One Way Trip to Mars: Who’s First?

A human mission to Mars could be a lot cheaper and faster if it were a one-way trip. Think of all the money we’d save by not having to rehabilitate returning astronauts who endured long-term, low-gravity living and greater exposure to radiation! So say Drs. Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, authors of “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars,” published in the October-November 2010 issue of the Journal of Cosmology,

With the risky life we lead here on Earth—potential comet impacts, supernova explosions, not to mention the threat of global pandemics, nuclear and biological warfare, supervolcanoes, and global warming—the smart thing to do is to explore colonizing nearby celestial objects. Mars is the best bet around, better than close asteroids or our own moon for habitation—there’s evidence of water (ice) on Mars, microbial life perhaps way below the surface of the planet, and plenty of spacious ice caves to shelter in.

It would take about six months to travel there. But hold on: If you’re under forty years old, you might have to wait a long time before you can volunteer. So far the thinking is that it’s better to send older people, say, sixty or so, because of the short lifespan a Martian colonizer would likely experience. Reproductive organs will most likely be affected by radiation, so sending people of child-bearing years is not favored.

Planetary purists may argue that it’s better not to contaminate Mars with our Earthly gunk, but the Mars landscape has already been sullied: “unsterilized, or inadequately sterilized, spacecraft have already been sent to Mars.” So what’s a little more?

Despite my flip treatment of the ideas Schulze-Makuch and Davies present, articles like this one pose many possibilities for your studies in your classroom. What would it be like to travel for half an Earth year through space, arrive with only three other individuals, and set up base camp for future explorers? Would your students choose to go to Mars, knowing they would never return home? What are some of the challenges your students can find in this scenario? If the atmosphere on Mars has no ozone shield and carbon dioxide levels of 95%, why is it a better solution than staying on Earth?

There are ethics to discuss and math and science skills to practice to learn more about exploration like this. Here is an interesting look at the projected travel of a small robotic ship on Mars: And here is a good site from NASA for all things Mars:

So cue the Star Trek theme music and lead your students to imagine what it would take to go boldly where no one has gone before!

Artist's conception of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA)

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