One-Way Ticket to Mars

By Poncie Rutsch
BU News Service

It’s official: applications for the esteemed colonial voyage to Mars are now competitive. And your chances of getting picked are worse than your chances at getting into every Ivy League college…and also slightly worse than getting struck by lighting in your lifetime.

That’s right. Last year, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced his plan to set up a colony on Mars by 2023. This year, they’re picking a total of 24 people to spend the next ten years training for said journey.

Four people from those 24 will embark on a seven-month journey in 2022. They’ll arrive at Mars in 2023, land in a small vehicle and leave the brunt of their ship in space (too heavy to land). They’ll live in inflatable dwellings with some air and food supplies sent over in advance.

Lansdorp and company will choose location of the settlement based on how much ice there is in the soil. They’ll melt this ice for water and break it apart via electrolysis for oxygen to breathe.

Of course, the documentation starts once Lansdorp and his team start training these 24 people. Reality TV show, 24/7/365. Of course, it won’t exactly be “live” since the delay between Mars and earth is anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes. Supposedly, this TV publicity will pay for most of the funding.

Regarding that 22-minute delay, that means if any sort of emergency takes place, Houston won’t know there’s a problem for 22 minutes. Sending help (via rocketship, of course) will take six months.

Oh yeah, but once you go, you can’t come back. Also, no skyping or phone calls. Only emails, texts, and the occasional video voicemail. Mind you, the delay would make a live conversation a little ridiculous.

Honestly, I don’t understand how 200,000 people have signed up. It’s one thing to go to space but it’s another to go to space and never return. It’s giving up everyone you’ve ever known. But then again, people hide out in Antarctica all the time, so I’m just the wrong demographic.

Mars One thought about this:

“However, 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.”

The deeper question throughout all this though is why do we do it? Do we do it to learn, or are we just doing it because we can?

Space research is important, but in order to research, we don’t necessarily have to go there ourselves. The Mars rovers have shown tremendous success – and we don’t have to feed them on the other side.

Perhaps someday it will be critical to repopulate Mars; when we destroy our own planet, for example. But until then, this seems like a classic case of science because we can…and really expensive science because we can, at that.

Needless to say, I’ll be glued to the live stream.

Mars road map of the future. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Bruce Irving.
Mars road map of the future. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Bruce Irving.

3 Comments so far:

  1. Dear Poncie,

    As several friends I have talked to, you’re missing the point. Yes, it will provide an incredible opportunity to do revolutionary science. And yes, humans don’t necessarily have to be there to do it. But when you come right down to it. We’re still using primate brains to investigate the secrets of the universe. The most rational among us will still trust the evidence that they can touch and see first hand more than the feed from a rover. The human experience is shaped by the hand-eye interaction.
    Furthermore, the immediacy of the unfriendly environment on Mars will provide much more motivation to excel, to make breakthroughs, to discover, than a comfy chair in a research department. Survival is the prime motivator that has led apes from sticks and stones to space.
    It baffles me that you would describe a colonisation of Mars as “running away”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I doubt that a single Mars One applicant is unaware of the potential danger of this attempt. I assume that for most applicants the desire to create something from nothing (unless Microbial life is found against all odds), to research questions that have interested scientists and proto-scientists for millennia is the driving force behind a one-way ticket. This isn’t running away. It’s taking a calculated risk to satisfy the deep-seated primate curiosity, that makes us reach out towards the fire as children, to find out how it works.
    It seems unreasonable to put a “really expensive”-price tag to an enterprise that will not only provide valuable insights into the development of the solar system, but also bring with it countless technological innovation in biosphere science, genetic engineering, material sciences, exo-agriculture, low-g architecture. And those would just be the fields where innovation would benefit earth directly. From an academic standpoint, so many more fields of inquiry might be approached. More than a mere 24 people will ever be able to investigate in their life-time.
    Finally, this first colony will be nothing but a foothold, a beachhead. If it meets with even minimal success, large-scale follow-ups from all space faring nations, possibly world-wide collaboration, are almost certain to follow. Motivations will vary. Scientific curiosity, pioneering spirit, even greed will pull humans and industries to Mars. And, to put it in cold rational light, if humanity resides on two planets, the likelihood of an extinction event falls drastically. As it is, 20 millennia of history, culture, scientific achievement could be snuffed out in an instant by many possible factors, terrestrial or cosmic.
    The question is not ‘why would one want to go?’. It’s ‘why wouldn’t one?’.

  2. Hi Jan — Thanks so much for your comment. I don’t disagree with anything you have to say. But I think the critical difference here is point of view. I think eventually it is important to send people. But the question is why now? What makes this a priority at this particular moment? In my blog I was simply trying to play with this question.

    And on the issue of “why wouldn’t one?” — I appreciate whoever chooses to apply, that someone should by all means go to Mars. But who does this? Perhaps you are one individual who would make the sacrifice and travel to Mars. I simply know that I am not one of those people. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to explore the people making this choice in greater depth.

    • Dear Poncie,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my rather long and – hopefully not too – confrontational comment. I absolutely agree with you on one point. It is a matter of subjective perception. “Why now?”, is actually fairly simple to answer. Because now the technology is available, and much more importantly the motivation is there. Not just commercial motivation, but idealistic and scientific drive. What would you rather have happen? People going now, when it is still to much of a risk for commercial resource endeavors to invest in it, thus ensuring that there is still a potentially strong focus on the science. Or would you prefer, scientific, exploratory and colonizing interest left in 30 or 40 years, when the cost to earth’s resources are even less acceptable, when commercial efforts have turned mars into one big strip mine and basically all research is tainted by the commercial endeavors.
      I appreciate you representing a point of view, would however just like to point out one major difference between your point of view and the one of Mars One applicants. It just jumped out at me from your reply. “Perhaps you are one individual who would make the sacrifice and travel to Mars.” That’s just it, I doubt anybody who have applied for the Mars One Mission sees it as a sacrifice. I certainly don’T, to me it would be a privilege and a dream I’ve had since I was 9.
      I would love to read an article about the people making the choice to go to Mars. I suggest you might find some interesting ideas in a recent article in the National Geographic on the genetics of colonization. It’s just one approach, but it’s quite enlightening.
      (By the way none of my critical comments were directed at your article. You asked important questions, I chose to address from the pro-Mars perspective.)
      Kind Regards

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