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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One-way mission to Mars

Although robots have been roaming Mars for years, astronomers have long dreamed of sending human explorers to the red planet. Unfortunately, the cost of sending astronauts to Mars and back to Earth, a journey that would take six months each way, is prohibitive (notice I didn’t say ‘astronomical’). Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University and Paul Davies of Arizona State University have a solution. They suggest we send astronauts to Mars on a one-way mission.

The astronomers point out that most of the expense in a Mars mission would be in getting the astronauts back to Earth. Removing that necessity would reduce the cost by several fold, placing the effort within the realm of possibility.

Schulze-Makuch and Davies insist that they are not advocating a suicide mission. Rather, they envision the Mars astronauts (all of whom would be volunteers) to be the vanguard of a colonization mission. The first four astronauts would go out on two different spaceships, and at regular intervals more people would arrive bringing needed supplies. In the meantime, the original astronauts would use the Martian resources, including water and various essential minerals, to set up a permanent outpost. According to Schulze-Makuch and Davies, it would be no different for them than for the earliest European settlers in North America.