A few weeks ago I learned about the initiative called “Mars One“, a Dutch enterprise whose aim is to send people to Mars by 2023, but with a little twist: in order to make the project cheaper, the Mars One team is planning to make this a one-way trip for the future Mars-bound astronauts. The volunteers who embark on this journey would spend the rest of their lives on the Red Planet (however, the Mars One website also mentions in a casual manner, somewhat out of sync with its main message, that “…emigrating does not have to mean permanent residence on Mars. Once the settlement is populated, we can send components for a return rocket…”).
It is not the first time that someone proposes a detailed human mission to Mars. In 1996 Robert Zubrin, the president of The Mars Society, unveiled his ideas for manned expeditions to Mars in the non-fiction book The Case for Mars, an interesting account of the technical aspects of future Mars missions. He was mostly advocating the use of public funds (through NASA) to that end. This time, Mars One is seeking private sponsorship for colonization of another planet. Anyone will be able to apply to become an astronaut, although of course selection will (should) be constrained by technical abilities, crew performance and health aspects, among other things. According to their website, astronaut training for the first mission to Mars will take ten years. That means they might announce the beginning of candidate selection in the next several months, if they go forward with their plan.
Being an advocate of space exploration, would I be willing to go on a trip like this if I were selected, knowing that it would perhaps be the last time that I saw Earth? I suspect that, once on Mars, there would be nothing like the thrill of knowing that no other human being has ever seen what I would be seeing with my own eyes. The excitement of discovery is too powerful to set aside. Being on another planet would fulfill my wildest childhood fantasies, and then some.
But staying there for the rest of my life, as part of the first human colony on another world? Although it certainly sounds appealing, I’m not sure if I’m ready (or will be then) to renounce my Earthly origins, along with the company of my family and friends! I guess the mysteries and wonders of the solar system are not as strong as the human bonds that let us peer upwards together. I for one would very much like to be able to travel back to my home planet and tell my people what I saw, face to face.