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Late Night Fantasy: Would you take a one way trip to Mars?

Mars: the red planet

Mars: the red planet

The Surface of Mars

The Surface of Mars

I think it’s late enough for this. I just had to share this story that I heard about on NPR’s Science Friday. What a fascinating interview! The audio is posted on the upper left hand corner of the page. A One-Way Trip To Mars?

Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. He got his Ph.D. at M.I.T. He is the author of The Physics of Star Trek He got his Ph.D. in Physics from M.I.T., and has taught at Harvard, Yale, and held an endowed chair and chaired the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University. He moved to Arizona State University in 2008.

Here’s Krauss’ original op-ed from the New York Times:

Lawrence M. Krauss: A One-Way Ticket to Mars

The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the Sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.

There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots. Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart.

Moreover, one of the reasons that is sometimes given for sending humans into space is that we need to move beyond Earth if we are to improve our species’ chances of survival should something terrible happen back home. This requires people to leave, and stay away.

This story just blew me away. I wouldn’t take the trip, but the idea that some people would fascinates me. Apparently quite a few former astronauts and scientists told Krauss they would take a one-way trip to Mars.

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18 Responses

  1. Seriously, my heart rate went up as I listened to the interview on Science Friday. Maybe a part of me would like to go?

    It’s just a fantasy anyway. It would never get through Congress.

  2. We read this story in school about this group Who travelled to Mars and found remnants of a lost culture, fragments of language and abandoned buildings, etc. It was very evocative and beautifully described the landscape. Then the planet slowly turned them into Martians and another group came along and all traces of Earth culture had disappeared. I wish I remembered what the story was called.

    Is it possible to move beyond Earth? Unless we find an alternative source of fuel, it doesn’t seem like we have enough resources to power enough trips to abandon the planet?

    • The point of Krauss’ op-ed was that it would be much much cheaper to send people one-way. In fact, a two way trip might kill the astronauts because of radiation exposure. He said they could send along supplies and building materials–everything that would be needed to set up a colony. I guess they could also send more stuff later. The return trip is really impractical because of the weight of the extra fuel and radiation protection.

      • Mars also may have water, and Krauss says it’s far more interesting than the moon. He said the moon is really boring.

      • I meant the part where he says we need to move beyond Earth to improve our chances of survival if something happens here. Not sure if he means a new colony could repopulate Mars or we could try to escape (which doesn’t seem so plausible).

        • Robert A. Heinlein said “The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”

        • Yes, Krauss suggested that in 100 years, life on earth might get so bad that more people would be willing to take the risk to colonize another planet.

          Obviously, it’s far-fetched. I think he wrote the op-ed to try to get people talking about whether it’s worth it to go to the moon again or if we should think about going to mars. If we want to do it, we have to think about it realistically. Bringing people back is the hardest, most dangerous and expensive part.

    • The story was “Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed”, by the immortal Ray Bradbury.

      Of course, RB wrote that back when we thought Mars might be more Earthlike than it is.

  3. I’d go! I saw a doc on the mars rover and cried like a baby. It’s one of the greatest achievements of humankind and I wish we were partying in the streets about it.

    • It’s incredible to imagine being one of the ones to explore a new world, isn’t it? That’s how I felt when I listened to this story.

  4. My teenaged son has wanted to be an astronaut since he was five years old. One time, about age 10, he told me he wanted to be on the first manned mission to Mars. I told him that NASA required permission slips from astronaut’s mothers and that I wouldn’t sign one! I almost had him believing me. I guess my mother’s intuition was right on.

  5. Reminds me of people who took a one way trip to the new world. There’s something about the adventure, the discovery, being part of creating a new country (or world). Given the risks that early explorers took coming here and what someone would risk going there, it’s hard to imagine having the metal to do it. Very scary indeed. I hope we’ve got our act together enough to do such a thing in my life time. I fear we may never see another maned mission to the moon even the rate we’re screwing up.

  6. Colonization of Mars has been a staple of science fiction for–oh, as long as there’s been science fiction. Treatments have ranged from the pure space opera of Edgar Rice Burroughs to the bitersweet resignation of “Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny.

    Unless we manage to extinguish ourselves outright, or throw Earth civilization back into a pre-technical phase in resource wars, we’ll go. And the deathless words to be pronounced by the first human to set foot on the red dust should be “John Carter, we are here.”

  7. I’d do it. If I could take my children, their schools, karate, swimming, music instructors, my lap top, the internet, my intergalactic cell phone, my car/private space shuttle… you know what I’m not a pioneer. I don’t even camp. I’ll help plan it, however, I’m the chick who shows up after everything is built. But I’ll help paint.

  8. As long as there are some women there, I’m all for it!

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