Op-Ed: Mars One asks, ‘Is a one-way journey to Mars insane?’

Posted Aug 28, 2014 by Paul Wallis
Slightly belated as it may seem, this question is part of a bit of soul-searching on the part of Mars One, the first commercial-only one-way trip to Mars. One of the questions they asked was “Is a one-way mission insane?”
Mars as it really looks  and lots of things to explore.
Mars as it really looks, and lots of things to explore.
From the Mars One community forum:
So, taken directly from a recent Mars One Exchange community member survey…
Is a one-way mission insane? Here’s how Mason Peck responded to the question:
“There are many motivations for becoming one of the first settlers on Mars, none of them insane in my opinion. These include:
• “A noble sense of self-sacrifice, if you believe that extending human presence into the solar system will help ensure the survival of the species."
• “A desire for the immortality that comes with fame, despite the risk to life and limb. In some sense, putting yourself at risk helps ensure your influence on the history of humanity will outlive your physical being."
• “A desire for personal accomplishment, or overcoming a challenge, the same sort of thing that drives people to join expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest."
• “Self-interest, including the prospect of making money as a Mars entrepreneur, or helping your family and friends back on Earth do the same."
Mason Peck, PhD is also talking about a range of further developments, notably one missing from the original script:
One of the first things I would do upon landing is to begin building the tools, the equipment, and the economic structures to one day build an Earth return vehicle.
There are a few other options, too:
Do the ground research much more cheaply and quickly.
Experiment with a vast range of proposed technologies for future space missions.
Research terraforming basic science.
Pure research into Mars — chemistry, geology, atmosphere, etc.
Water management — critical for fuel, living, sanitation, and development of bio-products.
Biological research — behavior of terrestrial organisms like gut bacteria, etc. on Mars.
Medical research regarding colonist health, in transit and on the ground.
There’s a virtual encyclopedia of useful science to be done, to say nothing of engineering, basic living tech, and many other absolutely fundamental types of research.
The economics of a Martian colony
Economically, Mars could export to Earth:
Samples and science — huge range of possible materials
Locally created products of all kinds, very open-ended range of possible products
Ground services to assist NASA, etc. in Mars research, vehicle recovery, etc.
Exports could be managed on the same basis as the ISS- Robot ships, docking at a Mars space station.
(Since we’ve been too damn lazy to come up with working landing craft — we still stuff around with rockets, this is the working option until someone gets off their duff and does the science to improve spaceflight economics, which are ridiculously expensive at the moment.)
The possible economics of the Mars One mission provide a great way of exploring possible scenarios for future colonies. These options also directly interrelate with practical capabilities. Mars One could be the lab for testing all sorts of options and ideas.
Insane, no. In need of thought, and a lot more than simplistic questions, yes.
Given the constipated state of space exploration through governments, if people with working brains start to go to work on these problems right now, more will get done, faster.