One-way ticket to Mars

Space: The final frontier
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its 5 year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before

— Star Trek 

I’ve always loved Star Trek. It’s a series with a hopeful message, for the most part (if you ignore the civilizations hellbent on destroying the Federation and Earth). It’s about exploration. Just…going out into the great beyond and discovering.

If you’ve ever doubted whether or not it is in our nature to explore, you need look no further than Mars One.

Mars One, if you don’t know, is an ambitious project to colonize the Red Planet by 2023.

This isn’t a government sponsored endeavour, but rather a project undertaken by a not-for-profit organization and, most notably, it’s something that’s open to everyone.

But, if you’re chosen, it’s will be the last trip you ever take.

Why? Because it’s a one-way ticket.

That’s right. No changing your mind halfway there. No return shuttle. Just you and several other people. Don’t like your neighbours? Too bad.

Personally, I don’t believe in Mars One. I want to. I really do. But I think there’s more research that needs to be done.

For example, earlier in 2013, using data collected by the Mars Science Laboratory, aka, Curiosity, NASA found that there is too much radiation for humans on the voyage to Mars.

“In terms of accumulated dose, it’s like getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days,” said Cary Zeitlin, a principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio and lead author of the paper on the findings. “Understanding the radiation environment inside a spacecraft carrying humans to Mars or other deep space destinations is critical for planning future crewed missions.”

Though Mars One does address this recent finding on their site, it provides only that single bit of research as their basis of proof for assuring the public that it’s safe to live on Mars. Yes, the limit is below what is considered acceptable in an astronaut’s career, but there’s more to research here.

And this is directly from the Mars One site:

Our plan is realistic because the technology needed already exists and can be purchased from the private space industry.

Really? The technology already exists? Hm. Interesting. Because even NASA, who has been in the space business an awfully long time, doesn’t possess what is needed to protect humans from radiation. If you’re talking about rockets, sure thing. Different technologies are available to propel you to space, there’s no denying that. But there is so much more that is involved with colonizing a planet or a moon. What will long-term radiation do to people on Mars? The company just can not assure the mission success based on one finding. Since when has something been developed solely on a single bit of research?

I’m also interested in the people who have signed up for this mission. According to Mars One, more than 165,000 applicants are interested in colonizing Mars; of that number, 7,000 are Canadian.

Who puts their life in the hands of people who have provided no real outline for their goal? Mars One provides a very loose “Road Map” on their site. But personally, I’d like to see their research.

I think that it’s a bold vision to aim for the Red Planet, so kudos to Mars One for taking the first step and for initiating a real discussion about it. But I just don’t buy into it. Not completely. I do believe that I will see humans reach Mars in my lifetime, but I seriously doubt I will see a colony.

What needs to be done first, I think, is to go to the Moon. Use that as our testing ground while we seek to develop better technologies to protect ourselves against deadly long-term radiation. A trip to Mars takes a year; a trip to the Moon can take just days. Let’s take smaller steps and learn along the way.

Humans weren’t built for space, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop us from trying to reach out and expand beyond our own planet. We will always explore, whether it’s safe or not. But let’s make sure we look before we leap.

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