One Small Step for Man, One Small Future Colony for Humankind

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.”


  1. For you all I have this:
    “New ideas pass through three periods:
    -‘It can’t be done.’
    -‘It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing.’
    -‘I knew it was a good idea all along!’ ”
    -Arthur C. Clarke

  2. We are at the brink will we press forward or cower? At the start of the 13 year long human genome project most believed that the project was impossible with the present technology of the time and wouldn’t accomplish the task, “it should be put off till it was easier”. It boldly went ahead though. True at the beginning progress was slow and dragging, but by the end was commencing at a blistering pace due to new innovations.
    This is a good example of the sort of situation we are in now. People want to wait giving lists the size of your forearm of things that need to be done first. Where really the moment the target is within our sights technologically we should go for it. As until the initial resource intensive hard steps are taken there won’t be any of these focused charges of technological development and ingenuity, which most want to placidly wait for.
    So is it sensible to wait, till the people who will need the most convincing. The public will ask “if it was possible that long ago why didn’t you?”

  3. I wrote a paper on this more than 25 years ago. Nice to see it resurfacing now. I would have gone then, but now I’m too old.

  4. Frame of mind my dear, frame of mind.

  5. Well personally, as the author of this segment. I feel that this is all about Transhumanism. Transhumanism isn’t just about augmentation of the flesh, but of augmentation of the soul as well. By inhabiting other planets, we are transcending our Earthly restrictions and creating all new forms and ways of social understanding of how we live. Transhumanism is all about moving forward. To me, this is moving forward.

  6. speaking as a sci fi geek rather than a scientist: I think we might want to put a few goals ahead of the human mars experiment. I would suggest goals such as:

    self replicating 3D printer
    AGI self programming intelligence multiplier algorithms
    space elevator
    space solar
    micro robot swarms
    asteroid mining robot colonies

  7. oh i read lately an article about the AI, for space stuff, robots, and engines etc

    that will understand a scientific english

  8. Transhumanism, and cosmism

    is spiritual, it is about spiritual advancement, it is about the cognitive capacity for “evolved” one to

    understand the world clearfully, and build a new world

    and it is also spiritual

  9. 1) if we only have chemical propulsion we are stupid

    I don’t think we (all) are stupid

    2) if we only have man work force for colonizing space (like in bad science fiction movie from 1960), we are stupid

    I don’t think we (all) are stupid

    3) hmmmm, in that case what is the problem

    I don’t think we (all) are stupid

    a) if we want to colonise space, replicated machine in a 3D printed manner, with ressources and goals

    would to the jobs

    terraforming mars in 2 years ?

    And what next ?

    COool but what is the goal of life ?

    So like we and google willl do, send a micro usine

    and let see

    Space will, be “colonize” with robots

    We are robots

    And there are other robots

    and what is the goal of life ?

  10. There’s a lot of terraforming that we could do to Mars to make it livable that would be impossible post-settlement. Things like pulling icy masses from the asteroid belt and smashing them into Mars for water and atmosphere will pretty much kill anyone standing on it at the time. Better to wait until we can do it right before we squander the opportunity Mars presents.

  11. Okay, tech has its uses, but where is the FUN in letting machines do the exploring for us??? Maybe I’m part of a dying breed, but come on!!! How about a little testicular fortitude. I volunteer!!! Send me, I wanna go!!! Those who risk little gain little, those who risk much gain much. Cost…if we dont start now, the cost will always be high, and never come down. This needs to be done by the private sector, cuz the gov. will take forever to do anything. Show some guts people, lets do this and to H*** with the gov. and anyone else whose too afraid to take some risks!!!!!!!

    • Feel free to go. But please pay for it yourself, I don’t want to be made to pay for it.

    • the cost will be high and never come down? has the almighty kurzweil taught you nothing?

      • If in the first days of computing it was decided that they would not be used and imporved upon until the high cost came down then those high costs would never have come down and we wouldn’t have the cheap processing power we have today. So it is correct to say that if we don’t start implementing space travel and colonisation we can never improve it and take the costs down.

  12. I am not an expert, but this does not strike me as an efficient use of resources.

    Except for the bragging rights, it seems to me that for the moment there is not much that we could do on Mars that could not be done at a fraction of the cost by some automated probe; and furthermore, a stable Martian colony would not be an economically sound enterprise, at least not in the foreseeable short term.

  13. To transcend earth, I think, is the ultimate *goal* of transhumanism.

    There is a time when this is most feasible, I don’t think we are there yet, but getting closer 🙂

    Obviously the best bet would be to send uploads/ai on robotic craft to mars where they can bootstrap the basic tech and start terraforming. Yeah, sure, after they dig up the remains 🙂

    But it could well happen before upload tech is available.

    • I disagree with your assessment on the ultimate goal of transhumanism. I believe that the ultimate goal of transhumanism is to ensure the survivability of humanity indefinitely with disregard to the form humanity will take (human, trans human, post human.) Of course, this is only my opinion but I thought I’d share it with you and see what you think.

      Transcending Earth may not be entirely necessary to achieve this but definitely has so many benefits that I’m sure we’ll head that way. Plus, who wouldn’t want to explore the universe? 🙂

  14. A colony on Mars would certainly be fascinating, but does this have the highest priority right now? Two considerations:

    1) Before we solve the problem of suffering (bioethical Abolitionism), we should be cautious to spread life throughout the universe. Creating more large-scale suffering should not be a part of our terminal values.

    2) John has a valid point that developing other technologies first (such as AGI) may be more efficient. Furthermore, if we create a non-human friendly Singularity on earth, a Mars colony would not survive that event either (the lifeboat argument fails at this point).

  15. Why not just wait for robotic technology to progress so that they (the robots) can set up a colony for us.

    Or we could wait for transhuman tech, and have enhanced humans, or cyborgs, built the colony.

    • I agree, sending unenhanced humans would be too cumbersome.

    • John, the question here is how long can we wait for such technology.
      As I think, the largest actual problem would be mental health of colonists in such small group confined in such small space. Other than that, it’s totally feasible with state-of-the-art technology.

    • Obviously the best bet would be to send uploads/ai on robotic craft to mars where they can bootstrap the basic tech and start terraforming. Yeah, sure, after they dig up the remains

    • The sooner we colonize Mars, even though it may be difficult and expensive now, the greater the long term payoff for humanity. Explorers have always had to listen to the argument that we should wait. If more of them had followed that advice, we would not be having this conversation today. Robot technology funding will only occur when there is a need for it to occur and not before.

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