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Mars Space Transportation Science

Scientists Propose One-Way Trips To Mars 839

vortex2.71 writes "Invoking the spirit of Star Trek in a scholarly article entitled 'To Boldly Go,' two scientists contend human travel to Mars could happen much more quickly and cheaply if the missions are made one-way. They argue that it would be little different from early settlers to North America, who left Europe with little expectation of return. 'The main point is to get Mars exploration moving,' said Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, who wrote the article in the latest Journal of Cosmology with Paul Davies of Arizona State University. The colleagues state — in one of 55 articles in the issue devoted to exploring Mars — that humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth."
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Scientists Propose One-Way Trips To Mars

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  • Little difference? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IrquiM ( 471313 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:04PM (#34232022) Homepage
    At least they could breathe and had water when the colonized America.
  • Sign me up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NikolaiKutuzov ( 1226122 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:07PM (#34232094)

    Three years ago I would have happily signed up for such an adventure, even if it was one-way. To be part of that, oh wow. These days, with a wife and a child, I guess I'll envy those who go, but wont be amongst them.

    So I dont thinnk there be volunteers lacking, Even though I dont know wether they ft the general requirements of mental stability to be locked up in a can for a year. Even the early colonists of the Americas expected to make some money and then return. And even in the Americas it was a three month voyage on a ship, not a year in space.

    But hell, what a ride.

  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:09PM (#34232146) Homepage Journal
    ... the chinese most certainly will.
  • Re:unethical (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mibe ( 1778804 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:11PM (#34232190)
    It's not unethical if they volunteer for it. I won't touch the cloning thing though, seems a bit off-topic.
  • Re:Sign me up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:13PM (#34232218)

    These days, with a wife and a child, I guess I'll envy those who go, but wont be amongst them.

    I had a similar thought, and it made me wonder in turn if this could be a big opportunity for China and their generation of surplus men. If your prospects for a wife are limited, being a Mars pioneer has to look a lot more attractive.

  • by greebowarrior ( 961561 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:15PM (#34232246) Homepage
    Not really the kind of people we want to use to seed life on another planet. Perhaps they could set up the first colony on the Sun instead...
  • by Partaolas ( 1926386 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:21PM (#34232320)
    Why is everyone assuming that the "colonists" will die within days of arrival? I am willing to bet that there will be lots of volunteers for one-way missions to Mars (provided good chances of survival).
  • by wlad ( 1171323 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:21PM (#34232328)
    Yeah, as it will already be hard enough to keep normal people psychologically stable all the way there, and from throwing each other out of the airlock, let's send criminals and crazies :) I don't think they will even arrive there. You could just as well shoot them on-spot.
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:23PM (#34232360) Journal
    It's not going to happen. At least not in the western world. The US space program is highly political. NASA requires the good will of the congress. Since it would not be politically favourable to send people on a one way mission, NASA would never get funding for it.
  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:26PM (#34232388) Homepage

    Yep. At least back when the US colonization was occurring, there were no expectations of support from "back home".

    Any settlers to Mars would need certain things provided to them, regularly, for the foreseeable future (at least a year or two):

    * air
    * food
    * water

    Nobody capable of handling the low-G environment and able to improve the living situation there is going to mess around with that when the agency funding the trips says, "we're only sending you there, for financial reasons". That does not invoke a feeling of security. What if they can't afford to launch an air payload 12 months down the road?

    Furthermore, settlers in the US West at least had the opportunity to come home. They had their wagons. They had their tools, and a small degree of food. Provided they didn't die from something else, "leaving" was always an option. Not so for Mars-bound "colonists".

    This sounds like a very, very bad idea. At the very least it's a political nightmare waiting to happen. "They left my brother/sister/daughter/son on Mars to die of asphyxiation because they wouldn't provide him with the promised air!" Maybe it'd work when/if there's an established permanent base (ie not requiring as regular resupply and somewhat able to grow food and produce air), but not until.

  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:29PM (#34232422) Journal

    If you're seeding technological infrastructure, why send people at all? Send ships of robots and parts, once the robots have assembled the habitat, pressurized it, prepared gardens, located water and what not, then you send people to live there.

  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:32PM (#34232466)

    "that humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth"

    I wonder what fraction of the populace cares about the continuation of the human race. Do you? If a rogue planet were to one day pass through our solar system and smash earth on its way by, would you care about colonists on Mars continuing our culture and genetics? If you do care, why? If not, why not?

  • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:35PM (#34232516) Journal

    That treaty won't be worth the paper it is printed on once some entity that has enough resources to defend its property rights actually makes a large investment in space.

  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:36PM (#34232540)

    There is no shortage of land on Earth. Canada alone could comfortably fit billions, assuming they don't mind living in a periodically cold, hostile environment that is still infinitely friendlier than that of Mars.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:41PM (#34232602) Journal
    First you need to design the robots that can do that either unsupervised or can do it supervised by a 45 minute time delay. Even controlling something as simple as the rovers over this distance is hard - imagine trying to control complex assembly robots. It makes sense to do this for the moon, where you only have a 1 second control latency to worry about. Not so much for Mars until our robots are a lot more smart.
  • Unfortunately... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sean.peters ( 568334 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:42PM (#34232614) Homepage

    ... nor are there any economically exploitable resources. Geez, I get so tired of this - otherwise intelligent people spouting nonsense about colonizing other planets. What, for example, are these colonists going to do for a living? Bear in mind that Mars is effectively made of rust and silica, that shipping stuff to Mars is ludicrously expensive, and that even the most basic needs for life (air, water, food, shelter) are not available on Mars without a lot of equipment to process them. Also bear in mind that there is no market for any product on Mars, so whatever you make would have to be shipped back to Earth to be sold - and what imaginable product could you sell at a profit? This project would have a gigantic up-front cost with no realistic hope of any payoff. Who's going to invest in something like this?

    And the "we need a colony to preserve the human race in the event of disaster" doesn't hold either, due at least in part to tragedy of the commons issues. At most, very, very few people would be able to be transported to Mars - meaning that neither I nor any of my direct descendants are very likely to personally benefit. So why would I be interested in expending enormous amounts of tax dollars on this? Additionally, it would be a lot cheaper to safeguard the earth (which is a lot more hospitable to life than Mars will ever be) against looming disasters, than to try to establish colonies on other planets.

    Sure, colonization of the solar system is a cool idea - so why haven't plans gotten off the ground? There's no money in it.

  • Re:unethical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by delinear ( 991444 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:48PM (#34232708)
    Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday [] here. If we have in the past and can continue to send people to war with a realistic chance that they'll die, then what's the issue with sending someone on such a noble endeavour as this. At least they will know their lives advanced all of humanity, instead of advancing a few inches into no man's land or paying the ultimate price for the enrichment of a few billionaires arguing over resources.
  • by rollingcalf ( 605357 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:52PM (#34232776)

    If humans screw up the earth to the point where it becomes unlivable, our species deserves to just become extinct.

  • Re:Terraform! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NewWorldDan ( 899800 ) <> on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:54PM (#34232802) Homepage Journal

    The martian atmosphere is already 95% CO2. It's as warm as it's going to get. Furthermore, the martian atmosphereic pressure (at its lowest elevation) is only 3% of Earth's atmostphere (at sea level). Mars simply is not terraformable. It lacks the gravity and a magnetosphere requried to support an adequate atmosphere. You might be able to establish a colony of photosynthesizing bacteria or even some very rugged desert plants and let that run for a few millenia and see what happens. Anyone who thinks it is remotely possible to colonize Mars doesn't know shit about Mars.

  • save the humans! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:02PM (#34232910) Journal
    "humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth" For the love of G-d and all that is holy, why must we? If we have the technology to make Mars habitable, then we have the technology to fix Earth. If the Earth goes to hell in a handbasket, would humans living on Mars save your life? Why not spend 1/10th that same energy to fixing this place? If we can't straighten out our own house, what the hell makes us think we could make Mars work out? Such a trip would be nothing more than billions upon billions of dollars, pulled from the taxes of hundreds of millions of people, just to pander to the selfish dreams of a very small number of people. Spend that money on making a light rail system spanning the US, clean energy sources (solar, wind, etc), and you'll have lots left over; and then it helps save this planet, for the benefit of billions of current earthlings, plus all generations to come. Or...spend the money to send a couple dozen people to Mars, so they jack for the rest of us. One key thing to keep in mind - most of the people who went from Europe to the US back in the day either paid their own way, or were sent specifically so they could gather resources to send back. The idea that it was a one-way trip is true only for the people who paid their own way. So if a few billionaires want to get together and send themselves to Mars, I'm not going to stop them. But why the hell should I pay for someone else to go?
  • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:14PM (#34233110)
    As ol' Dr. Zubrin says, put out the call and people will be lined up coast to coast. What is with people being unable to look beyond their own mindset? Saying things like "I wouldn't do it so why would anybody else?" Is like saying "I don't like onions so why would anybody else?" It's just stupidly narrow-minded and egotistical. Even if "most people" wouldn't go, you don't need millions. You just need a handful, and out of the billions on the planet I'm pretty sure you could find hundreds both willing and able (in terms of psychiatric and intellectual health) if the call were public enough, and even then you'd probably only be able to make use of a dozen (and even that would be one of the largest space-faring crews ever).
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:15PM (#34233146)

    Yeah, we're much bigger pussies than we were 70 years ago. It's not that we lack the volunteers who would happily take on all these risks. We don't have a public that would allow people to volunteer in the first place. I think that's the first problem: A miserable hero suffering and dying on Mars is just too depressing for the collective consciousness.

    The second problem is that we don't really know much about self-sustaining sealed-off human habitats. We only did one experiment on this in the 90's, learned amazing stuff, but inexplicably we designated the experiment a "failure" and decided to learn nothing from it. All similar research was abandoned. To me, continuing with this research is the obvious and right way to ramp up for a useful Martian trip. The other obvious research we need to do: Autonomous (robotic) mining and mineral processing. Both of these paths of research would have important spinoffs useful here on Earth, and both could be done independently of NASA because the research doesn't need to have anything to do with space.

    We don't need big breakthroughs to make Martian station work. But the things that we do need, we're making no effort to acquire.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:41PM (#34233596)

    If we don't build a sustainable population off this planet in the next few decades, we die.

    Be it political insanity, DNA-engineered disease, some eco-weenie dropping an asteroid on us to save Gaia from the evil humans or a natural disaster, we don't have long left. Humans already have the power to destroy most life on Earth in a very expensive manner, and pretty soon they'll have the power to do so in a fairly cheap manner. Once that power exists, it will be used by someone, somewhere.

    Mars is a dumb place to go for various reasons, but nothing is more important at this point than expansion into space. If we don't then there will be no 'generations to come'.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:48PM (#34233712) Homepage Journal

    That's trivially solved with a mirror orbiting the sun in counter-ecliptic orbit, though.

  • by thethibs ( 882667 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:49PM (#34233740) Homepage
    "Catastrophe" doesn't mean what you think it means. You're confusing it with "tragedy".
  • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @02:51PM (#34233772)

    Incidentally, many of the early settlers were criminals of some sort

    In Australia, maybe. In North America it was mostly people fleeing poverty and persecution.

    Hey, there's an idea: offer Mars to Israel or Palestine! Want land of your own, with no chance of persecution? Get on that rocket-ship!

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:06PM (#34234022)

    If we have the technology to make Mars habitable, then we have the technology to fix Earth.

    Terraforming Mars over hundreds of years and several generations is a lot different than fixing Earth after it has been slammed my a large chunk of rock like those that have hit in the past and nearly wiped out everything, or those in the past that did things like ... you know ... turning the planet into one giant ball of molten rock.

    When your data center burns down, its not really hard to rebuild it and start over, however your company will cease to exist in the months it takes you to get back up and running. And then, what if your backups get completely wiped out in the process.

    Wipe out human life on Earth in one big event and we can't rebuild shit.

    Consider Mars to be a backup data center with a back copy of the code required to rebuild. Having DNA and living organisms elsewhere is a good idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:08PM (#34234056)

    Canada? Sorry no vacancies. I prefer cold and hostile over crowded and polluted. And we'll keep our fresh water to ourselves (and our closest neighbours), thanks.

  • by OldHawk777 ( 19923 ) * <> on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:10PM (#34234080) Journal

    Reasonable chances at a better life for self and offspring is always acceptable to intelligent humans.

    The Americas were colonized by military, criminals, and destitute people (the better classes of people) that were forced by law or freely volunteered to advance their (Kith and Kin) value and chances in life.

    Those that remain behind are bumps-on-a-log know-it-alls, whenever enlightened they chase their running shadows back into fearful and safe darkness. Many are the social-sheep who fear the unknown, willingly offer their fleece and meat to masters, and then expect to be protected from harm/slaughter .

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:12PM (#34234110)

    I bet we could do it. End the drug war, there you go billions to get started with. Tax and sell them, there you go billions more. Increase tax on the rich back to 1960s levels, again billions more.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:19PM (#34234242)

    Why is there always a "save teh Earth first!!" comment, and why the fuck is it always upmodded?

    Seriously. These comments aren't insightful, they're banal. The guy didn't even use paragraphs. He's probably in 5th grade.

  • by AlamedaStone ( 114462 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:23PM (#34234304)

    I can't very well imagine too terribly many sane people on least in the US, would like to give up the good life, family, friends, the comforts of life here on earth (lots of women to chase, good variety of good food, aged single malt scotch, sports cars, guns, vacationing to the beach or for snow skiing, etc) leave it all behind while in the prime of life, to get a one way ticket to uncertainty, lower life quality till death.

    Your lack of imagination really isn't germaine. The reality is there are many people who would leap at the chance to be the first settlers on Mars - certainly thousands, and possibly many more. It would be a huge honor, an event that can take place only once in the course of all human history. I'm not convinced I'd be one of those people, but I would give it serious thought - if I were qualified, of course.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:43PM (#34234592)

    Great! Another planet ran by religious nutjobs! Just what we need!

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @03:54PM (#34234722) Homepage
    Part of the problem with nationalism is that they want specific land. The Israelis don't want Mars. They want a small strip in the Middle East. And the same for the Palestinians. If they weren't attached to specific areas of land everythign there would be much simpler.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:02PM (#34234810)

    Not all catastrophe is man-made. And humans living on Mars wouldn't save anyone's life here in the event of a mass extinction event, but there are some people out there to whom the continued existence of the human race is important.

    I understand that you're clearly one of those people who does not care about anything unless it affects you directly. Not everyone thinks that way. Sooner or later, this world will end- whether from our own doing or external factors beyond our control. To some people it's important that something of the human race, our legacy, outlives this world.

    But by all means, let's make this all about this the blatant and wasteful of expenditure of tax dollars to send millionaires to Mars and never see any benefit. We don't have to get any benefit; the fact that humans would be living on another planet is the benefit.

    Now, I don't know who this G-d feller is, but I wouldn't count on him to save us when the world is ending. We're going to have to save ourselves.

  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:05PM (#34234838)

    I sympathize. It also shows incredible naivety to think we can "fix all out problems at home first!"

    Well, I guess we'll be going into space somewhere around the year 400 billion A.D.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:34PM (#34235216) Homepage

    Yes you could find people willing to go on a one-way trip. Even people who are qualified. Sure.

    But I don't see the point in sending anyone until we've done enough robotic exploration, excavation, processing, manufacturing, and assembly where there would already be pre-constructed habitats and stores of fuel.

    And once you've got a pre-established mechanized facility for people to arrive at, I see no reason not to just wait a little longer until the fuel stores are larger, and a return trip is feasible.

    I'm 100% for manned exploration. But I think the time when the only possible human exploration is of the one-way-trip variety and the time when we are far better served by robotic exploration are largely the same.

    I mean we aren't talking visiting other solar systems here which may necessarily be one-way. If we can't bring people back from Mars then it's due to a serious lack of technical capability and resources. So, let's use robots until we've fixed the capability issue, and use the robots themselves to fix the resource issue.

  • by Plekto ( 1018050 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:51PM (#34235414)

    Correct. It appears as if the Moon is actually far better to colonize in this fashion. Actually better for several reasons:

    1 - Distance - this is obvious. Less everything and less time to mount a rescue.
    2 - The recent probing of the lunar sub-surface pretty much confirmed what most people though would be true. That the soil there is nearly identical to that found on our planet if you dig beneath the the surface. It appears as if there's a radiation and micrometeorite blasted exterior (egg)"shell" but solid rock underneath. This means that pretty much every element that we need is there. Mars is a huge unknown by comparison.
    3 - The climate on the Moon is actually better. A lack of wind and temperature fluctuations makes for a more predictable environment. Make no mistake, Mars is just as deadly and un-breathable as the Moon, with 0.1675 PSI of pressure at its densest. That's still effectively hard vacuum in terms of equipment and seals and the need for air-tight structures. It's the same as roughly 65,000 ft on earth. The Poles are much thinner, though, and that's where we'd have to land in any case to get water.
    4 - Plans already exist online and elsewhere for proposed underground bases on the Moon which look like they could be made to be fairly self-sufficient.This would be a much better "Prison" scenario as well, since a single riot half a mile underground won't cripple the entire structure. All we need are tunnel boring machines. The smallest such ones can *just* be lifted to orbit by our largest rockets. Getting the same equipment to Mars is in no way possible. This means that the simplest way to build a habitat on Mars (underground) isn't an immediate option, while it would be on the Moon.

  • by orient ( 535927 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @05:06PM (#34235600)
    America was already inhabited, so it wasn't colonized - it was invaded.
  • by linuxrocks123 ( 905424 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @05:27PM (#34235860) Homepage Journal

    I think you just insulted the entire continent of Europe...

  • by notsoanonymouscoward ( 102492 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @05:34PM (#34235940) Journal

    Ah see you've made my point. A trip to the new world (once they knew it was there) could be easily funded by a small group of investors. I see no small groups of investors with the technology and material to produce a colony ship to Mars. Do you?

    In spirit, they are similar. The technical challenges to overcome are substantially greater. And once they are done with the technical problems, the financial costs are also relatively more significant.

    Having said all of that, it is a matter of WILL alone that holds us back.


  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <> on Monday November 15, 2010 @06:20PM (#34236414)

    I think you've missed the point. This is intended as a colonization effort. Yes, we need to know more to have a reasonable chance of success, but waiting until the robots have built a fuel extraction and processing plant, and a rocket engine rebuilding plant is just silly. And it's considerably cheaper to only freight enough cargo for a one-way transit. I can't quote exact numbers, but it's considerably less than 1/4 the cost to plan a one-way trip.

    The problem is, we haven't even got the biosphere-n isolation project working. That needs to be tackled first. No reason automated exploration can't be done simultaneously.

  • Re:Incredibly sad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fzz ( 153115 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @06:50PM (#34236728)
    I don't view it the same way. I've fitted a lot in my life so far; done exciting things, been fascinating places, met incredible people, and done original research that's been cited thousands of times. And I've two great kids and a wife I love. Life is good, and I don't plan on throwing it away casually.

    But I also believe that it matters less how many years you live than what you do with the time you have, however long that may be. My family may not agree of course.

    Don't get me wrong; I fully expect to do something interesting and useful in my 60s and 70s, health permitting. But I don't fear death; we'll all go some day. I'd rather go out doing something that would really make a difference to how mankind sees itself, and which just might sow the seeds of a new world.

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Monday November 15, 2010 @09:47PM (#34238088) Journal

    Robots are pretty much incapable of doing shit, with such a huge radio lag as it is found between Earth and Mars. Just look at the rovers: 50 meters in 2 weeks, during which a team of a dozen scientists and engineers constantly monitor images and telemetry, sadly NOT in real time, and pray to the flying spaghetti monster that their rover doesn't get stuck. Because if it does, it can't even do that very basic thing - going straight forward.

    Robots capable of more than this, with functional AI, are still a few centuries away.

  • by Vegemeister ( 1259976 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @01:41AM (#34239284)
    Why is it in our collective interests? What benefit is there to be had from the continuation of the species, aside from the satisfaction of our individual instincts? It would be neat if humanity became a galactic empire, but it would not be an inherently superior condition to what we have now. More people are not necessarily better.
  • by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:13AM (#34240594)

    That is entirely incorrect. Palestinians just don't want to be treated like second-class citizens in their own country. I imagine if the UN decided to give Washington DC back to the Indians, and the Indians then took over large swathes of the country around DC and treated all non-Indian people like criminals, frequently attacking them and denying them basic human rights (like access to hospitals, safety of possessions, etc.), most non-Indians might be a bit pissed off too.

    How you got modded informative is truly bizarre. You are so clearly wrong it's not even funny.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham