaut.

        Can the astronaut accomplish the mission all by him or herself? Or does he/she need a ground crew and a team of engineers to design and build the rocket? If so, then they would all be participants in the astronaut's death. If I decide I want to die and I hand you a gun and ask you to shoot me, is it ethical for you to do so?

        It's like trying to decide if gay marriage is "ethical". Unless you're one of the ones involved, nonya business trying to define ethics

        But therein lies the problem. There are other people involved.

        • Use your gun analogy properly: make the astronaut push the launch button, and the manufacturer is immune from any harm...

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            And that is where the analogy falls apart. The launch button requires elaborate set-up, and the rest of the mission requires a large number of people working over many years. Even if you could get legal indemnity I think most people would feel some moral connection.

        • I have no problem killing you if you have made a informed decision.

          You want a one way ticket to mars? You are mentally stable, aware of the implications, told your family and waited a cool off period? Great welcome aboard!

          • I've told my family I would be willing to go on a one-way mission to Mars. Providing I'm the first to do it, not the twentieth or so. And providing that they are given a house and my daughter's education is paid through college.

            So I wouldn't do it if it left my family destitute, but otherwise, what's the problem with this choice?

            • by pepty (1976012) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @11:02PM (#46646009)

              what's the problem with this choice?

              Well here's the big problem: it's not worth it. Sending someone to Mars on a suicide mission wouldn't be a national accomplishment, it would be a national disgrace. We wouldn't learn anything new about Mars that we couldn't learn for fewer $ by sending many, many robotic missions. If the justification is "Gee whiz! I'm on Mars", then explain to me why it would have been worth it for the US to "win" the space race if it meant sending a capsule into space before working out the re-entry technology, so that the first man in space would have been incinerated while everyone in the US listened on radio.

              Minor problems:

              1. It would pretty much guarantee defunding of NASA. If not, then:

              2. Lawsuits filed by your daughter against any contractor that participated in the mission and probably the US govt. as well.

              3. Lawsuits filed by employees of NASA and those contractors.

              • by kenwd0elq (985465) <kenwd0elq@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @11:47PM (#46646231)

                By your standard, the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies were "suicide missions"; the people who boarded the Mayflower never expected to come back. The first colonists to Mars will never return, and probably wouldn't want to.

                But the difference will be, the Martians can phone home pretty easily - where a letter back to England was a rare event in the 1630's.

                A "one way" trip isn't necessarily a "suicide mission".

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by geekmux (1040042)

                  A "one way" trip isn't necessarily a "suicide mission".

                  Morally, ethically, and even legally (hence the discussion), there's only a thin veneer of bullshit that separates the two, so let's not pretend there's not a elephant in this room when we're both staring at the thing, especially in this particular case.

                  Trips hundreds of years ago were at least granted the chance of success because the outcome was truly unknown. We know damn well the fate of those we're sending on a one-way trip to Mars, even with the best of results. So do they, and they accept it.

                  Call

                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by kenwd0elq (985465)

                    Sorry; my crystal ball is in the shop, so I truly do NOT know what the outcome will be. If yours is in good working order, then visit your stockbroker, and your certainties will carry somewhat more weight. Or at least, your bling will.

                    Oh, yeah, we're all going to die eventually; that much is certain. But nobody is proposing to send humans as sacrifices to the God of War, or that we're just going there to fertilize the Martian dust. There's a CHANCE of survival beyond the first 72 hours, and probably muc

                  • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                    If the plan was to live a somewhat normal lifespan on Mars it wouldn't be suicide, just a one-way trip. That is the key element in the whole thing, there has to be a plan to live there indefinitely.

                • by Nemyst (1383049) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @01:05AM (#46646509) Homepage
                  Flip side, those colonies were a helluva lot more habitable than Mars. People already lived there well before the colonists arrived, but I don't see too many indigenous species when CO2 freezes on the surface of the planet. The people you send there are basically stranded in the middle of the ocean, not sent to a lush and fertile continent.

                  This isn't to say the conditions weren't hard back then, but there's a wide gap between the two.
                • by oobayly (1056050) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @04:37AM (#46647047)

                  You're seriously comparing the Eastern seaboard of North America with Mars? Lets see:
                  1. People new a lot about the location before colonising (like we do now about Mars), so we're off to a good start
                  2. They knew the Americas had a breathable atmosphere (Mars doesn't - .145% O2), a minor setback
                  3. They knew the Americas had a habitable climate (Mars doesn't - average -55 celsius), not looking too good for Mars
                  4. They knew the Americas had native edible flora and fauna (Mars doesn't - we're still trying to find bacteria), survivability on Mars is decreasing
                  5. They knew the Americas had an ample water supply (Mars does - it'll have to be dug up and melted), well at least they can have a drink as they freeze death

                  Not detracting from what the colonists did, but they knew that they only needed to pack enough food and water for the voyage and the settlement time, plus the knowledge they could breath was an additional bonus.

        • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@nOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:46PM (#46645157)

          If I decide I want to die and I hand you a gun and ask you to shoot me, is it ethical for you to do so?

          Yes. Of course. Wouldn't it be ethical for me to inject your life-ending serum were you in terrible pain and wanted to die? OK, what if the pain is mental? What if there is no pain and you're sacrificing yourself for science? Look, just because some folks have a problem with killing people that want to die doesn't mean it's unethical to end people's lives when they really do want to die. That's their life, it's their choice.

          You had better wise up quick. Our technological progress may eventually render us immortal. We already have stem-cell brain injections and neuroplasticity drugs to help repair and improve brain function. We'll probably have lab grown 3D printed replacement organs in a decade or so (12 years was the time-line I last saw). Our machine complexity is increasing at an exponential rate. Machines have gained capabilities in a few short decades that took us organic lifeforms billions of years to achieve. So, what happen when you're an immortal? Everyone lives forever whether they want to or not? Fuck. That. Hard.

          I've got a game plot I'm working on where we deal with some of these ethical issues. Perhaps in a post-death world old timers will be the ones doing the really risky jobs that machines still can't do because they've been everywhere, done everything, and they aren't all geniuses constantly contributing to science. The ones who want to benefit their society best may decide to do so by taking really dangerous jobs or even suicide missions, boldly going where no man has gone before instead of just wasting resources thinking the same old thoughts and seeing the same old things. Whereas others explore the limits of understanding, they may choose to become daredevils exploring the limits of reality and life itself. In death they can become heroes and die knowing they have sacrificed themselves for the greater good of all.

          We don't have to wait for immortality to realize these are noble causes. It's not like we have a shortage of humans that it would cripple us if a few decided to give their lives in the name of science.

          If you don't have the freedom to peacefully sacrifice yourself for your species, planet, country, family, etc... then you don't have free will. No one is obliged to help you off yourself, but if they do it's not unethical. Are you even aware of the history of space exploration, or exploration in general? You sound like one of those brain-washed fools who advocate against free will of the terminally ill just to make the medical establishment a huge fortune, profiting via human suffering; Meanwhile staving kids fight wars over diamonds, electronics scraps, or food, with AK47s in Africa and you're not lobbying congress to do jack shit about it. I sure hope I'm wrong about you. Someday you might be one who's begging for death. If you keep that bullshit opinion of yours now, I hope that happens and your kids say, "Sorry gramps, looks like another 8-10 years of excruciating pain. You're not in control of your own life anymore because Pfizer has to make a buck somehow!"

          Seriously. How the fuck did this moron get rated so highly is beyond me. Dying for piddling oil wars is somehow acceptable, but to advance the human space frontier is questionably not ethical?! Fuck all those mods, apparently you're not the same species as me after all.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Seriously. How the fuck did this moron get rated so highly is beyond me.

            Perhaps because instead of being a self righteous prick he expressed a valid point very clearly and simply. You on the other hand....

          • by AudioEfex (637163) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @10:21PM (#46645801)

            Hell yeah. It's OK to send 18 year old barely-not-children-anymore to the hell hole Middle East with a pretty decent chance of dying - and usually for something shitty like a roadside bomb on top of it - not even in direct combat defending something - just in hopes that if they survive their education will be paid for - yet it's not ethical for someone to go to freaking Mars voluntarily if they want?

            To quote you - Fuck. That. Hard.

            Our priorities here are beyond fucked - but you only have to look at the war budget vs the NASA budget to know that. I'm sure someone has the statistics, but I'm pretty sure that what we spend on NASA in a year is equivalent to what - hours, days in war funding for the Middle East?

            • by pepty (1976012) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @11:11PM (#46646059)
              The justification for sending 18 year olds to hell holes has always been that the consequences of not doing so would be much much worse. I won't comment on how often that justification was valid (cause it would get depressing) but in this case we don't even have that justification/rationalization. The only reason is the chance of a "Hey look! I'm on Mars!" tweet/selfie, and the research that could have been done cheaper by robots.
        • by NoKaOi (1415755)

          But therein lies the problem. There are other people involved.

          So what if there's other people involved? Perhaps something like asking for volunteers to work on the project rather than threatening to fire somebody who doesn't want to work on the project would solve that issue. I'm sure there would be plenty of people already working at NASA who would love to work on the project and who wouldn't have a problem with an astronaut volunteering for a one way trip.

          And, why can the military kill people who didn't even volunteer to die? Why can the military use aggressive a

          • by pepty (1976012)
            So now if NASA and contractor employees want their careers to progress by working on the largest project in a generation they have to "volunteer" to support the project's suicidal aspect. Sounds like a project where the only winners will be the employment lawyers.
        • by TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @10:02PM (#46645683)
          Protip: Everyone dies. Was it ethical for your dad and mom to love you and teach you to walk and talk and make you smile with ice cream knowing the inevitable result is your death?

          Death is part of life, a meaningful death is worth living for and the pinnacle of what it means to live.
      • by taustin (171655)

        When the taxpayer is paying for it, and in NASA's case, the taxpayer is always paying for it, it is most certainly the taxpayer's business. And the American public will not take well to suicide missions. First in space death followed by the talking heads wringing their hands about "well, we planned that," and NASA is gone, by public demand.

        (I, personally, do not entirely disagree with you, but the political reality is that it's not going to happen.)

      • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:18PM (#46644881) Homepage

        You will always find people willing to die for fame. Every high publicity serial killer generates people who what to take their place on the electric chair. That does not make it ethical to kill them, just because they want you to.

        They could replace "America's Got Talent" with, "I Want to Kill Myself on Live TV" and they would not have any problem finding contestants. Would you really consider that an ethical reality TV show?

      • Exactly because Japan sent old men into Fukushima's reactor, knowing the risk and offering hefty sums for their descendents.

        If I were 80 years old and in good health, I would volunteer for a one-way trip (colonize Mars, spacewalk on a comet or even the most risky missions like colonize Jupiter).
        • by Jeremi (14640)

          Exactly because Japan sent old men into Fukushima's reactor, knowing the risk and offering hefty sums for their descendents.

          Can you provide a reference for this? Because I can't find any evidence that it actually happened. (I know some old men volunteered to go, but I can't find any evidence that TEPCO took them up on their offer)

  • Then (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:43PM (#46644619) Journal
    If they can't send them ethically, then send them unethically. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure THAT out.
    • by demachina (71715)

      Chances of NASA sending an astronaut anywhere are approximately zero at this point so whether is ethical or not is kind of a moot point.

  • Option #4 (Score:5, Funny)

    by digitalPhant0m (1424687) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:44PM (#46644621)

    Let China go first.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @07:44PM (#46644625)

    We've lost all tolerance for risk or voluntary harm in the pursuit of a larger objective.

    But no worries. China is picking up where the USA left off on a lot of fronts.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      The US is pretty much being bogged down in will it generate a profit even to the point of escalating costs because of course your costs are some else's profits, really self destructive stuff.

    • Someone said the following in regards to any "forget the USA, China's all over X b/c the USA has Y failing"

      Wake me up when these 3rd world countries don't have people shitting in the streets

    • Posting to undo wrong moderation.

    • by pepty (1976012)
      >We've lost all tolerance for risk or voluntary harm in the pursuit of a larger objective. In other news, this was the first month without a combat death the US has had in over 10 years. Not that I can say much for some of the objectives involved.
  • Realistically (Score:5, Insightful)

    by painandgreed (692585) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:01PM (#46644759)

    There's no conceivable way that, within the next few years, our engineering capabilities or understanding of things will be able to do a manned deep space mission to Mars, safe or not. We could try to just put a bunch of guys in a box and send it that way. I doubt we could design, build, orbit, and then get the box on it's way in the "next few years". Let's be serious. Nobody with space capability is looking at a Mars mission any time soon (next few decades*). The level of complexity needed will take time, research, and money. We didn't go to the moon till Apollo 11. Once you start seeing your Mars missions planned, let alone counting up, then we can start being serious about going to Mars. Seriously, we need to test deep space habitats. Long term independent space habitats. Long range movement of large structural objects in space. I bet we will have a deep space station and have sent something similar in a long trip around the moon long before we attempt Mars.

    *Elon Musk said it's possible in the next 10-12 years. I think he is just being overly optimistic, and that is overly optimistic, to get in the papers.

    • Re:Realistically (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:27PM (#46644963)

      We didn't go to the moon till Apollo 11.

      Which was, it must be noted, only eight years after the first American went into space.

      It's now been 40+ years since a human went beyond LEO...which is sad.

    • We could, we just don't want to. It would take an Apollo program style effort and we don't have the will to do that anymore.

      We have reasonably long term habitation in the ISS. We can dust off old NERVA designs, they were about ready to fly test articles. Huge amounts of work to do, hundreds of billions of dollars, but we could do it for less than the cost of the Iraq war.

      The answer to the Fermi paradox is that we simply aren't worth talking to.

      • We could, we just don't want to.

        Personally, I find it very amusing that you're having serious discussions about the ethics of long distance space missions when you can't even get their astronauts to ISS without the Russians, and you're imposing sanctions on them this very moment.

        Not real sanctions, more like those really annoying passive aggressive types that you tell them to do something, they give you the finger, then they go do it while muttering under their breath.

        The US is a joke.

    • by somepunk (720296)

      Nobod's suggesting we send colonists! Well, nobody serious.

      We've sent a lot of probes to Mars in the last couple of decades, a number of which soft-landed. A mission to take astronaust to Martian orbit could be done in a few years, with proper funding. A more likely scenario is landing and getting back, that would take a couple of decades to plan and develop, but it isn't really that far fetched.

    • We've been sending an increasing number of unmanned probes to Mars every "launch window" for the last decade, and the probes have been getting bigger each time. A habitat going to Mars might more resemble an inflatable balloon than a metal box, present tech for radiation shielding looks more at things like polyethelene than lead due to high energy scattering effects. No, the problems aren't all solved yet to an "acceptable level of risk" or "highly economical mission cost", but that doesn't mean they're i

  • "I understand and agree that taking part in this mission will result my death"

  • Surely, given the activity level of many seniors, they could take on the really dangerous missions. Same goes for terminally ill people. If they're more concerned with science and discovery than with coming home, we'd all be better off. I'd guess that there are many seniors/terminally ill folks who be willing to take on a dangerous mission with little or no chance of returning. I'm not either of those and I would jump at such a chance. Why should we waste all that human potential?

    Just sayin'.

    • "NASA's 70 year long mission sadly ended today, day 93 of 25567, as the last terminally ill astronaut succumbed to his illness.

      A backup mission was planned but had to be scrapped because the commander broke his hip."

    • Then, when they expire, you could strap 'em to the hull for radiation shielding....

      Seriously, there are plenty of healthy people - more likely to accomplish the mission objectives and also willing to go.

      This isn't John Glenn's joyride on the shuttle, we're talking about actual pioneering - requiring, you know, pioneers....

  • Ethics? Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:05PM (#46644791) Homepage Journal
    The hell you can't. What that's saying is "we refuse to honor the wishes of educated, rational adults to make decisions we wouldn't". I guarantee that all of the Mercury astronauts knew there was a good chance they were going to die during each mission. They knew the failure modes, the risks, the potential ways they might get splattered across our planet in fiery ashes. And they still wanted to go! I cannot understand how it could possibly be unethical to explain the dangers and still give candidates the right to say, "yeah, I know I'm not coming back. For personal pride, for adventure, for my country, and for humanity I choose to go anyway. Now step aside and light this candle."
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I cannot understand how it could possibly be unethical to explain the dangers and still give candidates the right to say, "yeah, I know I'm not coming back. For personal pride, for adventure, for my country, and for humanity I choose to go anyway. Now step aside and light this candle."

      It's NASA's candle and the Astronauts don't get to choose if it gets lit.

    • There is a difference between a risky endeavour and certain death.

      Instinctively, we accept risk of death when the reward justifies it. Being a successful astronaut is rewarding - in terms of prestige if nothing else.

      A compelling scientific mission that will add to human knowledge is arguably more rewarding for civilization, but not for the individual who dies, and the reward is too abstract for our instinctive response.

      Plus it's not obvious that there is a lot that live astronauts can do that do that robot

      • There is a difference between a risky endeavour and certain death.

        Not really. There are some fields of endeavor that are incredibly, inherently, irreducibly dangerous. Space travel is one of them. There's not much of a gap between, say, a 25% chance of fiery or icy death and a 100% one. It's certainly not the same as the difference between driving to work and taking flight in a space shuttle.

        Instinctively, we accept risk of death when the reward justifies it. Being a successful astronaut is rewarding - in terms of prestige if nothing else.

        Have you ever listened to an astronaut? To a person, they'd all return to space in a heartbeat if asked. Their motivations have very little to do with personal prestige - they just wa

  • by twistedcubic (577194) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:05PM (#46644793)
    ...otherwise it is guaranteed that thousands will die. I like this line of reasoning.
  • robots (Score:5, Informative)

    by gronofer (838299) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:05PM (#46644795)
    Stick to robotic missions, which are better value for money anyway. Humans are tied to Earth more strongly than science fiction would have you believe.
    • Humans are tied to Earth more strongly than science fiction would have you believe.

      And you know this how?

      It's not like we've ever experimented with living on another planet or anything.

      And another thing, why is the National Academy acting like they have any control over NASA? It's not like they're an arm of the US Government or anything....

      • Re:robots (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeremi (14640) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @10:28PM (#46645835) Homepage

        And you know this how? It's not like we've ever experimented with living on another planet or anything.

        Sure we have (by approximation, anyway):

        1. Astronauts living in the Space Station start losing bone [wikipedia.org] and muscle [nasa.gov] mass after a few weeks.
        2. Researchers living in isolated conditions in Antarctica start suffering depression and other mental problems [dtic.mil] after a few months.
        3. Volunteers living in BioSphere 2 [wikipedia.org] found that their biological life support systems failed and they had to 'abandon ship' after 24 months.

        Note that all three of the above represent "easy" scenarios, where help and/or an emergency return to Earth is always minutes, hours, or days away. On Mars (or en route to Mars), help from or escape to Earth would not be a likely option.

    • Stick to robotic missions, which are better value for money anyway.

      I know that's the common belief, but is it true?

      Robotic missions are cheaper. But robotic missions seem to beget more robotic missions to answer questions that the first robotic missions weren't able to answer. And so on and so on and so on.

      Did we learn more about the Moon from the 6 Apollo missions that landed than we did from the 18 or so successful Soviet Lunar probes?

      Let's say it would take us 20 years to prepare a Mars mission. Would it be better to spend that money and have scientists on Mars who c

      • by gronofer (838299)
        The robot missions are limited to using the equipment that they've taken with them. Woudn't a human mission have exactly the same limitation? There's a limit to what you can achieve with a pickaxe and a screwdriver. Anyway, I expect that a human mission would be so tied up in just keeping the humans alive, that they'd have little time or resources for any actual research.
    • by Livius (318358)

      There was a time when attempting to cross an ocean was suicide, but the technology get better. Well, the financial rewards got better and technology caught up.

      In any case, the analogous space travel technology is not there yet.

      • by gronofer (838299)
        It's not so much the space travel technology, but the technology that would allow a truely sustainable human colony in a hostile environment. Show me that it's even possible to build a sustainable human colony in a domed city somewhere on Earth (without importing food, water, computers etc.,) and then perhaps it will be time to start thinking about living on Mars. Then you can start worrying about all the true space problems, such as shortage of water, excessive radiation, and wrong gravity and temperatures
  • In this case, microwaved spam.

  • You send astronaughts who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Particularly, those with a number of years left of health, but for which eventually, will die anyways.

  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:14PM (#46644855)

    Magellan didn't survive Magellan's expedition. Scott died trying to get to the South Pole. Mallory died climbing Mt Everest.

    How many still die climbing everest even though its been climbed thousands of times? How many people die in bat-suits?

    We are not talking about forcing people to take risks, but rather of looking for people who are willing to risk death to become immortalized in history. Have we become such collective cowards that we will not accept risks that daredevils accept daily for fun?

    Take volunteers. Make sure that they understand the risk and are not in any way coerced. Send them out. If they die, build a grand monument to their heroism, and look for more volunteers. If they succeed build grand monuments, and bury them there when they die later - as they inevitably will.

    In a hundred years everyone reading this will be dead. Give a few of them a chance to do die doing something magnificent.

    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Problem here is that you cannot ethically send anybody to certain death just to go explore Mars first hand.

      The radiation exposure required for a trip to Mars is significant. The total expected dose is high enough to warrant asking ethical questions about what risks we are asking people to take to make the trip. Where I am sure all of the space going crew members would be totally aware of the risks and agree to them, that still doesn't exempt NASA from the moral and ethical obligation to asses the risks a

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Problem here is that you cannot ethically send anybody to certain death just to go explore Mars first hand.

        Of course you can. This whole argument is ridiculous. YOUR ethical system may not allow YOU to voluntarily go to your death that way, or YOUR ethical system may not allow people to be forced to go, but MY ethical system says if they CHOOSE to go KNOWING the danger then let them. Why should you make that choice for them?

        The radiation exposure required for a trip to Mars is significant. The total expected dose is high enough to warrant asking ethical questions about what risks we are asking people to take to make the trip.

        The risks they will be facing on that trip are TECHNICAL issues, not ethical ones. Whether they want to risk it and whether we want to allow them to risk it are ethical issues, and it is r

        • At some point, somebody needs to draw a line and say, over there is too much risk to be acceptable,

          That task belongs to the persons taking the risks, not you.

          If we don't have boundaries and stick by them, things like Challenger or Apollo 1 will happen and we will have needless loss of life because we didn't asses risks properly or take them seriously enough.

          There's a big difference between "taking a calculated risk", or even "choosing to commit to a one-way trip", and "not taking the risk seriously". Challenger was a horror not just because people died, but because it was ALREADY KNOWN that the O-rings and joints were a weak spot in the design and were particularly affected by the cold conditions. The astronauts CHOSE to sign on with the implicit understanding that everyone behind them was doing their absolute best, and in this case institutional inertia hel

      • by bloodhawk (813939)

        Problem here is that you cannot ethically send anybody to certain death just to go explore Mars first hand.

        The radiation exposure required for a trip to Mars is significant. The total expected dose is high enough to warrant asking ethical questions about what risks we are asking people to take to make the trip. Where I am sure all of the space going crew members would be totally aware of the risks and agree to them, that still doesn't exempt NASA from the moral and ethical obligation to asses the risks and mediate them.

        At some point, somebody needs to draw a line and say, over there is too much risk to be acceptable, we will stay on this side of the line. If we don't have boundaries and stick by them, things like Challenger or Apollo 1 will happen and we will have needless loss of life because we didn't asses risks properly or take them seriously enough.

        Of course you can send someone to certain death. The problem is peoples ethical radars are so fucked up today that they don't believe in peoples right to make such a decision for themselves. Personally I find it far more ethically questionable that you believe people don't have a right to make this decision for themselves.

      • I am content for there to me more Challengers and Apollo 1's. We honor brave people because they take risks. I believe it is wonderful and noble that people are willing to die to expand mankind's reach. This loss of life is not needless, it is the natural result of pushing the limits.

    • The interesting question is did they need to be sent?

      To me, exploration is about seeing what has never been seen. That can easily be done with robotic probes that have cameras and we would see what has never been seen on our screens at home. I've enjoyed the various views of Mars, Venus, Titan, and the Moon. There's not a great reason to send people out there to explore the Solar System.

      However, if we want to learn about what we're seeing, I think people are a better choice than probes.

      • It depends on the long term goal. Personally I have a long term goal of human expansion into the universe, and I believe that to further that goal we need to try - accepting that many of the explorers will die. If the goal is pure planetary science, then it may well be possible to do it with robots.

    • Magellan didn't survive Magellan's expedition. Scott died trying to get to the South Pole.

      No, Scott died trying to get *back*. On the other hand, the ancestors of the various Pacific Island peoples managed to find their ways to little dots of rock in the middle of a really big ocean, and managed to survive and succeed and have descendents to be ancestors of. There must be a few remnants of that DNA left in some humans, somewhere.

  • I Volunteer. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ASDFnz (472824) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @08:17PM (#46644871)

    I have a chronic disease that can be controlled through medication that already limits my lifespan.

    Because of this I deliberately have no children or spouse and I avoid developing long term relationships.

    My Parents are old and are unlikely to outlive me anyway.

    I am aware of the implications of a one way trip to Mars and realise I wont be coming back and wont have any new companions for at least 10 years... if ever.

    Send me.

  • ...it could be done privately, perhaps?

  • It wouldn't be the first time [wikipedia.org] the government sends voluntary men and women into harm's way [wikipedia.org].
    The only difference is that no one else gets killed in the process and humankind benefits from it.
  • NASA can do alot of things but they suffer from "paralysis by analysis"

    It comes from the assumption that "safety" as a concept can be quantified. And that's just the beginning...sure we can use data to examine possible avenues of mission failure but we put too much of our decision making process into raw numbers.

    "risk assessment" as applied by NASA is a reductive concept.

    Success or failure of a mission is a question of identifying & mitigating all the factors that may cause the conditions we define as "

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      Success or failure of a mission is a question of identifying & mitigating all the factors that may cause the conditions we define as "failure"

      That is what Operational Risk Management is all about.

      When "success" includes "the participants don't come back" as part of the mission, then it isn't a risk management decision anymore. Saying "it's too risky" because "they won't come back" is meaningless.

      It's fatalism at its worst. Nobody will come back from any of the first 100 manned missions to other star systems. We better not do them, it's "too risky" and we might "fail" because people will "die" doing this. Let's just sit back and relax and have

      • Thnx for the comment...I think we're likeminded on this topic

        So here's where TFA makes the error:

        because there's no conceivable way that, within the next few years, our engineering capabilities or understanding of things like radiation exposure in space are going to advance far enough

        then this **isn't** a question of "risk" at all...it's about limitations of engineering and materials science

        the assumption/error is when TFA says "there's no conceivable way"...that's B.S.

        hundreds...***hundreds*** of studies h

      • There is still a risk management decision to make. "People won't come back" is not the same as "People died because of equipment problems". I'm betting most of the Pacific Island settlers didn't go back, either.
  • We sent people up into space when we thought there was a 50/50 chance they'd die in the process.

    It's called "being an astronaut".

    Don't like, don't sign up.

    Wimps.

  • Or, we could come back to our senses and do basic animal tests for long term deep space exposure. Like, start from a small rotating artificial gravity satellite with lab rats, and if you really have balls, send a couple of chimps to loop around the mars and come back.
    We did that in early days no problem, and it retired a lot of early risks for humans.

    Hey, we even had a grassroots program : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org] - got no real support or funding by NASA.

    In fact its super lame that we only have dat

  • Manned space programs are significantly more expensive and the benefits are dubious.

  • by careysub (976506) on Wednesday April 02, 2014 @11:39PM (#46646203)

    No, it is not that you can't ever send a person on a mission with a high risk of premature death - it is that you need a compelling reason to do so.

    What is the compelling reason here? Is the compelling reason that the astronaut can collect scientific data that a robot cannot? This is a ridiculous proposition, if you give it any serious thought at all. Any instrument the astronaut can operate, a robot can operate with remote human guidance. Cameras can see anything the astronaut can see through his helmet or window, and much, much better too. Mechanical tactile sensors can be vastly more sensitive than hands reaching through thick pressurized gloves.

    Or do you imagine that this lone astronaut will perform science that cannot be matched by, oh, 100,000 scientists back on Earth not tasked with life-and-death survival problems every second of every day?

    And sample return missions are far more productive when you don't need to return a scientist and all of his/her life support equipment, before you get your first gram of actual sample.

    Bottom line - sending a person to Mars has vastly less scientific value than spending the same amount on robotic missions, collecting data for the world's scientists.

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