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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hell No We Won't Go (To Mars)

While perusing my Google Reader I found an article over at Futurismic that linked to an article at Universe Today, the likes of which surprised me because I had missed it. I was immediately stunned. Why? Because the article talks about a former NASA engineer's idea that our first Mars mission should be a one-way trip. Basically, we should plan it without thinking about getting the astronaut back:
When we eliminate the need to launch off Mars, we remove the mission’s most daunting obstacle,” said McLane. And because of a small crew size, the spacecraft could be smaller and the need for consumables and supplies would be decreased, making the mission cheaper and less complicated.
Excuse me? Okay, look, we took risks in the original space race, but the difference is that the chances of things going right were much higher than the chances of things going wrong. The astronauts who went to the Moon new they might die, but they also knew that their mission was planned for a return trip. This is nothing like those old days of taking risks and 'getting it done'. In fact, it's completely different. Who the hell in their right mind would volunteer to kill themselves just to go to Mars? Not even that, if the only option is a suicide mission, wouldn't it be better just to wait until we can do a round-trip flight? It's not going to take much longer before we have a viable, affordable solution, or someone ponies up the dough for the really expensive version.
And Mr. McLane doesn't call this a suicide mission:
There would be tremendous risk, yes,” said McLane, “but I don’t think that’s guaranteed any more than you would say climbing a mountain alone is a suicide mission. People do dangerous things all the time, and this would be something really unique, to go to Mars. I don’t think there would be any shortage of people willing to volunteer for the mission […] That will be the easiest part of this whole program.
No, Mr. McLane, I'm afraid your idea is nothing even remotely like a climb up a mountain alone. In fact, that's an idiotic analogy. Lots of people come back from their climbs up mountains. Hell, there have been several who've gone up Everest and returned to tell the tale. See, there's a fundamental difference between climbing a dangerous mountain and going on a one-way trip to Mars. In the former you know that there's a good chance you'll be coming back alive, you might even be pretty sure about it. In the later you know that there's no chance you'll come back, in fact you know that once your mission is're dead...muerte...
And who would be willing to go on this mission? Not me. This has less to do with fear than to do with the fact that even if I was a little older than I am now I would still end up losing out on decades of life. The people who would be fit for this are in the same boat. You really think that someone in good shape and with good mental faculty would jump up and down and yell "yes, pick me, I'll die, please, oh, pick me!"? I don't think so.
Bad idea Mr. McLane.

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