Hey, wanna go to Mars this weekend?

NASA and the European Space Agency are beginning to plan the first manned mission to Mars, to take place as late as 2030 or 2040. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, thinks that the mission should be a “one-way trip”:http://www.physorg.com/news143815934.html.

Aldrin stated recently in an interview that a crew should be sent permanently, in the same way that pioneers from Europe to North America were.

Aldrin believes in Mars’s potential for habitation, because of what appears to be abundant frozen water and conditions that are similar to Earth (at least more similar than the moon). At its closest, Mars is 34 million miles away, which means that a journey to the Red Planet would take at least a year and a half. It would be pointless, Aldrin says, to put a crew on the ground for only a year or two and bring them straight home.

The thought of sending people to Mars permanently seems a bit strange, especially on the first manned trip. But Aldrin’s comments raise an interesting issue: why are we planning a manned mission to Mars anyways?

The goal, according to Aldrin, is to explore Mars’s potential for human habitation. If habitation is the goal, then it makes sense to hold off on a manned mission unless it can establish a permanent colony. If a permanent colony isn’t feasible, then we shouldn’t waste resources on a brief trip.

The first mission to Mars would probably be a crew of six, which could be followed later by more. A colony of about 30 people could be created.

I can’t imagine who would volunteer to be in that first six. They would have to be willing to leave everything and everyone 34 million miles behind them. Unlike the settlers of North America, they would be going to a place in which humans can’t physically survive. They would be isolated in a way that no person on Earth has ever been.

Mars is the only frontier for our time, the one place where no person has ever been that we have any chance of reaching. But is it worth the costs? I don’t believe that we need to seek out an alternative place for habitation when we can invest in Earth’s sustainability.

On the other hand, it is human nature to explore, and ever since Buzz Aldrin’s mission humans haven’t had anywhere to go. It is possible that we will decide to go ahead with a manned Mars mission, and that it will be reached in our lifetime. But it is still a long way off.


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