Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are we there yet?

Hopped up on the first episode of "When We Left Earth" I was pretty excited to see a story yesterday about missions to Mars. While most of these stories center on the costs, technological shortcomings or the existential question of exactly why we'd want to do that, this story had a different angle:

What if we planned a mission to Mars, but didn't have to worry about the return trip?

It's an interesting idea to kick around, but brings up a host of questions and related issues. How do you hold someone to that kind of "til death" contract? Assuming the crew is needed for decades on end, how do you account for changes of heart? What if there's an unplanned pregnancy en route? How long would the line of volunteers really be for a mission like this? How many of those volunteers would really be viable candidates? Worst yet, what if something goes wrong and there's no viable escape plan to leave Mars and return to Earth safely?

While this is certainly an interesting shift in the thought process, it seems like costs saved by planning a one-way mission would quickly be eaten up in research and development for creating a foolproof mission that would create a sustainable colony in space.

The logical thing to do seems to be a smaller colony on the moon first where there could be some proof of concept testing done with a shorter range if there's an issue. Plus, how much fun would it be to watch that happen? I'd be first in line for a telescope.

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