How would you like to take a one-way trip to Mars?
That is the question Mars One, a privately funded space organization, posed through a brash media campaign. Their response was overwhelming: 78,000 video applications. 78,000 people saying yes to a one-way trip to Mars.
Did I mention it was one-way?
Mars One has an ambitious plan: get the first humans to Mars in 2023. Ten years from now, could we see human boot prints on Mars? Could we watch someone take one small step for a woman and one giant leap toward a television phenomenon not seen since the moon landing?
According to their website, titled "Risks and Challenges," space travel can be dangerous at all levels. But the "risk of space flight is similar to that of climbing Mt. Everest." Of equal concern, the website warns, are the dangers of cost overruns. So be warned, investing in this enterprise could cost you your life and your investment capital. Otherwise, "all aboard!"
You could argue that the settlers who left Europe for America or Australia never expected to return either. It will take each crew about seven months to get to Mars. After that, they're free to settle an entire planet.
Mars One completely fails to mention the real dangers of traveling to Mars. Of primary concern is radiation. Above the atmosphere, astronauts are exposed to the sun's intense, unfiltered rays. After flying through space for seven months, NASA doesn't like your chances of living a full life after that. Will a private company like Mars One ensure your safe arrival, or simply your arrival?
- Living in microgravity for the seven-month journey might make you too week to stand once you arrive on Mars.
- Psychological issues with the crew and feelings of isolation.
- Energy and air supplies
- Meteorite impacts (see the movie Gravity)
- Hygiene and waste issues
If you've never seen a zero-g toilet in action, you should before signing on to seven months of answering nature's call with no "down."
So yeah, if you go on board with Mars One, you're going to die -- en route or on Mars. It's possible that you may live a long, happy life on the Red Planet but Mars One is at least up front: You ain't coming back.
What are the ethical and moral implications about a one-way trip? If you have volunteers who completely and thoroughly understand the real risks and still want to go, should we enable this? Does it make life expendable? And who is culpable for any potential disasters?
I asked a representative at the NASA center in Houston, Texas, if they would ever send a person one way. He responded, "Absolutely not." NASA had not even entertained the notion and considered it abhorrent. "We Americans," he said, "would not approve." Then he looked to his left and then right to see that no one else was listening and he whispered, "but the Russians..."
The funding for Mars One may come from a spin-off reality show. This may circumvent any moral issues. It's not our government approving of this suicide mission. It's Fox. And if we don't do it, maybe the Russians or Chinese will. Don't we want to be first to Mars?
I worry about the ratings though... What's going to happen to the Mars Show when Ashley from Season 2 loses her immunity challenge to Brock, survivor from Season 1, and falls into Valles Marineris? If she dies will there be a Season 3?
When a tragedy happens, will interest wax or wane? Will the ratings affect the production budget? If people don't tune in, will the settlers have to skip breakfast?
Call it Mars Madness, but I say we go for it. Strap some people to a rocket and see what kind of civilization they can scrape out of the Martian desert. I'm not volunteering, but my scientific (and morbid) curiosity would definitely watch someone else become the first Martian.