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Mars Ain't The Kind Of Place To Raise Your Kids
March 7, 2008 10:44 PM   Subscribe

A "no-return, solo mission" to Mars? The comments - 179 of them as of the time of this post - are even more interesting than the article.
posted by amyms (89 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are those certain days, every now and again, when I feel like I've had about enough of people on this planet, and on such a I reckon I might volunteer for this one-way trip to Mars. Spend the rest of my life sitting around on the Martian surface. I'd occasionally look up at that little twinkling glint in the sky that is the Earth, then I'd go kick a rock around for a little while.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:00 PM on March 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


The gist of the comments seems to be "Great idea, I love it. Just change one thing, make it a return trip too."
posted by bluejayk at 11:11 PM on March 7, 2008


Another option McLane has offered is a one-man and one-woman crew, possibly creating an Adam and Eve-type situation.

Boom-chicka-wah-wah.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:19 PM on March 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


The idea seems to be a one-way trip in the sense that "you don't have a ship to come back on". However, if the plan is to construct a base on Mars, a return trip after several years seems like a reasonable thing. That makes it a very risky venture, but not a death sentence.
posted by demiurge at 11:20 PM on March 7, 2008


Go for it. Let's get off this pebble already.
posted by autodidact at 11:20 PM on March 7, 2008


There's no point in a mission to Mars if there's no return trip. "Yeah, we put a man on Mars. Big whoop." Why don't we just shoot a corpse up there? I bet that's even cheaper. Heath Ledger was a pretty good actor. NOW HE'S THE FIRST MAN ON MARS!
posted by CarlRossi at 11:21 PM on March 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


Our young are already being conditioned to accept this fate.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:26 PM on March 7, 2008


CarlRossi said: There's no point in a mission to Mars if there's no return trip. "Yeah, we put a man on Mars. Big whoop." Why don't we just shoot a corpse up there?

From the article: Of course McLane’s hope is the solo astronaut would be joined by others shortly in the future. Orbital mechanics provides a desirable launch window from Earth to Mars every 26 months. “This person wouldn’t be there by himself for very long. It’s just returning home that would be impossible," he said.
posted by amyms at 11:29 PM on March 7, 2008


lol KokuRyu. The Brave Little Toaster did it even earlier.
posted by amyms at 11:33 PM on March 7, 2008


Of course, two intrepid explorers have been there already... (scroll down about a third of the way for the relevant parts...)
posted by roombythelake at 11:41 PM on March 7, 2008


It seems reminiscent of the early arctic explorers who risked life and limb to venture into the most inhospitable climate on Earth. We've got research stations there now finally, but in the early days we were so technologically under equipped and many brave people died trying.

This proposal is doomed to sadness I think. That's doesn't mean at all that it isn't worth pursuing, just that the boldest steps are sometimes bittersweet. We'd make a tenuous foothold there eventually, one day, but probably not with the first cosmonaut we sent. Still, what would it be worth to be the first human ever to set foot on the top of Olympus Mons and look out over that vast crimson horizon with fresh eyes?
posted by CheshireCat at 11:41 PM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Another option McLane has offered is a one-man and one-woman crew, possibly creating an Adam and Eve-type situation.

Boom-chicka-wah-wah.


Eve's Log, Day 1,294: It's just the exhalation. I keep telling myself it's just the exhalation that bothers me. I mean, it's a respirator. It sounds like a respirator, for chrissake. And yet the way he kind of extends the exhalation sometimes, you know? It's like "shuhhhhhhhhh . . . huhhhhh." Fuck that "huhhhhh." Fuck Adam and his precious goddamn "huhhhhh."

The next batch of iPod batteries is due in 207 days. I think I can make it, but if I don't hear some Amy Winehouse pretty soon, I may strangle him with my headphone cord.
posted by gompa at 11:41 PM on March 7, 2008 [29 favorites]


reminiscent of the early arctic explorers

Yes, but this way we would get to watch on live video as the person slowly came to grips with the fact that they couldn't come home.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:07 AM on March 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Robotics are advanced enough now, that there is really no scientific or technical reason to send a human to mars. Just send the robots up there to do the exploring, the humans can follow in 50 or so years when we have the technology to do it easily.
posted by afu at 12:09 AM on March 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


The first comment on that page:

"adam and eve"

yes sure, and then, if they have lets say a daughter, the father makes a new baby with her? or passes her on to the next astronaut going: "here man, lets start this freaking planet, have my daughter" infront of the whole human race..
makes me laugh

but the idea in general i do like


"Yeah, I like the concept, except what about in 20 or 25 years when the couple has a daughter that's of age? Is it going to be incest, or some kind of Neanderthal patriarchal arrangement? That's kind of a glitch isn't it? Because I just don't see any way to do this and not revert back to a stone age society. Except, you know, with computers and spaceships and stuff."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:18 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a perfectly reasonable plan...

...if you're fucking nuts.
posted by Artw at 12:37 AM on March 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


The following speech was prepared for Richard Nixon in the event that something went horribly wrong with Apollo 11:
(source: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0808051apollo1.html)

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
posted by thewalrus at 12:38 AM on March 8, 2008 [45 favorites]


Charles Lindbergh and Everest climbers and other explorers might have risked all to achieve their goal, but at least they thought they'd be coming back, even if it was only a slim chance. To flat out give up any hope of return might be a bit too demoralizing and morbid.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:14 AM on March 8, 2008


I'm about to say something unpopular: this stuff is the equivalent of planning a trip to Disneyland while your house is burning down.

The Mission to Mars is just more chest-beating, showboatery nonsense, the geek equivalent of bread and circuses. "Hey, ignore the economy and the war, LOOK OVER THERE!" We're not going to get anything out of this trip. No physical material we could ship back would be worth the expediture. And, as to the potential value of possible knowledge we could take with us, it pales in comparison, in return for each buck spent, to the much more likely value we'd get if we spent some cash preserving and exploring the Amazon for medicinals.

"But surely we got a lot of neat technology from going to the Moon!" some might counter. We aren't going to get anything additional out of this trip, other than some neat data on cancer, dental caries, psychosis, and osteoporosis rates in astronauts. Just the administrative costs for the Mars mission would easily pay for some kind of X Prize to spur development of something we'd actually use. Hey, ten billion to the first company that produces an energy storage device like a battery or ultracapacitor, fitting a certain set of specifications (energy density, maximal mass, recharge rate ...). Another ten billion for the right photovoltaics. A hundred billion for fusion. Throw five million at Aubrey de Grey for kicks.

Finally, there are those who will say that we should do it, just to make some kind of grand gesture of accomplishment. The result will be a monument to stupidity, when some alien archaeologist, one million years hence, will figure out that we left some carcasses on a nearby planet while suffocating under the exhaust of our chemically-powered cars. It would probably spend a few puzzled moments, cleaning its antennae as if to clear off some kind of scum confusing its senses, then conclude it was better that we didn't spread anyway, because we weren't smart enough to spend our limited resources wisely.

Maybe one day, when we can stop getting caught with our pants down in little Katrina mishaps, when we have some money to spare, and when we've got our robotics up to snuff so that our little mechanoid helpers will be a few jumps ahead of us, mining asteroids for enough metal to build the kind of very thick metal cylinders we'd need to make an interplanetary trip under something resembling gravity and a lack of tumor-causing radiation. Until then, this sort of thing is a distraction at best; a worst it's a cynical grab for more federal budget bucks to fat cat contractors and a sense that, gosh darn it, America is doing something!
posted by adipocere at 2:16 AM on March 8, 2008 [42 favorites]


"I liked the idea up until the last paragraph. We haven't "worn out" this planet. Nor would we be able to start with a "clean slate." People being what they are, we'd take all of our baggage with us….and in a much, much more harsh environment, humans would have far less margin for error."

ah, yes. some good comments there. I think we should send robots the first time, a few pods with a nuclear reactor and a greenhouse set up, some beer and pornography and a decent music and movie collection, send someone a few years later and another couple of people after that. With all the money invested, they could probably get anything they wanted in their care package. Just make sure the training includes several years of solitary confinement beforehand. Probably work okay if said astronaut had decent internet access and a WoW account. Maybe youtube would suffice. In fact you could probably just download half the internet onto a stack of hard drives to keep him or her busy.

I think we would probably need some more advanced technology in terms of communication. There are plenty of people out there that could go ten years without interpersonal contact with only mild effects on their sanity - but good luck finding them. Assuming you do, however, it's one thing to live out in the country and not answer your phone but another being abandoned a long,long way from home with no chance of return. That would do some stange things to a human mind.

I'd volunteer, I have enough going on in my head to go solitary for a while, but i'd need books, music, and a *lot* of them. You'd need be able to write home to a whole bunch of people, and perhaps being able to look forward to an all female crew greeting you a couple years down the line to keep your thoughts positive :)

It's a good idea, though, and I don't see why NASA isn't seriously considering it - especially considering it's very limited budget (when compared with the scope of it's endeavors)

One last thing - it's interesting pretty much everyone talks of a man being the first one. Do people believe that a man would be more suited to braving through years of the most extreme isolation any human being has ever endured? Is the idea of a woman doing the same less believable, interpersonal beings that they are?
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 2:20 AM on March 8, 2008


also - this would make a good movie.

"The sacrifice would in no way be meaningless. The moment of launch would be heart wrenching. Incredible."
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 2:23 AM on March 8, 2008


.
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:13 AM on March 8, 2008


Actually
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:21 AM on March 8, 2008


There would certainly be people willing to do this. But aren't we a very far way from a self-sustaining habitat? How would ISS have done without frequent reloads?

Maybe it's a matter of degrees, changing it from every couple months to 26 months.

Regardless, if you can send the habitat one 26-mo cycle prior and validate that it has arrived intact, I think the psychological impact would be acceptable. I don't agree that "Even though explorers in the past traveled, for example, to the south or north pole, knowing they might never return, and thousands of immigrants moved to the US in the 18- and 1900's, knowing they would never see their homeland again, the human psyche has seemingly changed enough that a one-way ticket off the planet is not acceptable.", I think that's a very US-centric viewpoint.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:53 AM on March 8, 2008


I've thought about this idea for a long time--not only do I think it could be a great premise for a story/movie (which I'm sure many people are already working on), but it seems pretty clear to me that there's going to be a sizable window of time when this kind of one-way trip is practically _much_ more feasible than a two-way one.

As for why? All you have to do is listen to Roy Batty's "Tears in the Rain" speech at the end of BladeRunner. If that moves you, then you know why _someone_ would eventually be willing to do it.
posted by LairBob at 5:19 AM on March 8, 2008


I don't think it's US-centric, this is quite different to immigrating somewhere in hopes of a better life, or going on a mission that you might never return from, this is essentially volunteering to be physically cut off from the entire rest of your race for the rest of your life, with no hope of ever returning.

I know there's the radio contact going on and I know it would be a lifetime achievement, but if someone were to actually do this then that person would never be able to hold someone's hand again, never be able to stand face to face with their friends or family. The idea that they would not at some point begin to wonder whether their decision was worth it, or that loneliness would not be a problem - as McClane seems to think - seems completely ludicrous to me.

I might be wrong, but I think that concept is probably pretty unappealing on a global scale rather than just in the US.
posted by emperor.seamus at 5:24 AM on March 8, 2008


I think that's a very US-centric viewpoint.

Who else has been to the moon? Who else turned their back on the motherland and started a new society without looking back?

Though, in thinking potential counterpoints to my "yah USA!" argument, I think the closest humans have ever came to doing the lone traveler thing would be the Polynesian tribes in Micronesia.
posted by sleslie at 5:31 AM on March 8, 2008


Who else turned their back on the motherland and started a new society without looking back?

So we should send Puritans there? Excellent!
posted by Green With You at 5:50 AM on March 8, 2008


But, emperor.seamus: The concept might be unappealing on a global scale on its face, but that's not what she's saying. She's saying the global psyche has CHANGED in the last, I don't know, 100 years. I think you can make a very good argument about being physically cut off, or loneliness, but that's not how I took what she was saying. I took it as "humans used to be explorers, and now aren't, so much".

Meanwhile, sieslie: I think I'm also pro-US (although those that turned their back on the motherland were, by definition, not US, right?). She was saying the global psyche has changed against that, I'm saying that, if that's even true, it's probably more a US psyche change than global.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:55 AM on March 8, 2008


The result will be a monument to stupidity, when some alien archaeologist, one million years hence, will figure out that we left some carcasses on a nearby planet while suffocating under the exhaust of our chemically-powered cars.

I don't think alien archaeologists will have any trouble coming up with a theory about why we left carcasses on a nearby planet while suffocating under the exhaust of our chemically-powered cars.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 AM on March 8, 2008


send patrick swayze.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:04 AM on March 8, 2008


Yeah, if there are alien archaeologists, it's a safe bet they have some form of... space travel. I think they'd get the general idea.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:17 AM on March 8, 2008


SPACE MADNESS!!!
posted by sourwookie at 6:19 AM on March 8, 2008


send patrick swayze.

Yeah, why not send someone with a terminal disease? Pack their space capsue with meds, etc. You could get at least a few months of heroic exploration out of him or her.
posted by Faze at 6:31 AM on March 8, 2008


I would do it if I were in any way qualified. I bet a lot of people would.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:35 AM on March 8, 2008


Yeah. If I were still single and childless, I would have signed up for this.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:08 AM on March 8, 2008


Time, Mission to Mars, January 2004.

Coincidentally, I just watched Mission to Mars last night. It sucked less than I thought it would.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:22 AM on March 8, 2008


Putting aside my thoughts on the scientific utility of having some dude or dudette maxin' Martian style, I have to say, wanting to spend the rest of your life kickin' it on mars "the place where nothing scary ever happens and nobody can piss you off" doesn't seem all that odd.
If your set up is mobile you can be the first human to set foot/eyes this plain/rock/crevasse/crater, every single day!
I would end up some riddle speaking shaman, strands of pebble-fetishes dangling from my dust-rune encrusted martiansuit, ruling a religion back on earth. They would see the light from MY planet from their lowly earthbound coil, and now of my power, for I am Gukk'Leth, godhead, and I am risen.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:23 AM on March 8, 2008


While it strikes me that those who would be willing, completely and irrevocably, to distance themselves from the rest of humanity are incredibly short-sighted, I would not stop anyone from doing it.

That being said, I certainly do not think that this is the sort of endeavor that any nation should endorse, or subsidize in any way. At times, the state does ask that people lay down their lives, but this is typically in response to an immediate threat. Asking someone to do something that results in their death, for no other reason than the exhilaration of having a human walk the surface of another planet, is perverse.
posted by Tullius at 8:03 AM on March 8, 2008


Probably work okay if said astronaut had decent internet access and a WoW account.

Just when you thought lag couldn't get any worse...
posted by ruddhist at 8:27 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


While it strikes me that those who would be willing, completely and irrevocably, to distance themselves from the rest of humanity are incredibly short-sighted,

Dude! Have you met the rest of humanity?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:40 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


If only we handn't killed Saddam. Imagine the funding we'd have if Saddam was on Mars. Neocons would demand we create a whole space battle fleet, just in case.
posted by humanfont at 8:45 AM on March 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Another option McLane has offered is a one-man and one-woman crew, possibly creating an Adam and Eve-type situation.

It strikes me as somewhat bizarre that he'd offer only this. Why not a two-man/woman homosexual crew? It's not like the astronaughts are going to have the ability to pro-create: there's not gonna be resources for three.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2008


Dude! Have you met the rest of humanity?

Yeah, they suck balls. But they make it possible for me to have nice things, such as food.
posted by Tullius at 8:59 AM on March 8, 2008


Maybe we should send Tullius.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:00 AM on March 8, 2008


So, wait, I point out the benefits of cooperation with other folks, and I get sent on a spaceship to Mars?
posted by Tullius at 9:06 AM on March 8, 2008


I was chatting with a fellow at a party the other night, couple of months ago, and he told me that not only was this on the table and being talked about seriously, but that Larry Page had a couple billion dollars to fund it with and we'd probably see it happen in the next decade.

It wasn't just a random guy, either - it was the director of NASA Ames.

Some of the commenters on this thread are conflating the collective psyche and its interpretation of the meaning of this mission, with the individual psychologic orientation necessary to take such a trip and "succeed" at it. The folks who are saying that no one could survive or enjoy such a one-way trip are simply mistaken. (Damn extroverts. If you're so good at reaching out to others, why can't you understand where we introverts are coming from?)

I'd be delighted to go myself, in fact. But Mars doesn't need neurologists.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:07 AM on March 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


So, wait, I point out the benefits of cooperation with other folks, and I get sent on a spaceship to Mars?

That joke was a response to your shitty attitude about the rest of humanity. If you're feeling that way, maybe you should go, you know?


Anyway...
I've long been disappointed by the amount of money spent on defense as opposed to space. It always seemed space would be a better morally, while still providing an industry and jobs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:28 AM on March 8, 2008


I think that ikkyu2 makes a good point, and it is one that I tried to be sensitive to in my first post. I would not enthusiastically support someone who desired to make such a trip, as I cannot understand how it would be possible to be happy in the absence of others. Yet assuming that such a choice did not involve the shirking of any other responsibility on this planet (to family, for example), I think that it would be wrong to interfere. But that is a separate issue as to whether the state should promote such a thing.

Brandon Blatcher, I can see that my flippant comments about humanity bothered you, and I apologize. The part about humanity sucking balls was not to be taken seriously. I do think that your response was unwarranted, given the context in which the comment appeared, but I suppose that if I thought someone really hated humanity, I might be moved to say something similar.
posted by Tullius at 9:40 AM on March 8, 2008


So, wait, I point out the benefits of cooperation with other folks, and I get sent on a spaceship to Mars?

It's a bitch, ain't it?
posted by From Bklyn at 9:45 AM on March 8, 2008


The logic he is using is flawed when he compares a one-way trip to Mars with explorers on Earth not necessarily planning on return trips to, say, Europe.

The flaw is this: Lewis & Clark knew that as they moved West they would find arable land, water, wood, animals, etc. In short, they knew they would find consumables necessary to sustain life. And as they sent word home that life was sustainable, more people would follow them out and settle the frontier.

Sending people to Mars on a one-way trip at this point really *would* be a suicide mission as at this point we do not have the ability to generate an atmosphere and consumables that would be necessary to sustain that person for more than a few months without resupply.

The author DOES highlight the essential point, though, and that is that NASA needs to be reconfigured to the kind of organization it was in the 60s: a skunkworks type organization with more consistent resources (funding). Since 1969 the agency hasn't been able to perform manned missions correctly because of political and financial roadblocks (the shuttle would have turned out dramatically different had funding stayed consistent and the original plan been implemented). Since the 1980s NASA hasn't been able to adequately fund any of its projects and thus has limped along.

We need longer-term thinking and to move away from yearly funding battles that prove to hobble projects. If each year NASA has to consider how to keep its Congress Critters™ happy, we're going to continue to get crap results. A manned mission to Mars, even if it would take us until 2020 -> 2030 to accomplish is a very worthy goal that we should work towards. NASA should be our 21st century Lewis and Clark, now we just need to keep our eyes on the prize and work toward that.
posted by tgrundke at 9:47 AM on March 8, 2008


And the whole world would be watching, said McLane, so it wouldn’t be as if the lone astronaut would be completely by himself. “You would have constant communication," he said.

I'm thinking it would end up kind of like this... but on Mars.
posted by the other side at 9:50 AM on March 8, 2008


I call bullshit on the notion that this would even be "extraordinary sacrifice" or anything like it. Damn, ya pussies! We're only a handful of generations, in this country, from exactly the kind of people who could, and DID, do something equivalent. The pioneers brought their babies and their decrepit with them, and the rumors of milk and honey at the other end notwithstanding, they knew full well that the realities and risks of the journey were quite different. It's a job FOR the elderly, in fact, as we now age in better general health. DO let's get started, we have a crop of baby boomers coming up whose lives will be enriched and made more meaningfull by such a set of challenges.
posted by cookie-k at 10:00 AM on March 8, 2008


And all this blather about "aloneness" is likewise bullshit. If one goes, others will follow, far more swiftly than some of you dudders will imagine. And "resources"? Investment will follow, oh yes! Get over the notion that we "need" governments to do this; let one person go first to open the gate, and you will goggle at the speed with which these quandaries will cease to be. Ya pussies!
posted by cookie-k at 10:13 AM on March 8, 2008


But Mars doesn't need neurologists.

Mars needs guitars.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:16 AM on March 8, 2008


I just came up with a solution for Mars exploration, but have thrown it away for the benefit of the Australians on this site.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 AM on March 8, 2008


So what if some die? We're all born terminally ill anyway, and besides, we're gonna need a little decay to start off the terraforming.
posted by cookie-k at 10:18 AM on March 8, 2008


I prefer space exploration to the military industrial complex if I've got to choose my Welfare For Geeks option. That said, I'd love to see all the smart creative people who get worked up about mars exploration get worked up about problems here on earth.

(Back when I was an astronomer I was shunned by my fellow astronomers for offering the opinion that maybe spreading birth control to the rest of humanity was a more worthwhile expenditure than launching people to mars.)
posted by Shutter at 10:43 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


These Premises Are Alarmed: I can appreciate the argument that the global psyche has changed, but as I mentioned in my comment this is not the same as someone crossing the Atlantic to settle in the new world or climbing mount Everest, in both of these there is at the very least a chance of a full and happy life afterwards.

This is more the equivalent of someone deciding to take a submarine to the bottom of the ocean, then disabling their engines and staying there for the rest of their natural life studying the plankton.

Either way, I think she was wrong as heck!
posted by emperor.seamus at 11:02 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the article:
While some might classify this as a suicide mission, McLane feels the concept is completely logical.

“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.


That's the dumbest fucking statement I've ever heard. Unlike Mars, There's a chance that you will make it down from a solo climb up a mountain. Unless he's talking about someone who climbs to the top with the intention to live there permanently - in which case McLane is still wrong. That would make them both suicide missions.
posted by horsemuth at 11:04 AM on March 8, 2008


I also never know whether to be amused or distressed when I hear people talk about how rubbish other human beings are, because they are obviously so very, very different to the rest of us.
posted by emperor.seamus at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2008


Actually, if I'm going to die (and I guess the probability is quite damn high), my deeply held nerd desire is to do it on Mars...So, not a stupid idea at all.
posted by Skeptic at 11:36 AM on March 8, 2008


I'm not sure that it's comparable to climbing a mountain, but I don't see that it's that entirely different from sailing west from Europe to try to get to China, or any number of incredibly bold voyages during the age of sail.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:47 PM on March 8, 2008


I'm not sure that it's comparable to climbing a mountain, but I don't see that it's that entirely different from sailing west from Europe to try to get to China, or any number of incredibly bold voyages during the age of sail.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:47 PM on March 8, 2008


Another option McLane has offered is a one-man and one-woman crew, possibly creating an Adam and Eve-type situation.

It strikes me as somewhat bizarre that he'd offer only this. Why not a two-man/woman homosexual crew? It's not like the astronaughts are going to have the ability to pro-create: there's not gonna be resources for three.


Sexual preferences aren´t an issue here, but we must send more women to Mars. Because Mars Needs Women.
posted by ersatz at 12:57 PM on March 8, 2008


You're not listening. It wouldn't be a "death/eternal solitude" " sentence", because other people and resources would follow in the blink of an eye....in FAR less time than we've pissed away since the moon landings. And I retain an absolute right to consider you a cultural (or common or garden) coward if you consider NOT going.
posted by cookie-k at 1:24 PM on March 8, 2008


You're not listening. It wouldn't be a "death/eternal solitude" " sentence", because other people and resources would follow in the blink of an eye....in FAR less time than we've pissed away since the moon landings. And I retain an absolute right to consider you a cultural (or common or garden) coward if you consider NOT going.

Cookie-k, that's the second time you've expressed this sentiment, that this whole dam will burst once one person goes and there'll be tons of people flowing towards Mars. What makes you so confident that that'll happen? In particular, how is this different from the moon landings in the 60s, which didn't really have any kind of follow-up, either governmental or not?
posted by dd42 at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2008


If Cookie goes first, I'll follow.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:18 PM on March 8, 2008


I was arguing this years ago. Among the known diseases there must be one that is a certain death sentence and yet allows someone to be lucid enough to guide the spacecraft. Why just die when you can die and become one of the most famous people in history?
I had this exchange with a friend 20 years ago about AIDS. Alright, the joke is a bit cliche, but the setup was perfect and I did take advantage of the moment.

Me: Why not allow someone to die of AIDS and gain fame?
Him: Wouldn't you worry about infecting the planet?
Me: I'm talking about Mars, not Uranus.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:25 PM on March 8, 2008


In the 60's, the "conquest" of space was solely a military venture, a by-product of the cold war. There was no movement whatsoever for private exploration; thanks to the X prize, that notion is now on the table. We NEED a frontier, (and it's not just the US's ballgame anymore) and as a species of venture capitalists, we shall have one.
As for my confidence it will happen quickly? Why wouldn't it? Have you any conception of just how quickly the American west WAS "won"? ALL of it? Illinois became a state in 1818, roughly when my own ancestors arrived here; it was empty prairie and uncut woodland then. People made do with clothes woven out of bark fer Chrisakes. But they didn't wear shit for long. Lincoln's New Salem days were a decade later; twenty years after THAT, great swaths of that woodland had been milled into lumber to build "real" buildings. People were living in frame houses and sleeping in hotels, rather than log taverns. The technology of the railroads was forced to keep up with the flood of people, not the other way around...and all in a span of time less than that since Armstrong fluffed his lines! And the settling of California took only half as long as that!
I've heard it estimated that it would take approximately 100 years to establish a earth-like climate, once Mars has been "re-seeded", water and air liberated from the rocks. Hells yeah! My saggy-baggy ass and my 80% clogged arteries are THERE! Let my big butt but arrive, and my micro-fauna colonies will do the rest! Having recently faced the prospect of a relatively easy, but utterly meaningless death, I'd be honored and delighted to have the opportunity to become a distant soil, and shame unto you who do not feel the same. You are not of MY species.
posted by cookie-k at 3:50 PM on March 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Cookie-k,

But Mars is much further and much more desolate than the American West. There's no compelling economic reason to spend the massive amounts of money required to send people there. You mention the woodland. I don't know how much of Illinois was woodlands then - but what was there, could be sold and then turned into farmland, which could pretty quickly start generating a profit.

What's on Mars that could justify the massive expenses needed to get there - both the R&D costs (the X prize, as cool as it is, is nowhere near close enough) & the actual travel costs? And why would one person showing it's possible generate that kind of interest, if it's not already there? No one remembers the name of the first people to settle Illinois, after all.
posted by dd42 at 4:17 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


first person, I mean.
posted by dd42 at 4:18 PM on March 8, 2008


I say we send the religious nuts first. It's worked in the past.

Except Jonestown. Ignore that.
posted by trondant at 4:22 PM on March 8, 2008


Sending a human to mars, with all the associated expense of complicated and risk-prone life support systems, seems like a vulgar vanity project with little in the way of actual payoff. Why aren't we mining asteroids or other such worthwhile activities? Why isn't the goal of space exploration to create a profitable enterprise?
posted by mullingitover at 4:28 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


You think a whole 'nother world isn't potential profit enough?
posted by cookie-k at 4:29 PM on March 8, 2008


There would also be no need for incest: you could just send a young, fertile woman with a bunch of embryos that are genetically disparate and implant as needed. No man needed: though you'd have to try to keep the kids away from each other enough so that they wouldn't feel like they were sleeping with their sister when it came time to choose a partner (they wouldn't be biological siblings-- but research finds that people raised together tend to turn off to each other, which is the natural evolutionary mechanism for reducing odds of incest).

I guess you could just have more embryos to implant to solve this problem...

This, of course, presumes you could set up a survivable situation for said people.
posted by Maias at 4:30 PM on March 8, 2008


But the women are going to Venus, right?
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2008


People give their lives for larger causes, _every day_. Sometimes it's totally messed up, like a suicide bomber, sometimes it's unspeakably heroic, like the soldier who jumps on the grenade, or the mother who sacrifices her own life for her child's. Whatever--it happens.

The core question to me is--when you look at this specific situation--what would make this idea _wrong_, if someone were willing to do it? The money?

Yeah, I know that there are a ton of things that need to be fixed here on earth, but most of what we've got that's good, comes from someone else taking a serious risk to get it for us. I'm _really_ not trying to encourage someone to effectively commit suicide this way, but I think there's a very real possibility it'll become an option for somebody, in our lifetimes. When it does, I'll have a hard time telling them "No".
posted by LairBob at 6:59 PM on March 8, 2008


What's there worth the shipping costs to and fro? Beaver skins aren't going to cut it, I promise you.

The last man on the moon, Harrison Schmitt, makes a valiant effort here to make going to and from the moon profitable (with helium-3, of course). But that's not likely. If the Moon can't even be profitably mined, with travel times in days, not months or years, how could Mars be profitable?
posted by dd42 at 7:00 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


how could Mars be profitable

Good point. What does Mars have they we want?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:35 PM on March 8, 2008


Among the known diseases there must be one that is a certain death sentence and yet allows someone to be lucid enough to guide the spacecraft. Why just die when you can die and become one of the most famous people in history?

We all have a terminal disease; it's called life. Since we are all in the same pool of aplicants, the only question is whether you want to die here, among your friends and family, or (potentially, but likely) alone on a different planet.
posted by yhbc at 7:48 PM on March 8, 2008


People are free to go where ever they like. Just don't do it with my tax dollars. And no short cuts across my lawn, dammit.
posted by JackFlash at 8:10 PM on March 8, 2008


Heath Ledger was a pretty good actor. NOW HE'S THE FIRST MAN ON MARS!

Brilliant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:33 PM on March 8, 2008


I would go if I could bring my husband and enough supplies and equipment to give us a reasonable chance to live out our natural lives and ways to send and receive both private and broadcast communications from earth. Better yet if we're only the first and other one-way colonists will follow us as is feasible. Then it's not a mission of now return, its the start of colonization, and getting the first means we get first dibs on all the good stuff.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:20 PM on March 8, 2008


All of you people willing to volunteer kind of make me sad. Like you think you'd be being so selfless and martyrly and awesome for being willing to go, when really it would be about personal vanity, most of all. Who wouldn't like to be marked down in history as being the First Person On Mars? Like it's really a sacrifice to give your life for that.

If they made the prerequisite that you would have to do something unsavory like kill people with your bare hands or torture puppies or something they would still get millions of volunteers, I think.

Seriously, what would you be able to tell us about Mars that our handy little robots have been unable to give us information about? "Gee, it's pretty here. A robot would never be able to tell you that!". Seriously, what's the advantage? Is there any?

What would "success" be defined as? Spending obscene amounts of money so that someone can die really really really far away and send back spiffy snapshots of the experience? "Omg I'm doomed but it's fucking MARS!!!! MARS!!!!".

If we want to put life on mars, it should be maybe lichen or something. You know, something that actually stands a snowball's chance in hell of living there for more than a few seconds without infusions of billions of dollars a day in life support. Maybe bacteria would also be a good choice.

And something tells me that if we were able to one day viably get resources from mars, we'll leave it just the sort of denuded husk that we will leave earth as, when we finally can.

When I was young I was rapt as many are with the idea of Space Exploration and yearned one day to have mankind seed itself throughout the cosmos. But then I grew up and learned how people die in this country, NEEDLESSLY, for lack of healthcare, and that sort of thing. And then I realized my moral system did not allow me to ignore something like that while wishing for the stars, as it were.

Where will the N billion (trillion?) dollars do the most good? You have to choose. Or someone with the purse strings has to choose, at any rate. Even if that someone is the collective "us". What will mars really give us, with one single dying human on it? I mean, besides a media frenzy beyond what even OJ and Princess Diana and Britney have given us? Or maybe that's the gift to humanity we are looking for?
posted by marble at 11:21 PM on March 8, 2008


ugh, should not comment under ambien.

Last sentence should read, :Then it's not a mission of no return, it's the start of colonization, and getting there first means we get first dibs on all the good stuff"
posted by Jacqueline at 11:27 PM on March 8, 2008


All of you people willing to volunteer kind of make me sad. Like you think you'd be being so selfless and martyrly and awesome for being willing to go, when really it would be about personal vanity, most of all. Who wouldn't like to be marked down in history as being the First Person On Mars? Like it's really a sacrifice to give your life for that.

No matter who or what you are, you give your life for something. As personal goals go, Mars beats the hell out of just keeping yourself fed, clothed, sheltered and vaguely entertained every day.

I would go, and I fully acknowledge that personal vanity is a large part of the appeal. That's not the only reason I would go, of course. I would go for a whole bunch of reasons. The historical acclaim for myself, and for those people I know and like to be able to say they personally knew the guy who died on Mars. For the historical acclaim for humanity of the early 21st century. To leave my skeletal remains on Mars as a monument (perhaps even as a prank) for the mystification and edification of beings far removed from me in time. Because I'm interested in going to Mars, and quite happy to trade my life for the privilege of getting to do that. To make sure that it gets done by someone; traditionally, volunteering to be the someone is a good method of ensuring that. And because most days, I'm not all that fond of people. Many individuals I quite like, but the madding crowd, I would not miss for a second. Most introverts are the same.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:56 AM on March 9, 2008


All of you people willing to volunteer kind of make me sad. Like you think you'd be being so selfless and martyrly and awesome for being willing to go, when really it would be about personal vanity, most of all. Who wouldn't like to be marked down in history as being the First Person On Mars? Like it's really a sacrifice to give your life for that.

I'd go. I'd sign up in a heartbeat. Vanity has nothing to do with it. I wouldn't care if they changed my name to John Everyman, or even if they never told anyone I'd gone. I wouldn't blog about it. My flickr page would be conspicuously bare. I'd write no memoir, keep no video journal.

If they made the prerequisite that you would have to do something unsavory like kill people with your bare hands or torture puppies or something they would still get millions of volunteers, I think.

I draw the line at puppies. And someone would need to take care of my cat.

Seriously, what would you be able to tell us about Mars that our handy little robots have been unable to give us information about? "Gee, it's pretty here. A robot would never be able to tell you that!". Seriously, what's the advantage? Is there any?

Well, I'd try to tell them how a human being reacts to being on another planet. I'd send back data on my health so that Earth knew the kinds of stresses Martian life places on a human body. I'd undergo psychological tests so that Earth had some information how living off-planet affects the mind.

What would "success" be defined as? Spending obscene amounts of money so that someone can die really really really far away and send back spiffy snapshots of the experience? "Omg I'm doomed but it's fucking MARS!!!! MARS!!!!".

I'd do it because I'd get to experience Mars first-hand, not the sensors of a robot probe. Success for Earth would be me sending back a mix of objective and subjective data on how I lived and ultimately died.

If we want to put life on mars, it should be maybe lichen or something. You know, something that actually stands a snowball's chance in hell of living there for more than a few seconds without infusions of billions of dollars a day in life support. Maybe bacteria would also be a good choice.

An experiment that results in the death of the subject is not necessarily a failed experiment. Think of it as donating your body to science, only your body isn't dead yet. Can someone survive on Mars? For how long? At what cost? Say you send someone, and they last 2 years, but you get back all sorts of information. So you send someone else, and they last 5 years. The next person lasts nearly 12, and in fact they are picked up when the next person arrives, and so on. Eventually you know how to keep people alive on Mars indefinitely.

And something tells me that if we were able to one day viably get resources from mars, we'll leave it just the sort of denuded husk that we will leave earth as, when we finally can.

It feels like you're a bit down on humanity today. I'm not saying you're wrong, but you seems to be coming into this with very low expectations.

When I was young I was rapt as many are with the idea of Space Exploration and yearned one day to have mankind seed itself throughout the cosmos. But then I grew up and learned how people die in this country, NEEDLESSLY, for lack of healthcare, and that sort of thing. And then I realized my moral system did not allow me to ignore something like that while wishing for the stars, as it were.

Where will the N billion (trillion?) dollars do the most good? You have to choose. Or someone with the purse strings has to choose, at any rate. Even if that someone is the collective "us". What will mars really give us, with one single dying human on it? I mean, besides a media frenzy beyond what even OJ and Princess Diana and Britney have given us? Or maybe that's the gift to humanity we are looking for?


It's hard to answer this. I wasn't born at the time of the moon landings, so I have to take it on faith when I hear people say that in the immediate aftermath the reaction of the world was positive. When was the last time the world felt that way? People felt good about it, and when people feel good they are more likely to do good. That's the theory, anyway.
posted by Ritchie at 9:54 PM on March 9, 2008


also previously.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:38 AM on March 10, 2008


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