Friday, October 22, 2010

"Hitch Your Wagon to a Star" - or Planet, In This Case

"Mars or Bust! One-Way Trip to the Red Planet Could Kick-start Colonization"
Denise Chow, (October 21, 2010)

"The vast plains of Mars may be the most promising place beyond Earth for human colonization, but is it enough for a one-way trip to the red planet? Two researchers seem to think so.

"In an article published this month in the Journal of Cosmology, Earth scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and physicist Paul Davies argue that a manned one-way mission to Mars would not only make economical sense, but would also mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the planet.

"The researchers contend that while a manned flight to Mars and back is technically feasible now, the steep financial and political costs make such a mission unlikely to launch anytime soon.

"And since the greatest portion of expenses will be incurred by the safe return of the crew and spacecraft to Earth, the authors conclude that a manned one-way mission to Mars would both cut costs and help initiate Martian colonization. [POLL: Would You Join a One-Way Trip to Mars?]..."

This isn't as crazy an idea as it may seem. My ancestors, after all, settled in North Dakota. Which isn't as inhospitable as Mars: but isn't on any of the 'tropical paradise getaway' lists.

Back to that article:

"The scientists stress that such an expedition would not amount to a suicide mission, but would instead culminate in a series of missions over time, with an eye toward suffiently supporting long-term colonization.

"The proposed project would begin with selecting an appropriate site for the Martian colony, ideally associated with a cave or other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients...."

Setting up a colony on Mars won't be as easy as settling in North Dakota. There's the matter of breathable air, for starters.

Mars is a wonderfully rich world in many ways: its soil contains iron, there's a great deal of oxygen chemically locked in with the iron, and more in the CO2 atmosphere - thin though it is. There's even water by the ton - frozen, but near the surface.

What Mars doesn't seem to have in abundance is nitrogen. We're used to breathing the stuff here on Earth - it's a major component of our atmosphere. And, perhaps more to the point, the plants we need for food and fodder need the element. There's nitrogen - and other useful materials - in comets, though, so that doesn't seem to be an insurmountable obstacle. (NASA (December 14, 2006))

The Lemming's guess is that Mars won't see a whole lot of people in the next few decades - but the next few centuries? That may very well be another story.

As for 'one way' colonization? It's been done before. Which is why we're not all living in eastern Africa now. And that's another topic.

About this post's title? "Hitch your wagon to a star" is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson ("American Civilization", The Atlantic Monthly, 1862) (The Quotations Page)

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