Nasa / Space

Is death on Mars a fair trade-off to get life on Mars?

Dr. Lawrence Krauss proposes that we save money on Mars exploration by sending astronauts to the red planet on a one-way ticket instead of round-trip.
A few weeks ago, a NASA panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine announced a projection that a round-trip excursion to the Moon will cost in excess of $150 billion. This indicates that a round-trip excursion to Mars would cost an astronomically larger amount. A significant chunk of that money would go to protecting astronauts from the extreme amount of radiation that they would encounter on the trip. The fuel cost to get to Mars and back is another large portion of the cost.

Dr. Lawrence M. Krauss, Director of the New Origins Initiative and physicist at Arizona State University, has suggested in interviews and in an op-ed piece for The New York Times that it might be more cost-effective to only send astronauts to Mars on a one-way ticket.

Dr. Krauss's argument boils down to a couple of key points. First, that there is really no point in bringing astronauts back from Mars when the whole point in sending them is to establish life on Mars. Krauss argues that it would be less expensive to send supplies to Mars than to return the original crew. Second, it would realistically cut down on the amount of radiation protection that is needed. The astronauts would only encounter the radiation on the trip to Mars, and they wouldn't have to suffer a second radiation. With less radiation protection and less fuel (the vessel wouldn't have to contain fuel for the trip home), the entire ship would be lighter, and less fuel will be needed to get there. It's like the ads telling you how to get more fuel-efficiency out of your car. Empty the trunk, lose the weight of the stuff, and you are rewarded with more miles per gallon.

Dr. Krauss realizes that this one-way trip to Mars would only work if we had willing people to go. According to Dr. Krauss, preliminary polls indicate that people would line up to be the first to move to Mars. But is it realistic to train people to go to Mars, knowing that, realistically, their time alive on Mars is likely to be short? Or could we also use that as a cost-cutting measure? If we figure that a person's lifespan will probably be drastically reduced on Mars, what with the exposure to radiation on the trip there, the harsh environment, and the fact that they would be setting up the basics -- shelter, water, food -- upon arrival, could we spend less on training?

Is it worth human life to cut costs? As Dr. Krauss points out, one-way trips to a new world are not new. The Pilgrims had no intent of ever returning to the homeland. Most explorers throughout history knew that they were likely to die out there. But Mars is further away; it's a totally foreign land, with no guarantee of food or potable water, or easy ways to create shelter upon arrival. To our knowledge, there are no natives to help us.

How many people would be necessary on a one-way mission to Mars, not just necessary as work-power, but necessary to retain a sense of society? Would being one of a very few be thrilling, or would it drive you mad to stand on that red planet and know that your little group is all alone and likely to remain that way? To steal a line from The Exorcist, you're going to die up there. Is it worth it?

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261 comments
dshcpa
dshcpa

Given the chance, I would settle my affairs, kiss the family goodbye, and not look back.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

It would have to be big enough to be a self sufficient colony, so we are talking of numbers in the hundreds or thousands. I'm sure they'll get enough volunteers, as long as they promise no election campaign speeches are ever broadcast in that direction.

B.Leighton
B.Leighton

Simple solution First before you take off from earth you get a really long rope, after the 2.x year trip the one guy that was on the rocket gets out ties the rope to mars, then the end of the rope on earth is attached to a winch. The winch is manually operated by 2 other guys. Just before Mars hits earth they raise 10 meter poles up between earth and mars, nailing the poles to each planet. The last step is to raise a Ladder up to Mars making it accessible to get on and off. Also cutting costs on travel to Mars. Edit: Right forgot to add my point at the end, Some things just arn't practical, 3 Years roughly to get to Mars? they manage it wrong for supplies and everyone dies, the supplies stuff up on the way and everyone dies, shuttle launch gets delayed as per ussual and everyone dies. Going to a dust rock 'one way' without being able to have a sustainable ecosystem is suicide one way or another

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

Why not offer to those on DEATH ROW w/o parole chances who are highly inteligent (white collar criminals) a second chance as MARS Astronauts? Who knows it might be more apealing to get a second chance to do something meaningful.

JimTheGeordie
JimTheGeordie

It might be a fair trade-off if the return on investment and effort were of such importance that the well-being or survival of earth and its biosphere depended on it. Otherwise, I can't see the point of even sending people to Mars and back just to acquire esoteric info that will boost the careers of a lot of scientists. (Let's see. Assuming one paper per 1,000 km each way, that would be . . .)

arico
arico

Seconding such thought?s, would bring the most corrupt form of human?s in the main stream, discussion on such topic?s is not advisable as well. If these thoughts get into the main stream, other such thought?s may get head way. Such as why don?t we bury the dead on MARS, it will make the soil fertile there, and paw the way for humans to settle later. Parts of this planet to are desert? oooooooooops

mrAverage
mrAverage

I am sure 531 persons would be required for the one way base colony. Dr. Krauss and 530 select political leaders from the US Congress and executive branch. 530 because I believe 15 from the later group do have merit worth keeping on earth. Just remember someone needs to send the re-supply ship .......or not.

NthDegree
NthDegree

ME!!!! Sign me up. Sounds like a great idea. If the people were young enough they could live and work in the canyons where Mars itself would help shield them from radiation and as long as the supplies kept coming, you might be surprised how long a group of people might survive. The beauty of it is, once a habitat is constructed they could start working on setting up small manufacturing plants (putting scientific research on the back burner for awhile) to start to producing their own goods eventually getting to a point where they might build their own spacecraft which would be cheaper to shuttle to Earth because of less gravity. With spacestaions available they could dock there and take shuttles (or some equivalent) down to Earth. Sounds like a great plan.

danhoff123
danhoff123

Can we send prisoners? What about death row inmates?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I'd like a little more detail on long term health effects of a 1/3 G field before signing the one way mission contract. That's why I'd like to see a long term lunar colony first.

Doc.Farmer
Doc.Farmer

Let's face it, they're not doing us any good on THIS planet...

MartyL
MartyL

In no particular order: Re: ?We should fix our problems here first.? One of our problems here is we have no way to go anywhere else. Unless we develop and use the means to spread out from Earth, we have all our species? eggs in one planetary basket. Plus, many of the things we?ve become accustomed to and dependent upon are direct spin-offs from the space program. Re: ?Moral deterioration of our society.? This attitude is a symptom of a cowardly soul and is a view often put forward by the anti-progressive mindset that undertakes to tell the rest of us what?s best - for us. DO NOT decide for me what is the ?right thing? do to. A sick society is one which chooses to stagnate and never look up. Take care, oh thou of wrinkled brow, that you look up once in a while as you plod along discussing the finer points of legal fictions ? such as ownership of planets. You don?t want to bump your head on the ?keep out? sign hanging from the closed gate that went up while you weren?t looking. Or the ?stay in? sign, either. - Interesting how quickly a thread like this diverges into an engineering brainstorming session, AND a philosophical/moral debate. Excuse me, while I scoot my folding chair over to the engineering side of the auditorium. If we establish a colony on Mars, we will be the Martians. I first heard of this idea being pitched a few weeks ago. Story was, it was proposed at a conference of several dozen space program types and when it was asked who would go, every hand in the place went up. Every hand. Add mine.

ssugg
ssugg

Think about it. A great way to get organics to Mars. First we have the Gitmo folks. The reality is that most prisons don't want them. Now they can have a planet of their own. Then we have all of the lifers, repeat offenders who will not stop, and the death row inmates. We are spending billions on new prisons, supporting scum, and more. Let's send them off where they no longer have the opportunity to pose a risk to society.

KaceyR
KaceyR

1. A one-way mission should certainly not be used to reduce the training cost. In fact, it should be used to increase the training cost and expand the training as much as possible. Let's face it, the first ones up there are going to have the toughest time of it, and there probably won't be very many of them. 2. A one-way ticket doesn't mean there will never be another group. They just won't be the first. 3. Clear goals would need to be set (besides survival, of course) that would allow the colonists to provide information back to earth to make further colonization not only possible, but increase the chances of success. 4. Contrary to popular belief, the guys at NASA really are some of the best thinkers on the planet. They actually DO know how to put people up there, train them, equip them, and they even have ways to support them from earth (limited support, but support none the less). They understand the concept of "team" and clearly understand that the *entire* team shares both the successes and the failures. 5. There are inherent risks, many of which we simply don't know ... yet. Colonists could be killed by an inability to get water, generate air, get sand-blasted by the incredible storms on Mars, the landing could fail, they could die on the way, they could even blow up on the launchpad. No risk, no reward. 6. I would not volunteer to go right this moment, but that's because I have a wife and children that I'm rather fond of. I would readily volunteer to go if my kids were on their own and able to decide for themselves if they would like to go, and if my wife were willing to go with me. Overall, getting volunteers would not be difficult. They would come from all walks of life to make a grab for the next ultimate adventure. This is not, as some posters have suggested, a devaluation of life, but rather a shining example of the creative and adventurous spirit that is the human race.

ErickTa
ErickTa

I'm not talking about little 3 foot tall rovers, I'm talking huge mega robots with all sorts of instruments on them. Like Gundams or Transformer type stuff, and make them cool looking.

guyinnj10
guyinnj10

The USA would certainly be a better place if we sent congress on this mission.

C-3PO
C-3PO

Well, the discussion has degraded, and my attempt to bring it back is probably wasted, but I didn't see anywhere in here that the SUPPORT of the people we leave there would probably far surpass any savings we would make on providing a return ticket. In other words, we pay X dollars to get them there and Y dollars to get them back which totals Z. If we planned to leave them there, we pay X dollars to get them there, save Y but pay A, B and C to send initial supplies, setup gear, housing, food, radiation pannels, manufacturing equipment to build the infrastructure on Mars, etc. X+A+B+C > Z - understand? So economically it's not a good argument to send them on a one way trip... HOWEVER... As a means to colonizing and moving the human race out into space, it definitely makes sense. I think for those who answer "Send me!", it is not about saving the planet money - it's about exploring and being among the first to colonize another planet. Stories will be written about the space pioneers and their names will go down in history (we have better historical records now :). I'm getting a little old to go myself now, but 20 years ago, I would have signed up! (Oh, and leave the booze, drugs and other earth crap behind please, and give me a feed to the Discovery channel and keep MTV back on earth, OK? - I do like the idea of an ATV and a radiation suit though).

T3chGuy
T3chGuy

I have to confess, while I started reading this thread with a good degree of interest, about 2/3 of the way down I just started looking for the TechMitch posts. It became like watching a really really bad soap on the TV, you know one of those ones where no one can act, and just skipping all the story line to see the one perticulaly amusing actor make a hash of their lines. I can only draw the conclusion that such philosophical questions should be kept away from such Tech pages as this, and in so doing, kept away from the likes of TechMitch.

toadforce
toadforce

I don't know if if it's good idea to try and colonise Mars or if we 'own' the Earth, but this discussion has been the funniest thing I've ever read on the interweb...

barrys
barrys

Not withstanding the need to include the necessary shielding in order to protect astronauts from radiation and the subsequent weight and cost that it would incur, has anyone heard of ISRU? Just putting it bluntly

darpoke
darpoke

most inmates would consent to being fired into the sun if it would postpone the inevitable. I'm equally sure that if we ever want to establish viable resources on Mars, the absolute worst thing we could do is send a bunch of people who have aligned themselves against the rest of humanity. No matter how intelligent. In fact the more intelligent they are, the worse an idea it becomes. I can't help picturing the world's first genuine supervillain. Approaching earth in a giant Dr. Evil-shaped craft, ready to extort... one BILLION dollars!! Muwu-uh-ah-ah-ahhh!!!! :ar!

TNT
TNT

I like your thinking and it lead me to another idea... What if instead of a Mars colony we start with building a manned space station that orbits Mars. It could be support for the future colonists and a weigh station of sorts for all future arrivals and departures. It could also be used for communications with Earth.

TNT
TNT

...and keep here those who murder the English language? "We dont want them hear anyway." should be: "We don't want them here anyway."

TNT
TNT

But please read the posts before replying as this has already been suggested and discussed.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

With all the hot air they emit, it would warm Mars up (and cool Earth down)!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Destroy another Planet by sending them all there? But if we did we would also need to send makeup People and Political TV producers to get the Pollies onboard the ship before it took off. Sending a lot like that there is [b]Cruel & Inhumane Punishment[/b] to anything already there including the advanced Robots we have already sent. Do you really think that it is acceptable to Torture the now defunct Robots like that? I think I have the right Idea Hunt and Mount a Politician a Day. You get more points the more that you make them suffer before killing them off and mounting the part that you want on the Study Wall. It's been accepted as a Official Olympic Sport for the 2052 Olympic Games but only if we have enough Politician's left to actually run the competition. I hope we do as I need the Royalties from the Game and Equipment Rental to continue my retirement. ;) Col

TNT
TNT

The idea of "we are the martians" I think was first pitched by Ray Bradbury in "The Martian Chronicles". If you haven't read it, take the time; its fantastic. I agree with most of what you said except for your characterization of "anti-progressives". It it exactly the "progressive" mindset to tell others what to do only they call it "social engineering". Those on the left are forever suggesting new taxes to curb people from "sinning" either against themselves or against the environment. Those on the right are the ones who want fewer laws, less government intrusion into peoples lives and more liberty and freedom. Other than that, I think you're spot on.

MartyL
MartyL

with the quotation marks mutating into question marks? Who's in charge of that? Was there a memo? "testing" ?testing?

DT2
DT2

Isn't that how Australia and some areas of America initially got populated?

lucien86
lucien86

Wow its like a Bush plan, spend tens of trillions to send a few thousand prisoners to Mars and save a few billion. Of course building it will give everyone a job :), but maybe sending a smaller number of people who actually want to go might be a slightly better answer. hmmmm...

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

There's another sequel in the [i]Escape from...[/i] flicks. I wonder who would replace Kurt?

TNT
TNT

In relation to KaceyR's point #5, we probably should consider sending several start-up teams to inhabit various area's of the planet, thereby increasing our chances for success.

edotamen
edotamen

Perhaps microbots would be more advantageous, especially if we can figure out a way to make them self-replicating using Martian raw-materials. Plus one or two "queen" bots to handle coordination and communication with Earth. Build up a sustainable presence that way before we start sending the meatbags!

neilb
neilb

There are two problems with the idea of sending "huge mega robots". The first is that there ARE no "huge mega robots" and the second is that there ARE no "huge mega robots". I know it's the same objection but it's such a good one that I thought I'd say it twice. :)

freaknout
freaknout

I 2nd the motion. In fact send the entire US government would be even better!

freaknout
freaknout

A+B+C could be minimized by capping the length If the science potion of the mission is expected to take 12 month send 13 month of supplies. After that you only have to send a letter saying the IRS has appropriated all future shipments for failing to file taxes Therefore public out cry will be against the the IRS leading to abolishment. Everybody wins (except the martians)

neilb
neilb

but the concept of "on track" doesn't work around here. We can and do have both the intellectual, scientifically rigorous discussion AND the fun posts in the same thread. Open up the "View All" and just read the bits you want. As for Mars - why? Let's just get into space. Near orbit, Lagrange points, mine the asteroids all without worrying about getting in and out of Mars' gravity well. By all means let's colonise Deimos and Phobos but let's not have another stunt like the Moon landings. :)

barrys
barrys

Using In-Situ Resource Utilisation, the raw materials that you need to sustain human a human colony such as oxygen, water + once you have water you also have the possibility of LOX, as propellant for the flight home, can all be extracted from the Martian atmosphere / regolithe. These often catalytic technologies are not necessarily new, but are being refined to new dimensions of scale and reliability for just such a scenario.

NthDegree
NthDegree

Supply rockets sent to Mars could consist of a descent vehicle for the supplies and the rest of the rocket could be designed to hook up with other supply rockets to make a space station. Any unspent fuel could be pumped into a holding facility for spacecraft returning to Earth. Once we have space stations around Mars and Earth we could use relatively cheap vehicles using nuclear reactors with water for fuel (available on both planets and they would never land on the planets so no fear of nuclear fuel accidents) for the trans-Earth/Mars flights. This would also eliminate the need to launch expensive spacecraft from the Earth or Mars for the Earth/Mars flights.

TNT
TNT

You are editing your post in a word processor then cutting and pasting over. The boards do not recognize "curly quotes" so replace them with a question mark. Go through your post before clicking the submit button and replace apostrophe's and quotes in the body of reply section.

darpoke
darpoke

Like you said, we'll save billions. Sounds worthwhile to me. After all, it takes money to make money ;\

Tribal Elder
Tribal Elder

It doesn't make sense to send humans first. Robots are a real possibility -- but not the sexy science fiction kind. There will be a need for a mix of AI type robots to do surveying and controlling "smart" industrial robots for excavating, building, terra forming, etc. It might take a few years before humans could actually have a fighting chance of surviving for any extended period of time thereafter...

bdskp
bdskp

Do we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no huge mega robots exist? HMMM???

jerya
jerya

But just send the PA state legislature. They still can't seem to get a budget sorted out, and it's October already! Maybe we can get someone to replace them who won't be so stubborn!

neilb
neilb

The clue to the problem with hiding the existence of "huge mega robots" is in the first word of the description of what we are trying to hide. :p

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