A One-Way Ticket to Mars

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Existing plans to travel to Mars are absurdly expensive and will remain unrealistic for decades, Paul Davies says, but there is a way to put humans on Mars at a fraction of the cost using foreseeable technology:

Five years ago I made the radical proposal that a handful of astronauts be sent on a one-way journey to Mars. I am not talking about a suicide mission. With its protective atmosphere, accessible water and carbon dioxide, and significant amounts of methane, Mars is one of the few places in the solar system that could support a human colony.

By eliminating the need to transport heavy fuel and equipment for the return journey, costs could be slashed by 80% or more. Supplies and a power source would be sent on ahead, and only when everything is functional would astronauts be dispatched. The base would be re-supplied from Earth every two years. Of course the mission would still be highly risky, but so is round-the-world ballooning and mountaineering. The ideal astronauts would be scientists and engineers who could continue to do world-class science while serving as trailblazers for the colonisation of a new planet. Eventually, more people would join them. After a century or two, the colony could become self-sustaining.

The first Martians would have to accept reduced life expectancy due to radiation, lack of advanced medical resources and lower gravity, but a return journey entails similar hazards. Moreover, the most dangerous parts of space exploration are take-off and landing: cutting out the return halves the risk.

I have presented my idea at Nasa conferences, and discussed it with scientists in other countries. The response has nearly always been positive. There is a persistent myth that nobody would volunteer to go. In fact, I have found no shortage of eager scientists, young and old, who say they would accept a one-way ticket.

Leave a Reply