03 Sep 2009
Point of no return

Are you passionate enough about anything to leave on a one-way trip — no way, no hope of return — that will likely result in your early death? Lawrence M. Krauss, the director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, suggests just that in “A One-Way Ticket to Mars“, an op-ed piece in the NY Times:

Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

Now, Mars is kinda far away. It made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years in August of 2003 when it was “only” 56 million kilometers (about 35 million miles) away. Light takes three minutes to travel that far, so even a simple radio “Hello, how are ya? … Fine.” would take a minimum of six minutes to complete. And we’re still talking about the back yard here, none of this heroic “going where no man has gone before” galactic exploration stuff.

It’s expensive to send a team that far. If you plan to return, you have to provision that here — there are no launch facilities or fuel depots on Mars. Nor is there any protective atmosphere to shield the astronauts from radiation along the way, so shielding has to be provided … if you want to have any chance to live a full lifetime. Nor are those rock-strewn plains very hospitable:

Perhaps (so the article suggests) “older” scientists, who are gonna die soon anyway [but aren’t we all?], could make up the crew. Not everyone is so love-em-but-leave-em callous. They offer suggestions such as sending a supply ship ahead, or periodic missions to replenish supplies. Personally, I don’t have a lot of faith in our planet being willing to sustain multi-million dollar supply missions for any significant length of time to support a half-dozen or so crew so far out of sight, out of mind. Bureaucracy would kill them sooner than the local environment.

Yet, there are a lot of volunteers, at least according to spur-of-the-moment raise-your-hand-if polls. Of course it will probably never happen. There are already heated arguments between the man-must-go-himself and the robotics-only camps. Just imagine the confrontations between the noble-heroism-over-safety and the smother-to-death-protect-from-any-harm camps.

It so happens that I’m listening to “Rise and Shine” by Saga:

You’ve got another chance to
Rise and shine
Or yesterday will slip into tomorrow

Practical arguments aside, I don’t have any principled qualms against one-way journeys. Sometimes you have to get up and step out that door.

h/t: The Narrative Fallacy, Sending Astronauts On a One-Way Trip To Mars, Slashdot

image: NASA, Mars Hubble.jpg, Wikipedia
image: NASA, Mars rocks.jpg, Wikipedia

Category: Sci-Tech
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