Would you go on a one-way trip to Mars? That’s the question I asked our audience at our last evening discussion event “Should we go to Mars?” and about a third of our 100+ audience said they’d like to go. Although I suspect many changed their minds once they heard from our four expert speakers and discussed the reality of such a mission, including poo storage and having babies in reduced gravity.
One speaker who particularly sparked off the debate was Arno Wielders from Mars One, a Dutch company which aims to establish a colony on Mars in 2023 paid for by reality TV broadcasting. His ambitious project, a bit like Big Brother in space, really got everyone thinking about what life would be like on the red planet. Particularly since there is no plan to bring the people back to planet Earth. One young visitor asked what would happen if the first trip to send people ends in disaster. Well, according to Arno, they will still send a second trip since there will always be people hoping and willing to go!
The proposed Mars One colony, complete with biomes, rovers and food huts. I'd like the biome out on the right...
This raised plenty of questions about the type of person suited to such a mission, which Iya Whiteley a psychologist who has worked with the European Space Agency on astronaut training programmes tried to answer. Normally space missions require people who are good at taking orders and working harmoniously with each other. But on a one-way mission to another planet, being constantly under the gaze of millions of people a very different type of person is likely to want to go. Their motivations for doing so would have to be carefully examined.
Rebekah Higgitt, a science historian, made the great point that previous one-way missions from history, such as Scott’s last expedition, had no selection process but they also had no viewers either. When we read Scott’s diaries today they still have a huge impact on us as we imagine his last hours. What would it be like seeing and hearing members of this crew perish over a live internet stream or on TV millions of kilometres away in space?
Robert Falcon Scott and his party during his last ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.
Not to mention the danger that Mars itself would face from having humans walk upon its surface. We still don’t know whether there is microbial life on Mars or not, and missions to find out aren’t scheduled until 2016. If Mars One arrives and we don’t know enough about the Martian environment, we could end up contaminating the planet and any life living upon it.
Perhaps we are still decades away from a manned mission to Mars succeeding. And who knows exactly what form it will take when we do. But Joe Michalski, a Mars geologist working here at the Museum, thinks that we are destined to go to Mars one day. He says, there may be no scientific reason to go but it is inevitable that we will strive for it one way or another. It is human nature to explore.