NASA is planning a one-way mission to Mars in a programme called ‘Hundred Years Starship’ in which, a manned spacecraft will take astronauts to Mars and leave them there forever.
NASA Ames Director Pete Worden revealed that one of NASA’s main research centres, Ames Research Centre, has received 1 million dollars funding to start work on the project.
Washington State University researchers had said that while technically feasible, a manned mission to Mars and back is unlikely to lift off anytime soon and so, a manned one-way mission to Mars would not only cut the costs by several fold, but also mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the planet.
Mars is by far the most promising for sustained colonization and development because it is similar in many respects to Earth and, crucially, possesses a moderate surface gravity, an atmosphere, abundant water and carbon dioxide, together with a range of essential minerals.
“One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two space craft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a Washington State University associate professor.
Colleague Paul Davies, a physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University, added that they aren’t suggesting that astronauts simply be abandoned on the Red Planet for the sake of science; in fact they propose a series of missions over time, sufficient to support long-term colonization.
The authors proposed that the astronauts would be re-supplied on a periodic basis from Earth with basic necessities, but otherwise would be expected to become increasingly proficient at harvesting and utilizing resources available on Mars.
Eventually they envision that outpost would reach self-sufficiency, and then it could serve as a hub for a greatly expanded colonization programme.
First, an appropriate site for the colony would be selected, preferentially associated with a cave or some other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients.
“Ice caves would go a long way to solving the needs of a settlement for water and oxygen. Mars has no ozone shield and no magnetospheric shielding, and ice caves would also provide shelter from ionizing and ultraviolet radiation,” said Schulze-Makuch.
The added that in addition to offering humanity a “lifeboat” in the event of a mega-catastrophe on Earth, a Mars colony would provide a platform for further scientific research.
Schulze-Makuch and Davies acknowledge that such a project would require not only major international cooperation, but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of the Earth’s exploration.
“Informal surveys conducted after lectures and conference presentations on our proposal have repeatedly shown that many people are willing to volunteer for a one-way mission, both for reasons of scientific curiosity and in a spirit of adventure and human destiny,” they wrote.
The article is published this month in the “Journal of Cosmology.”