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NASA Science

Sending Astronauts On a One-Way Trip To Mars 917

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 SomeJoel ( 1061138 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @06:58PM (#29292753)

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

    Well, they certainly aren't going to decompose.

  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:12PM (#29292897)

    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 BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:13PM (#29292917) Journal

    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.

    You're right - we can't have that.

    I propose that we give the difference to the Astronaut's family, if s/he so chooses to go on a one-way voyage. ;)

  • 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 skine ( 1524819 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:17PM (#29292965)

    Reminds me of the meat that's still in tact (though a little freezer burnt) from Shackleton's (failed) expedition to cross Antarctica almost 100 years ago. []

  • 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 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...

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:40PM (#29293235) Journal

    Are you a professional pessimist or do you just play one on /.?

    Who knows what profitable product there might be on mars? Nobody knew what profitable products existed in the New World until they came here. Are you really going to claim that in the entire solar system there isn't one single resource that could be profitably exploited by mankind?

  • by popo ( 107611 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @07:48PM (#29293307) Homepage

    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.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:13PM (#29293571) Homepage Journal

    One big problem with that is that after a couple of years in zero G and 1/3 G the crew may not be able to move around on Earth without medical help. Aerobraking on return to Earth would expose them to 10G of acceleration and that could even be immediately fatal.

  • by DiegoBravo ( 324012 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:16PM (#29293611) Journal

    > 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 is in order in the first years (decades?).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:23PM (#29293697)

    You have committed the logical fallacy of: False Dilemma (a/k/a False Dichotomy).

    Specifically, it is not a strict either/or between space and infrastructure. It can easily be both or neither. Additionally, why is it space vs infrastructure? Why not infrastructure vs war, or infrastructure vs subsidies for corn production, or infrastructure vs cosmetics?

  • by sbeckstead ( 555647 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:24PM (#29293703) Homepage Journal
    Usually the lawyers don't get involved until some heartsick idiot relative that can't let go asks them to litigate, the stupid relative just won't be consoled that they are going to a better place. There may be a few unscrupulous lawyers that insist that they must litigate on behalf of your dying relative but I suspect they are far and few between. I may be wrong but I don't believe so.
  • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:24PM (#29293717) Homepage

    Are you really going to claim that in the entire solar system there isn't one single resource that could be profitably exploited by mankind?

    IMO, asteroids offer far greater ROI. They are somewhat farther, but they have about zero gravity, so you can have space navigation there with minimal expense of reaction mass. It is theorized that asteroids have metals, water, and other valuable materials that will be in demand within the asteroid belt and outside of it. You can establish hundreds of colonies of miners in the Belt, and all of them could be self-sustaining and profitable, and they can trade and move around just as easily as a typical car owner goes to the grocery store. Microgravity will let you build surface objects with little structural strength (saving on materials) and you need those for greenhouses. Asteroids themselves may be solid enough to drill into and build bases under the surface, safe from solar radiation.

    But planets ... we can't handle planets yet - we don't have technology to land in anything but dense atmosphere (Earth, Venus) or vacuum (Moon.) Landing in all other atmospheres is tough because none of our technologies work well there. You need a new propulsion method to do that. That's why all Mars probes basically fall on the surface surrounded by airbags (and some just slam into the planet :-) I think all we can do with Mars now is to keep sending robotic probes; it's just common sense and rational thinking. You want to live somewhere off the planet - then build living quarters on LEO, send them to some asteroid and park there (no gravity to worry about.) If all is well, send the tenants; if they want to leave they maybe could get to the Earthbound orbit with just a single SRB - again no gravity to fight against. Once here they can be picked up by a separate vehicle that just services LEO.

    Besides difficulties with landing on planets, there are too few of them within reach. We could land on Mercury, I guess, but it's pretty far and quite hot. Venus is just bad for your health. Earth we are on already. Moon is dead as a doornail. Mars is dead as a doornail. Asteroids are interesting. Jupiter itself is not even an option, its satellites - possibly, but they are too far, we need nuclear engines to get there and nuclear power to sustain life (too far from the Sun.) Saturn and beyond are the same story.

  • by sbeckstead ( 555647 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:28PM (#29293763) Homepage Journal
    Wow, your world of dark cold cynicism must be a very secure place. No outside world views to muddy up your picture perfect sanctum of sterile sanctity.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:37PM (#29293845) Journal

    We could land on Mercury, I guess, but it's pretty far and quite hot.

    I read somewhere once upon a time that it takes more fuel to get to Mercury than it does to leave the solar system entirely. You gain too much speed falling into the gravity well of the sun and Mercury has no atmosphere to help you slow down.

  • by Jared555 ( 874152 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:17PM (#29294161)

    From wikipedia... StarCraft has even been taken into space, as Daniel Barry took a copy of the game with him on the Space Shuttle mission STS-96 in 1999.

    Already happened.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:37PM (#29294313) Homepage

    One big problem with that is that after a couple of years in zero G and 1/3 G the crew may not be able to move around on Earth without medical help.

    One non-problem, actually. A few quotes from WP: []:

    ESA plans: Another proposal for a joint mission with ESA is based on two spacecraft being sent to Mars, one carrying a six-person crew and the other the expedition's supplies. The mission would take about 440 days to complete with three astronauts visiting the surface of the planet for a period of two months. []

    Longest human single flight
    Valeri Polyakov, launched 8 January 1994 (Soyuz TM-18), stayed at Mir LD-4 for 437.7 days

    Sure he was only going round and round and round Earth, but he was just as weightless as you'd be on the trip to Mars. So we already have had people in space for that long, and they didn't have two months at 1/3rd G in the middle to break up the zero-G stretch.

  • by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @09:53PM (#29294423)

    You can really tell the institutionalised city dwellers when it comes to these sorts of topics. You don't *need* a huge monolithic society to feed a few people. All you need are minerals, carbon dioxide, sunlight and water and you can grow food hydroponically.

    Once you have a reliable food source you have the beginnings of a colony.

    Mars has extremely humid air at night (nearly 100%), that humidity can be drawn out and turned into water which can the be used to water plants.

    Plants for food, plants for oxygen.

    Once you have oxygen "generators" (plants) in large greenhouses you can start to expand the colony, you can compress the air and use it to power simple and reliable air tools and equipment.

    So the first pioneers would be there working hard to setup viable hydroponic systems for food and oxygen. Once they have that then more people can come, each person brings with them a skill and equipment to expand the colony on a self sustaining basis. The ultimate goal would be to become self sufficient at creating fuel for ships to reduce the cost in sending ships and mass exploration for minerals in the hope of setting up small scale mining and casting operations so they can make their own tools and repair their equipment.

    Once you're at that point life is not so dire for the colony with food, water, self sustaining oxygen and metals to make repairs and start creating some tools and equipment and resources to further expand.

    The colonists don't need to fabricate CPUs on mars or LCD screens or sensitive equipment, they just need basic 20th century tech most of which can easily be created if they take an arc and mig welder, oxy-set, lathe, press and other tools. With that they can create any tech they need to survive and expand.

  • by ibbie ( 647332 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:03PM (#29294501) Journal

    Been there done that.

    We haven't, though. We've landed there. We've brought a few rocks home. We've had some catastrophes and near-catastrophes. But no one has actually lived there.

    It seems like it'd make more sense to colonize the moon - perhaps to the extent that we can launch from there, where we don't have to fight gravity nearly as much - before taking on another planet. We'd get a bunch of data on living (and coping with living) in near-zero G, they'd have a chance to work out any kinks in their theories on survival in a hostile climate, and still not be 9 months from home. It'd be a great way to prepare for the rest of the planets, I should think. I mean, if we can make a rock with no atmosphere habitable, that'd be a big freaking breakthrough.

    I don't work for NASA, however; nor have I memorized every mission they've publicized. So maybe I'm missing something. If that's the case, by all means, enlighten me.

    Also, about the muscles degenerating in a (far) lower gravity situation, as long as it's not zero G, couldn't they wear weights (i.e., like weighted vests, pants, whatever) to offset the lower gravity? We do that now, on Earth, for resistance training. It would seem like they would just need to add more weight - again, so long as it's not zero gravity.

  • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:07PM (#29294547) Journal

    You know what I say? Screw safety.

    America, in part I believe due to the sobbing heads on television anytime anything bad happens, has become so risk-adverse as to make it impossible to consider doing anything risky.

    When the Apollo program was in full swing, monkey bars of rusty steel stood on fields of asphalt.

    Cars had lap belts but nobody used them. Babies rode on their parent's lap, bigger children rode on the parcel shelf, and nobody wore a helmet on a bicycle or knee pads while skating.

    Life was risky, and people understood that and made decisions and the country was run by adults.

    We need to grow up again and understand that cost benefit analysis can include human lives, and that making that calculation doesn't make you evil.

  • by digitalgiblet ( 530309 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:28PM (#29294719) Homepage Journal

    Had to write a blog post (meant to be humorous...) about this idea. If you are interested: [] If you are not interested, well it is still at that link you just shouldn't go there...

    Now including 20% MORE references to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and his plan to save Social Security by shooting old folks into space! I know lots of folks on the right are taking shots at HIM right now, and this sounds like one of them, but I actually point out that it was in a humor book and not meant to be serious. I don't consider myself part of the left or right. It is just funny to me that he is now a real live senator who really did write that once upon a time.

    I would really, really like to go to Mars. But I would really, really, REALLY like to come back when I was done looking at rocks and dust and rocks.

    If mankind lasts long enough I suspect we will colonize Mars. I am 100% certain it won't be within my lifetime, I am 90% certain that it won't be within the lifetime of anyone reading this (at the time it is posted... NO FAIR you future archaeologists!), and not willing to put a percentage on my certainty that mankind will last long enough. I don't mean one or two trips either, I mean a real colony that sustains itself and grows by means other than continued ship after ship of doomed people from earth.

    Realistically I think we should have several decades of robotic exploration before we decide to send people. You know what? Sending robots is FAR, FAR, FAR cheaper than sending people EVEN ON A ONE WAY TRIP. I like the idea of manned exploration of space as much as anyone, but I think we can learn more from a LOT of unmanned missions instead of a few manned missions.

  • 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 shaitand ( 626655 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @10:56PM (#29295023) Journal

    And 100x more efficient to grow hemp seed. Soy is not a complete protein, it contains only the proteins needed for the body to synthesize the rest. Aside from meat, hemp is the only complete protein. Soy also has to be prepared specially in order to unlock the protein, hemp seed does not.

    Hemp seed is actually one of the few food stuffs that you can live off without having to eat anything else (aside from meat of course). Not that you would want but at least it tastes better than soy.

    Nutritionists recently rediscovered hemp seed as a super food. The bird seed industry knew it a long time ago. Back when certain industries slipped in legislation to outlaw hemp (almost entirely unopposed since nobody at the time knew that marijuana was the same stuff growing in their fields) the birdseed industry caught on and convinced congress to make an exception for them by claiming songbirds wouldn't sing without hemp seed in the mix. That is where a lot of the pot seed in the 60's and 70's came from.

  • 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 kv9 ( 697238 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:36PM (#29295269) Homepage

    Aerobraking on return to Earth would expose them to 10G of acceleration and that could even be immediately fatal.

    by the time they get back they surely could take the space elevator down, right? right.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @11:53PM (#29295339) Homepage

    Something like that was proposed back in the 1960s to "beat the Russians to the moon". The concept was that a rocket capable of a one-way trip was going to be ready before one that could deliver a return vehicle. So the plan was to deliver an astronaut or two to the moon, follow up with supply rockets, and eventually send a return vehicle when the big booster was ready to launch it. But the Saturn V worked, and the big USSR booster blew up on the pad, so this wasn't necessary.

    To get information about Mars, we're probably better off delivering more capable robotic vehicles to Mars.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @01:52AM (#29296023)

    Dropping crates of supplies around the colony site should be relatively cheap compared to the cost of the manned mission itself.

    You could drop in the first few years of food and supplies before they arrive and then send resupply crates over time.

    Along with the supply crates you could also send equipment and building materials so that they can expand their self-sufficiency over time and as the colony grows you start sending more colonists.

    I think that once we establish even a tiny foothold on Mars, colonization will be able to proceed slowly but steadily.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:22AM (#29296803)

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

    If achieving sustenance away from the Earth is our goal (and I believe it should), we will accomplish this much quicker by mining asteroids and building space colonies:

    Descending into a gravity well like Mars and trying to bootstrap things from there is just a waste of fuel.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:51AM (#29298941)

    Honey, for example, never ever spoils.. they have found jars of it 10K+ years old.. And theres bee pollen, etc..

  • by Brass Cannon ( 882254 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @10:42AM (#29299645)
    - "What was the overall success rate for getting a mission to mars? 50%? It'd suck to wait a year for a supply launch to be readied and launched, just to miss, and continue to drift off into space. There are other errors too. They could miss the landing zone by 1,000 miles."-

    Of course you are right, it could burn up. But having people there waiting might actually increase the likelihood of a supply ship successfully landing. The colonists could set up a homing beacon that the supply ship might lock on to, eliminating many navigation problems over the long journey.

    I think it's funny that this is a serious for a Mars mission but the "Mars Direct" guy was labeled as an extreme kook. Mars direct planned to launch a return vehicle and fuel processing station (unmanned) to refine fuel from the Hydrogen in the Mars atmosphere. This way, the first astronauts would not even leave Earth until the return ship were safely there and fully fueled.

    Combining the two ideas, the ready fueled return vehicle could itself be the homing beacon that the manned ship locks onto.
  • by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:08AM (#29300013) Journal

    I'd actually be very interested in seeing some honest discussion produced as to how we could populate Mars so the inhabitants wouldn't die terrible deaths.

    First, Mars does have oxygen. It has oxygen all over the place. The planet is red, it's so oxygenated. The air is mostly CO2, with trace amounts of Nitrogen, Oxygen, water vapour, and a few other elements and compounds. The problem isn't that there isn't an atmosphere, but that it's 1/100 of the pressure of earth's. This isn't a problem. Humans have had air compressor technology for hundreds of years. We can easily compress the atmosphere of Mars to earth standard pressure.

    This leaves a problem, however: The atmosphere of Mars is fatal to humans. Recently, humans have developed the technology to use electricity and a semiconductor device to convert CO2 into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The former can be used to sustain life, the latter is an important chemical feedstock that can also be converted into synthetic petroleum. We can also use earth plant life to change the CO2 into oxygen and useful compounds like glucose and cellulose.

    Once we have a local source of oxygen, life becomes significantly easier, but there's still an important chemical we're missing: Hydrogen. Great news is, the pH of martian soil is quite high; There's Hydrogen all over the place. Even if there's no natural water on the planet, we can create water from oxygen and hydrogen, and get some heat out of the process.

    So we've got a readily available source of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. The basic fundamentals for maintaining existence exist.

    The next element we need is more difficult: nitrogen. Nitrogen is a large portion of our atmosphere, and a key part of our ecology. A source of nitrogen is essential for a sustainable colony. We may be in luck. Analysis of the mars lander showed perchlorate salts, which may include ammonium perchlorate, which can be easily processed into oxygen, nitrogen, and water.

    Obviously, all this chemistry is going to require energy, and I can only see one means to acquire this much energy: A nuclear power plant. A 10MW CANDU-style reactor would require 87 fuel bundles per year(with a size of a 10cm wide by 50cm tall cylinder, but most of that is air). If we found uranium on the planet, then the colony could be self-sustaining. After a few decades, it could be completely self-sufficient, smelting iron for repairs, producing its own energy, air, water, fertilizer, and food. Lots of people would be more interested in using solar, but it simply isn't practical for the industrial processes you'd need for the project to work.

    The best way to start would probably be gathering the parts for these industrial plants on earth and sending them ahead of people, then using remotely-controlled robots to construct them. Once a basic colony was prepared, humans could be sent, and from there a society could begin.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.