Paul Davies advocating a one-way manned mission to Mars

posted by Jason Kottke Jan 16, 2004

Paul Davies advocating a one-way manned mission to Mars.

Reader comments

Stefan JonesJan 16, 2004 at 3:18PM

It's funny how many geeks take this as a call for volunteers, little knowing it means exile in a sealed capsule the size of a trailer home with no access to take-out pizza, co-workers who threaten to kill you when you whack off in the one bathroom, and Amazon.com takes two years to deliver and charges $12,769.50 per book for extra shipping.

dontcallmegorgeJan 16, 2004 at 5:11PM

1-way? Perfect place for GWB and his WMD obessions. Hunt away.

Kip IngramJan 16, 2004 at 9:56PM

Jokes and politics aside, I have to agree with Stefan. I doubt very many of us can truly ponder the effect that kind of permanent solitude would have on us. However I do think we should have a permanent base. Thirty-odd years ago we could visit the moon, but today we have nothing to show for it but a legacy. We should have established a base on the moon many years ago.

The situation with Mars is similar. There's no reason to go unless we go to stay. We should set up a permanent base right from the start and initiate a crew rotation program. Noone should consider staying on Mars for life, but staying for 2-3 years isn't unreasonable.

As long as we're merely exploring space we'll be spending a lot of money to do it. Someday we'll be colonizing space, and then whole economies will develop there. The impact on the civilization will be as powerful as the impact that the growth of America had.

There's an unavoidable "cost hump" between us and our future in space. To write off space permanently because of that would be the worst investment decision ever made.

aaaJan 16, 2004 at 11:41PM

Sure. Why not? Let's face it - it would be a job. I hear from many who feel they've wasted 2, 5, 10, or more years at their jobs - not really fulfilled. Would living on Mars, as a job, be fulfilling? Um, yes.

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 1:09AM

Well, as a job, perhaps yes. As a life? No spouse, no children, no recreation? No way. If you had those other things too then life on Mars could be fulfilling. But wait a minute: job, spouse, children, recreation, etc.

Sounds like colony to me. Rock and roll!

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 1:11AM

Pardon me; "Sounds like a colony to me. I hate it when that happens. It would be nice if one could go back and edit typos out of one's own comments. :-)

Stefan JonesJan 17, 2004 at 1:36AM

I took a Space Policy course at CMU. Before we got to the fun stuff, our eccentric Gallic professor made us learn the science. Orbits, limits of sensors, how to compute fuel consumption, and more.

This did an amazing job of stripping the layers of bombastic crap and delusionary wish-fulfillment that came from spending decades reading SF and hanging out with space advocacy types.

There two things that are holding us back: A cheap way to get up there in the first place, and more efficient motors. Cheap orbit access to get space ships, people, and fuel up there, efficient motors to get places fast.

A REALLY cheap launch system, like a space elevator, could to some extent negate the need for efficient motors, because you could simply lift huge quantities of H2 and LOX to orbit.

But somewhere along the way you're going to need those more efficient motors.

By "more efficient motors" I mean nuclear powered ones. Fission thermal, fission ion, exotic plasma drives, and eventually fusion drives.

Convincing people that we need to put nuclear reactors and rocket motors full of fissionables into orbit is going to be a tough sell.

If Bush were really visionary and tough minded and willing to go to the mat for a big bright spacy future, he'd be pushing nuclear power and nuclear propulsion stuff.

But that's way scary, a bit expensive, and probably too specific a proposal. I don't think Bush was really serious enough about space to want more than a symbolic gesture he can point to this fall.

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 2:16AM

I do have at least some concern that this is political posturing. I hope not, because I really like the whole plan, but I guess we won't know for sure until after the election (assuming Bush wins).

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 2:24AM

Oh, and by the way, there seems to be some serious thought about a real space elevator (here's my post on that). That really would bring access costs way down.

I'm pretty familiar with launch and orbital transfer math too; I used to work in Earth-to-orbit ballistic launch research and wrote computer models of the launch process. Fuel costs are significant, but another really expensive aspect of current launch systems is the ground support equipment and staff. That's an area that advances in microelectronics could directly address; I've wondered how much cost you could cut out of a launch system if it flew autonomously (had all of its own guidance an control based on GPS positioning).

I wonder, too, what the cost of sending people from Europe to America was back when that process first started, as a fraction of European gross economic product? That sounds like a fun topic to look into. :-)

PatrikJan 17, 2004 at 6:38AM

This sounds like a great idea for "Big Brother on Mars". Send sixteen excentric scientists to a desolate planet and have their lives taped 24 hours a day. Advertising for the show would ofcourse pay for the mission. The show would continieu until the last one dies, or we find a way to get back. Or better yet, the scientists themselves figure out a way to get back.

JamesJan 17, 2004 at 12:46PM

Not to mention the fact that astronauts lose 15-30% of their bone density, and in turn their ability to regulate blood pressure, after only a short period of space travel.

You have to wonder if a human could even survive the relatively lengthy trip to Mars.

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 2:07PM

Actually, the cosmonaut Dr. Valeri Vladimirovich Polyakov spent 437.7 days aboard Soyuz TM-18 during 1994 and 1995. That's not as long as the continuous space time required for the Mars mission, but it's in the same range. I don't think survival is in doubt.

SethJan 17, 2004 at 2:39PM

When Dr. Polyakov returned to Earth, was he asked to start a colony or was he hospitalized? The good news is that Mars gravity is less than Earth's, so going planetside there after all that time in space would be less of an ordeal, but it's still enough that they'll probably have to spin the transport ship.

Kip IngramJan 17, 2004 at 3:13PM

Yes, I think spinning the transport ship would be a great idea, as would excellent exercise facilities. James questioned survival, not fitness levels. Residing in space for a lengthy period is definitely debilitating; no question about that.

CamiloJan 20, 2004 at 2:47PM

Amazing output, and of course very well put. However, I am not familiar with orbital mechanics, and thus can think about the impossible: a space elevator, cost around $5 billion, would help in surmounting that first expensive obstacle that is the Earth's gravity well. Regarding the people, you either have a crack team, Drs and all, or of the price of lifting is sufficiently low, you can get more varied a team – quantity vs. quality.
Health in space is an issue, not only because of weightlessness, but because of solar flares and their radiation danger.
Still, even with all these issues, I think it is plausible (in a couple decades).

Kip IngramJan 21, 2004 at 1:39AM

The information I saw on the space elevator certainly made it look as though anything tangible will be at least a that far (a couple of decades) in the future. The whole concep requires well-developed carbon nanotube technology, and we're really just getting started in that area. I think the technical hurdles look surmountable; my main concerns have to do with terrorism. What a target a structure that reached tens of thousands of miles into space would make.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.