28 November 2010

We're going to Mars, and we ain't coming back...

Over at the Journal of Cosmology, they have a whole issue dedicated to getting humans on Mars - a fine and laudable goal. Mars is a funky wee planet, and although its atmosphere is extremely tenuous, the surface temperatures forbidding, and a fair bit smaller than Earth, it is at least sufficiently Earth-like for us to consider the possibilities of setting up shop there until we get it properly terraformed (should that be possible).
One problem is that sending astronauts there involves getting them back again - effectively you have to put in place on Mars, from Earth, the infrastructure to launch a mission to Earth. That is a rather tall order.
Step in Paul Davies (Arizona State University, renowned cosmologist, all round good bloke and great thinker, even if he is a little fluffy round the edges on the whole "god" issue) and Dirk Schulze-Makuck (Washington State University, with whom I am less familiar) are proposing that the initial missions should be one-way, with the explicit goal of establishing a foothold for a future self-sustaining Mars-based civilisation. They would be able to carry out a great deal of ground-based research, construction (using materials shipped from Earth), fuel generation, materials development etc, and essentially set the scene for further larger-scale missions.
Of course the disadvantages would be that you would never see Earth and your family ever again (apart from over the data-link with several minutes' delay, or via a telescope), and you wouldn't have access to many healthcare resources, and your lifespan might be reduced as a result. But if such a mission were to be proposed, I don't think they would be lacking in volunteers, and some of them might even make the psych profile. One possibility is to send up veteran astronauts - like in the movie Space Cowboys - because Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Cooper are expendable, should anything go wrong... And the older chaps have the life experience and Right Stuff to make it work. No Zimmer frames on Mars, though.
Would you volunteer?


  1. well i certainly would not .mars is a dull dry and dead planet and nobody would want to spend the rest of thier lives there. i certainly wouldn't not even if emma watson comes with me.(no wait let me think once more if that's the case!!!)

  2. Steady on, Harry Potter! You would be going to build infrastructure - in reality you would be able to come back when you're 100 :-)