Imagine living on another planet as part of a small colony, gazing out over mountainous rock formations and traversing open fields of red dirt and clay as you start a new life in a land foreign in almost every way, living like the first settlers to explore North America in the 1700s. That’s what Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies propose in their article “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars” in the October-November 2010 issue of the Journal of Cosmology.
In their article, they state that while a human mission to Mars is technologically feasible, it would be costly, involving enormous financial and political commitments. While we may have the technology to travel there, the fuel and resource costs for NASA’s space flights are extremely expensive. The authors propose that, due to the lack of funds for a two-way manned mission to Mars, a long-term one-way mission would prove more affordable.
For a one-way manned mission to Mars, expenditures could be cut by around 80 percent, as there would be no need to send fuel and supplies for a return trip, Rather, the mission would require only enough fuel for the initial journey, along with the nutrients, resources and food to last two to four people for about two years. This would mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the Red Planet.
The authors stress that this is not a “suicide mission,” but rather that astronauts would go with plans of staying for the rest of their lives as “trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony.” These new space settlers would be setting up a hub for future Martian planetary exploration and colonization, while simultaneously establishing the foundations to travel even further into space. Creating the initial infrastructure in this fashion would make it immensely easier, in political terms, to find sustained funding for the mission over the long term.
Such a journey would be replete with risks: “Of course, the life expectancy of the astronauts would be substantially reduced, but that would also be the case for a return mission.”
The authors propose that four astronauts would be sent on a one-way shuttle to Mars, with periodic resupply from Earth. Upon arrival, astronauts would set up a colony space hub to carry out research and mine for local minerals and nutrients, eventually becoming self-sufficient. Utilizing local minerals and resources, food and fuel sent from Earth, and possibly even creating “home-grown” nutrients, the colony would eventually become a stepping stone for further space exploration and planetary colonization.
Schulze-Makuch and Davies suggest that such a plan would bring with it various bonuses. One such would be a Martian colony’s capacity to serve as a “lifeboat” if a natural disaster of epic proportions were to strike the Earth.
Another would be the unique opportunities for scientific research arising from any Martian fossil record or extant life forms. Martian organisms could offer vital insights into evolution here on Earth as well as source material for the development of “novel biotechnology.”
Third, living on Mars would enable researchers to study the Red Planet with a directness unattainable through Earth-directed remote robotics, “open(ing) the way to comparative planetology on a scale unimagined by any former generation.”
Lastly, as the authors note, “establishing a permanent multicultural and multinational human presence on another world would have major beneficial political and social implications for Earth, and serve as a strong unifying and uplifting theme for all humanity.”
One of the first steps to pulling off this mission would be sending out scout probes to select a satisfactory settlement location. Such a locale would be near a natural shelter formation such as lava tubes or ice caves and close to resources such as water, minerals and nutrients. The next step would be to send robots to start construction of an unmanned base. Crew selection would follow, taking into account factors such as reproductive age and physiological fitness.
The authors emphasize that it is through the spirit of human exploration and a longing for adventure, along with the pragmatic consideration of possible Earthly disasters, that we will grow and expand beyond the borders of our home planet – and with good reason. Such sentiments are as old as human civilization itself. As Socrates remarked over two thousand years before humanity first seriously contemplated escaping the bonds of its home planet: “Man must rise above the Earth, to the top of the clouds and beyond, for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”