In an article published this month in the Journal of Cosmology, environmental scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and physicist Paul Davies argue that a manned one-way mission to Mars would not only make economical sense, but mark the beginning of long-term colonization of the planet. The researchers contend that while a manned flight to Mars and back is technically feasible now, the steep financial and political costs make such a mission unlikely to launch anytime soon.
So they figured since the largest portion of a trip to Mars is said to be the return flight home, why not just not have one...
"We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only," said Schulze-Makuch, who is associate professor in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences Washington State University in Pullman. "One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two spacecraft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet."
Mission to Mars
Only six months away using our current launch options and chemical rocket technology, the Red Planet- with its atmosphere, moderate surface gravity, abundant water and carbon dioxide, and range of essential minerals- is an attractive and very attainable goal for humanity to undertake.
But attainability does not wash away the inherent risk of the undertaking...
"It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return," said Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University in Phoenix. "Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt."
The scientists stress that such an expedition would not amount to a suicide mission, but would instead culminate in a series of missions over time, with an eye toward sufficiently supporting long-term colonization.
The proposed project would begin with selecting an appropriate site for the Martian colony, ideally associated with a cave or other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients.
"Mars has natural and quite large lava caves, and some of them are located at a low elevation in close proximity to the former northern ocean, which means that they could harbor ice deposits inside similar to many ice-containing caves on Earth," Schulze-Makuch said. "Ice caves would go a long way to solving the needs of a settlement for water and oxygen. Mars has no ozone shield and no magnetospheric shielding, and ice caves would also provide shelter from ionizing and ultraviolet radiation."
Schulze-Makuch and Davies propose that the astronauts would periodically be supplied with basic necessities from Earth, but would otherwise be expected to become increasingly proficient at harvesting and utilizing the resources available on the foreign planet. The researchers envision that the settlement would eventually reach self-sufficiency, and could then serve as a hub for expanding human colonization.
And apparently, despite the understanding of the inherent risk of the mission, the researchers believe that a one way trip to the alien world would have very little trouble getting a crew to sign on to the mission."Informal surveys conducted after lectures and conference presentations on our proposal have repeatedly shown that many people are willing to volunteer for a one-way mission, both for reasons of scientific curiosity and in a spirit of adventure and human destiny," the researchers said.