Friday Night Topic: One-way ticket to Mars

— 5:20 PM on March 7, 2008

Although we've had rovers exploring the surface for years now, humans have yet to set foot on Mars. And we may not for years or perhaps even decades to come, so daunting are the technical challenges involved with such a mission. However, according to 21-year NASA veteran Jim McLane, a mission to Mars becomes much more feasible if it's a one-way trip.

“When we eliminate the need to launch off Mars, we remove the mission’s most daunting obstacle," said McLane. And because of a small crew size, the spacecraft could be smaller and the need for consumables and supplies would be decreased, making the mission cheaper and less complicated.

While some might classify this as a suicide mission, McLane feels the concept is completely logical.

“There would be tremendous risk, yes," said McLane, “but I don’t think that’s guaranteed any more than you would say climbing a mountain alone is a suicide mission. People do dangerous things all the time, and this would be something really unique, to go to Mars. I don’t think there would be any shortage of people willing to volunteer for the mission. Lindbergh was someone who was willing to risk everything because it was worth it. I don’t think it will be hard to find another Lindbergh to go to Mars. That will be the easiest part of this whole program."

McLane adds that a two-person team made up of a man and a woman would also be suitable for the initial trip to Mars, and that the first pioneers could be joined by other astronauts on subsequent missions. But should we be sending brave volunteers on a potential suicide mission at all? Is setting foot on the red planet worth stranding someone there? Would you volunteer?


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