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View Full Version : Should there be a cheaper, ONE-WAY manned mission to Mars?


Revtim
01-16-2004, 11:13 AM
Interesting Op-ed from the NYTimes:
Life (and Death) on Mars (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/15/opinion/15DAVI.html?pagewanted=1)
Because of the planet's relatively benign environment, it is theoretically able to support a permanent human presence. If provided with the right equipment, astronauts would have a chance of living there for years. A one-way trip to Mars need not mean a quick demise.
Every two years the orbit of Mars creates a window of opportunity to send fresh supplies at a reasonable cost. An initial colony of four astronauts, equipped with a small nuclear reactor and a couple of rover vehicles, could make their own oxygen, grow some food and even initiate building projects using local raw materials. Supplemented by food shipments, medical supplies and replacement gadgets from home, the colony could be sustained indefinitely.

Even if nothing went wrong, the astronauts' lives would certainly be shortened by the harsh conditions. The lower gravity would create long-term medical problems and the cosmic radiation that penetrates the thin atmosphere is bound to increase the risk of cancer. Add in the debilitating effects of general privation, and the lack of sophisticated medical equipment, and the prospects for longevity look slim.

Would it be right to ask people to accept such conditions for the sake of science, or even humanity? The answer has to be yes. We already expect certain people to take significant risks on our behalf, such as special forces operatives or test pilots. Some people gleefully dice with death in the name of sport or adventure. Dangerous occupations that reduce life expectancy through exposure to hazardous conditions or substances are commonplace.

Sounds like an interesting idea. What say my fellow Dopers?

Lord Ashtar
01-16-2004, 12:07 PM
I highly doubt that NASA would have trouble recruiting people to live on Mars for the rest of their natural life. Hell, if I were an astronaut I'd jump at the chance.

ShibbOleth
01-16-2004, 12:12 PM
In the immortal words of Bernie Taupin:

Mars ain't the kind of place
To raise your kids
In fact, it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them
If you did

msmith537
01-16-2004, 12:16 PM
I can think of a lot of people I would like to maroon on Mars. Other than than, it sounds like a stupid idea to me.

Rune
01-16-2004, 12:23 PM
I too would jump at the chance if they would have me (even if that meant leaving wife and children back home). I think they’d have no trouble finding volunteers.

One should think they could dig themselves down to escape the bad effects of radiation.

The idea is interesting because it’d force a continued interest in Mars, not just a been there done that mission.

Mitchener in his book Space talks about some similar plans for the moon back in the sixties.

ShibbOleth: I thought those words were Elton John's (and Kate Bush)

- Rune

BobLibDem
01-16-2004, 12:40 PM
Interesting point about the radiation. I wonder what levels of radiation are on the Martian surface. The atmosphere certainly provides far less protection than our own, but with the Sun so far away, would the levels be that hazardous?

I'm sure volunteers would be plentiful even with no return possible.

beajerry
01-16-2004, 01:13 PM
The question arises: What will our responsibilities be if the person/persons once on Mars ask/beg to get back to Earth?




WinstonSmith- Bernie wrote Rocketman for Elton, as he did with many of Elton's songs.

Lord Ashtar
01-16-2004, 01:44 PM
The question arises: What will our responsibilities be if the person/persons once on Mars ask/beg to get back to Earth?

I was under the impression that there would be no coming back. They would have to understand that from the very beginning or risk being disqualified.

Rune
01-16-2004, 02:12 PM
I was under the impression that there would be no coming back. They would have to understand that from the very beginning or risk being disqualified.A man can change his mind. I think the moral obligations are weak at best. A grown man, freely volunteered, knowledgeable of the consequences. On Mars as the result of his own choices. He is his own responsibility.

scr4
01-16-2004, 02:25 PM
If you do a one-way mission, the base must be supported indefinitely and also designed for a long term stay. I just can't see any government funding such an expensive project. I think a round trip would be cheaper.

Remember that getting from Mars surface to Mars orbit is very easy compared to an Earth launch. There's much less air to push through.

Interstellar travel would be a different story. Rocheworld by Robert Forward is a pretty good story about such a trip.l

Rashak Mani
01-16-2004, 02:30 PM
The reduction in cost of making the Mars mission a "suicide" one are tremendous... its not merely 50% return journey. Probably like 65-75% weight reduction. Since you need to boost out of Mars and also carry the fuel to come back all the way to Mars too. Weight costs a lot to get out of orbit. So its cutting 2/3 costs... OR sending more stuff to allow their survival for longer.

Logically and Rationally speaking... its very good. I doubt NASA wants to put a foto of dead people as heroes who went on a one way ticket to death though.

fortytwo
01-16-2004, 02:35 PM
I also believe that there would be no lack of volunteers to live, then die on Mars. I know this is hypothetical but my wife already knows I would go, seeing as we’ve discussed similar things in the past.
Even though I don’t have the necessary skills, I’m pretty sure I could lubricate the robot explorers, change the batteries etc. and make the tea for the scientists. :)
V

Chastain86
01-16-2004, 02:44 PM
**POTENTIAL FLAME WAR-INDUCING COMMENTS AHEAD**

An interesting idea, but (at the risk of offending half of the registered SDMB users) the bedwetting liberals would never let it happen.

This is a society that won't even allow people in excruciating pain from terminal diseases to end their own lives. Even if we could prove the astronauts in question would not have to die, I still feel there's no way to make this happen. This is a pretty sticky topic, and has the potential to fall on some pretty elevated shoulders if a disaster should ensue. If the President okayed something like this, and it went awry...

I'm in the "never happen" category.

pravnik
01-16-2004, 02:53 PM
Nothing to rally the flagging national spirits like a suicide mission dooming our astronauts to die a lonely and miserable death on a cold and distant planet. Go team!

Rune
01-16-2004, 03:10 PM
Doesn’t have to be forever, or life, on Mars. Mitchiner (or however you spell it) in Space talked about a ten year period on the moon. Just till they got the technology worked out to be able to get them safely back home again. Ten year on Mars. Perhaps they can get some machinery going so they can extract or produce their own propellant so it wouldn’t have to be shipped from Earth. Anyway it'll never happen.

Metacom
01-16-2004, 03:26 PM
**POTENTIAL FLAME WAR-INDUCING COMMENTS AHEAD**

An interesting idea, but (at the risk of offending half of the registered SDMB users) the bedwetting liberals would never let it happen.

This is a society that won't even allow people in excruciating pain from terminal diseases to end their own lives.
Uh, the opposition to euthanasia is usually from the (Christian) right, not "bedwetting liberals."

sibyl
01-16-2004, 03:28 PM
If we are going to create a moon base this is pretty much whats gonna happen, no? That is, people will be sent to the moon for the rest of their lives. It only follows that if we setup a Mars base, the same will apply.

I can't imagine there will be a huge outcry about this from the general public unless NASA totally botches up the PR and lets the media carry it towards the whole "suicide mission" angle instead of the "Mars base" angle.

I wonder how it would be perceived if the private sector sent someone up on a suicide mission to Mars or the moon (i.e. without NASA influence)?

And I strongly doubt anyone sent to Mars would be sent if they had any indications of a mindset that would let them regret never being on Earth again.

SPOOFE
01-16-2004, 03:32 PM
Nothing to rally the flagging national spirits like a suicide mission dooming our astronauts to die a lonely and miserable death on a cold and distant planet.
It need not be lonely and miserable. Just let them bring a dog and a Playstation.

Uh, the opposition to euthanasia is usually from the (Christian) right, not "bedwetting liberals."
Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference...

AmbushBug
01-16-2004, 03:35 PM
I suppose one could define the goal as a one-way mission with people, followed by several more one-way missions with supplies: replacement food, oxygen, etc., followed by still more missions with better air recyclers and building materials, then there's a Mars Base, and then more missions with rocket motors and fuel (or components to turn whatever they find on Mars to rocket motors and fuel), and then the original crew will have the option to rotate back - but likely won't (since by then, the base would be completely livable, and a product of their toil, hearts, and souls, and why would they leave?) Naturally, this is a best-case scenario.

Further, if you assume a one-way mission with people, are you going to send up astronauts of mixed sex? And plan on dealing with children on Mars?

(on preview, I see I missed WinstonSmith's post. so be it).

Tremmie
01-16-2004, 03:39 PM
I don't think the question is wether people would volunteer to go, they most definitely would, hell we have people who volunteer to be cannivalised. The question is should we ask people to go up there in the first place, and i believe the answer is an emphatic yes. Like the article says we already ask people to do dangerous things, colonization of other planets ranks much higher in the importance scale than say coal miner or fighter pilot.

Cervaise
01-16-2004, 04:15 PM
The reduction in cost of making the Mars mission a "suicide" one are tremendous... its not merely 50% return journey. Probably like 65-75% weight reduction. Since you need to boost out of Mars and also carry the fuel to come back all the way to Mars too.Actually, you don't. An automated chemical factory can easily manufacture propellant out of the resources available on Mars. All you need is what it takes to get there.

Re the OP, conceptually, there's no difference between what is described here and the eventual colonization mission, except for the fact that as currently contemplated the colonization mission will be preceded by exploratory missions. There's no technological reason the first mission to Mars couldn't be the colonization mission, really; it's largely psychological. There is, however, some technical value in putting boots on the ground and verifying that you can burrow down thirty feet to escape background cosmic rays (note to BobLibDem: there's a lot of harmful radiation in the universe at large; it isn't just solar) without risking a permafrost collapse or something like that. On the other hand, the risk of having somebody in space for twice the duration of transit time would be lessened by cutting that in half.

It's an interesting question. Realistically, I don't think it's possible, but if we do in fact establish a moon base and make some technical breakthroughs (and robot missions tell us what we need to know about water availability and soil structure and so on), it may indeed be possible to go to Mars to stay, first time out. I still think we'd balk for emotional reasons, but it's worth thinking about.

Duckster
01-16-2004, 04:28 PM
Further, if you assume a one-way mission with people, are you going to send up astronauts of mixed sex? And plan on dealing with children on Mars?

Won't happen. Did you forget? Men are from Mars and ...


:D

filmore
01-16-2004, 05:36 PM
The only way a one-way mission would be appropriate would be if it was urgent we got to Mars. But when it's just that it makes it easier so we can get there sooner, then it doesn't make sense. Why not wait until the technology has advanced to a state where you can get people there and back.

SPOOFE
01-16-2004, 06:27 PM
Why not wait until the technology has advanced to a state where you can get people there and back.
Because, as has already been pointed out, there's no real necessity to bring the people back. For every round trip, you can have two one-way trips with permanent settlers. 'Course, each individual trip would require a larger influx of supplies, but eventually - over the course of many decades, and many, many flights - you'd have an almost self-sufficient colony.

KellyM
01-17-2004, 11:27 AM
Has anybody else here read Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson?

filmore
01-17-2004, 02:23 PM
Because, as has already been pointed out, there's no real necessity to bring the people back.

But there's also no real necessity to send people to Mars without a plan to get them back. What's the hurry? So that we can say, "Oooh, we went to Mars," a few years sooner?

SteveEisenberg
01-17-2004, 02:41 PM
If you do a one-way mission, the base must be supported indefinitely and also designed for a long term stay. I just can't see any government funding such an expensive project. I think a round trip would be cheaper.

Cheaper, probably, but also of less value.

From a pure scientific standpoint, robotics is the way to go. Note that exploration of other planets than Mars is even more likely to require robotics, and what we learn from robotics on Mars would be partly transferable to even harsher planets.

However, the main value I see in going to Mars is making us a two planet species. This is IMHO essential due to the possibility of Earthlings either dying out/killing ourselves or (more likely) falling into Churchill's "new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." So colonization is the goal. But colonization is unrealistic until there is a permanent robotic presence on Mars with power plants, tunnels, and the like. Put a major permanent robotic presence on Mars, and it won't be at all suicidal for the first human arrivals to come on one-way tickets.

msmith537
01-17-2004, 03:07 PM
I too would jump at the chance if they would have me (even if that meant leaving wife and children back home). I think they’d have no trouble finding volunteers.


It need not be lonely and miserable. Just let them bring a dog and a Playstation.


I would put it to you eager volunteers to sit in your house or appartment for one year without external radio or television (you can keep your VCR and books). Any food you eat must be ordered out. Maybe you can make one phone call a day. I can't conceive of even the most die-hard loner being able to live like that for more than a few weeks.

And what's the point of putting a man on Mars if we can't get him back? Do we really need to create a probe with a 200 lb biological component?

Achernar
01-17-2004, 03:19 PM
I would put it to you eager volunteers to sit in your house or appartment for one year without external radio or television (you can keep your VCR and books). Any food you eat must be ordered out. Maybe you can make one phone call a day. I can't conceive of even the most die-hard loner being able to live like that for more than a few weeks.Gee, kind of makes you wonder how they get people to stay on the space station or Biodome for months at a time, huh?

sibyl
01-17-2004, 03:23 PM
I just don't see any of this happening any time soon. The little rovers and orbiters cost NASA half a million dollars or more each. The cost for sending repeated, larger missions with human passengers and setting up bases and creating the technology to allow those bases to be sustainable seems to be way more than even the most conservative NASA budget can sustain.

A single accident, even someone getting sick up there, would probably sour the public on the whole idea. This is all a "cool, space" thing to the general public. When it becomes a "risk the lives of astronauts to collect rcoks" thing again (and it will), it'll be pulled just like all the moon plans we had earlier this century. Unfortunately, that will be long past when the political benefits of these current plans have been used. Viva la sheep.

sibyl
01-17-2004, 03:25 PM
half a billion* in the first sentence, not half a million :smack:

Scylla
01-17-2004, 03:36 PM
Getting back isn't really all that tough. Know reason why they shouldn't come back.

The Mars Direct plan sends landers ahead to Mars that distill fuel out of the atmosphere and process raw materials.

Then the Astronauts come, live off the land and the materials processed and use the fuel that is made to return home.

Sam Stone
01-17-2004, 04:05 PM
It's not a suicide mission: It's a Frontier. We're not sending people to die, we're sending them to inhabit a new world. Big, big difference. The original settlers to the new world were on one-way missions too.

Of course it's risky. All spaceflight is. But it's possible. Look, if we send them there to return, they still have to sit on Mars for a year or so. So instead of coming back after a year, they get fresh provisions and hardware they need to expand and thrive.

I could see this as a pretty cool thing. Think of it this way: The people that volunteered would be BIG stars. They'd be on all the talk shows, they'd be writing books, we'd know them all by name. The first pioneers of a new world! And when they moved to Mars, we'd follow their day to day lives intensely, at least for quite some time. Think "Survivor: Mars". Seriously. This could really pump up support for spending real money to send new supplies there, and even more colonists. When you add the thrill of living on another planet with the opportunity for the kind of fame and glory these people would have, you'd have thousands of volunteers.

And it might not even be a one-way trip - just an indefinite one. After ten years of supplies and a thriving habitat, we'd possibly build crew return missions to ferry them back. But there would be no guarantee.

The main risk is that everyone would get to know these people before they left - and then they'd die. Die en route, crash and die trying to land, or worse yet set up their habitat, have something critical fail, and die slowly on nationwide TV.

SteveEisenberg
01-17-2004, 04:48 PM
And it might not even be a one-way trip - just an indefinite one. After ten years of supplies and a thriving habitat, we'd possibly build crew return missions to ferry them back. But there would be no guarantee.

The main risk is that everyone would get to know these people before they left - and then they'd die. Die en route, crash and die trying to land, or worse yet set up their habitat, have something critical fail, and die slowly on nationwide TV.

I doubt that they would be able to stand earth gravity after ten years. That sounds more like the kind of problem that would be solved in time for their great-grandchildren to visit the home planet, assuming it was then still safe to visit from radiation/environmental/political standpoints.

What I can't understand is how they would die from something critical failing on Mars. There just has to be enough redundant infrastructure put up there first (small power plants, machine tools, maybe a miniturized semi-conductor fab and a facility to synthesize chemicals/drugs) so that whatever broke could be fixed. The real danger is a round-trip mission -- then they could get stuck on Mars due to a technical failure and not be self-supporting in food and power.

To me, having a permanently expanding robotic Mars presence for a decade or two is just as exciting as getting people on Mars earlier. Although this sounds hokey, I can even imagine, in twenty years, allowing high school classes on earth to drive Mars rovers. Remember, each unmanned mission costs the same as a shuttle launch. And since we won't have to worry much about safety during the robotic phase, costs should go down with each launch.

Round trip would be a good plan for a almost-dictatorship like Putin's Russia, where the government wants to continually keep control. We in the US should be confident enough to trust those we send to make their own future.

SteveEisenberg
01-17-2004, 04:55 PM
I can't conceive of even the most die-hard loner being able to live like that for more than a few weeks.

Internet latency would be bad, but other than that, high-speed. Should be perfect for this board -- although they would probably have so much to do expanding their infrastucture as to not be here very often.

Beagle
01-17-2004, 05:09 PM
A longterm mission to Mars is so much better than a one way mission to Mars. I think the quality of the science being done by the poor radiation scarred madmen will begin to suffer after about 10 years. Well, could be 10 days once they realize how bleak being the first people on Mars really is. I think that the first mission should focus on building some kind of habitat on the surface and develop methods to produce oxygen, water, and grow food. To stay there for an extended period that's essential.

The follow on mission should probably be launced soon after the first mission is on the surface. I hope all they forget is shampoo, but you never know.

Rotating in new crews to replace the old ones, bringing in the latest robots and technology, and trying to do something about emergencies would be better than just letting people deteriorate on Mars.

I'm pretty sure the red clover that grows in the cracks of my driveway would grow on Mars. You know, for oxygen...

Beagle
01-17-2004, 05:57 PM
Mars radiation

CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/03/14/mars.odyssey.ap/)
FWIW, mars society.org (http://www.marssociety.org/news/2003/1210.asp) These guys would go without sunscreen.
NASA: The Martian Radiation Environment Experiment (http://marie.jsc.nasa.gov/) This is what most of the stories are based on.
BBC: "Humans could survive" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3302375.stm)

In a nutshell, I think building underground on Mars would not only help alleviate the radiation problem to an extent, but might also be necessary because of the weather (http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/weather_reports/)* and dust storms.

Sending people to Mars for a few years, with proper precautions taken, seems possible in my very non-expert opinion.

*Mars Global Surveyor data. No longer reporting daily, bummer. (It gets very windy and really cold)