Science Channel - InSCIder

23 May

Would you want to go to Mars, if you couldn't come back?

Mars-a-250x150Fortunately, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who were the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969, made it back to Earth alive. That spared us the horror of listening to the speech that then-President Richard Nixon was prepared to deliver, in the event that the Lunar Module had failed to lift off from the lunar surface--a catastrophe for which NASA had no rescue plan. 

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon in explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

I mention this, because thinking about that what-if still gives me the creeps. It's frightening to imagine being one of those astronauts, stranded on an alien orb with no chance of returning home.  Of course, they wouldn't have been the first brave explorers to set out on a mission and never return. Ferdinand de Magellan, who was hacked and stabbed to death in 1521 while trying to circumnavigate the globe, and Sir John Franklin, who failed to find a passageway through the Arctic ice and instead perished in 1847, are only two of the more grisly examples.

That's why I'm dumbfounded by the news that nearly 80,000 people so far have volunteered for a proposed one-way mission to Mars, from which there would be no return. MarsOne, a nonprofit organization headed by Dutch wind-energy entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp and his countryman, former European Space Agency scientist Arno Wielders, is aiming to begin landing 200 colonists on Mars in 2023. 

Apparently, the idea is that by eliminating the need for have spacecraft that are able to lift off from the Martian surface and return to Earth, they'll have a lot easier time. As the organization's website explains:

By assuming human astronauts are permanent residents on Mars, the challenges are reduced to providing the astronauts with the foundations for a new life: safe living facilities, clean air and potable water, food rations until plants may be grown in green houses and hydroponic facilities, and the essentials for intellectual stimulation on a planet which is cold, desolate, and without many life giving qualities.

The planners concede that not everybody is cut out for leaving Earth permanently. However, they argue, a brave few would be just fine with that, and it's not a mission without precedent in human history:

There are individuals for whom traveling to Mars has been a dream for their entire life. They relish the challenge. Not unlike the ancient Chinese, Micronesians, and untold Africans, the Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe, who left everything behind to spend the majority of their lives at sea, a one-way mission to Mars is about exploring a new world and the opportunity to conduct the most revolutionary research ever conceived, to build a new home for humans on another planet.

In order to apply for a spot on the multi-phase expedition, prospective Martian colonists must pay a $38 fee, fill out several online forms, and submit a video describing why they want to go to Mars (and, for some reason, what sort of a sense of humor they have). So far, according to Business Insider, MarsOne has had applicants from more than 120 countries, including 17,234 from the U.S. and 10,241 from China. From YouTube, here's the application of a young Canadian named Taylor Webb, who touts his "insatiable curiosity" about the Red Planet, and his ability to work in a group with other astronauts.

 

Briana Wright, a woman from Alabama, wants to go to Mars because "I want to grok everything I can--if you don't get that reference, go pick up Stranger in a Strange Land."

 

Ultimately, according to MarsOne co-founder Lansdorp, the organization will pick 50 teams of four astronauts, or 200 in total. 

Will they ever get off the ground? There isnt' an overall price tag for the effort, but the organization claims that the first four-astronaut mission can be accomplished for just $6 billion, a price tag that seems a bit low for such a stupendous acomplishment. (NASA's unmanned Curiosity rover mission cost $2.5 billion, most of which went to develop the spacecraft itself.) MarsOne hopes to raise much of that from corporate sponsors looking for some really splashy brand recognition. Space Industry News opines that the idea of Mars astronauts wearing corporate logos on their helmets and spacesuits isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, since companies pay handsomely for the naming and logo rights on NASCAR cars. ("It’s the same idea, people doing insanely death defying, some times stupid things," SIN opines.)

But again, NASCAR drivers climb into their cars and risk death with the intention of going home eventually to enjoy their prize money. This is a little different.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to go to Mars and not return? Or do you think it's a crazy notion? Express your opinion below.

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