An eternal mission to Mars
PULLMAN, Wash. | It’s always cheaper to fly one way, even to Mars. Two scientists are suggesting that colonization of the Red Planet could happen faster and more economically if astronauts behave like the first settlers to come to North America - not expecting to go home.
“The main point is to get Mars exploration moving,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a Washington State University professor who co-authored an article that seriously proposes what sounds like a preposterous idea.
A moonwalking astronaut was not impressed.
“This is premature,” Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14 wrote in an e-mail. “We aren’t ready for this yet.”
The article titled “To Boldly Go” appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Cosmology, which features more than 50 articles and essays on Mars exploration.
Mr. Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, said humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth. They think the one-way trips could start in two decades.
“You would send a little bit older folks, around 60 or something like that,” Mr. Schulze-Makuch said, bringing to mind the aging heroes who saved the day in the movie “Space Cowboys.”
That’s because the mission undoubtedly would reduce a person’s life span, from a lack of medical care and exposure to radiation. Radiation also could damage reproductive organs, so sending people of childbearing age is not a good idea, Mr. Schulze-Makuch said.
Mars, a six-month flight away, possesses surface gravity, an atmosphere, abundant water, carbon dioxide and essential minerals. The two scientists propose the missions begin with two two-member teams, in separate ships that would serve as living quarters on the planet. More colonists and regular supply ships would follow.
The technology exists or is within easy reach, they wrote. By not taking the extra fuel and provisions necessary for a return trip to Earth, the mission could cut costs by 80 percent.
“The astronauts would go to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony,” they wrote.
They acknowledge that the proposal is a tough sell for NASA, with its focus on safety, and suggest the private sector might be more fertile ground.