As some of you no doubt know, I’m not keen on manned space exploration. A part of that is just selfish: it makes me anxious to see humans put themselves in such peril. But the bigger issue is that that unmanned space exploration works really well. And when we are talking about anything further away than the moon, manned missions don’t work very well. It would take about nine months to get to Mars, but you couldn’t just come right back. You’d have to hang around for three months until the Earth and Mars are properly aligned. That’s not really practical, and so that is why some “brilliant” minds came up with Mars One: the idea of sending people to Mars to die.
On Monday, Ed Regis wrote a great article with a title that completely sums up my position, Let’s Not Move to Mars. He puts a real damper on the idea of this trip before the people even get there. I hadn’t even considered this part of the problem. Mars One wants to send four people in a tiny spacecraft — with far less space than the international space station — for nine months (although Mars One seems to think it can do it in seven months). Regis summed up the situation well:
He went on to talk about various problems with life on Mars — specifically, getting water and air. And of course, it could be done — in theory. Exactly how well it could be done will only become apparent after the four adventurers get there. What I wonder is what kind of life that would be. For humans on Earth, the idea of living on Mars sounds sexy and romantic. But the reality would be tedious and back breaking. And then there is the issue of illness and the fact that you would likely spend the rest of your life with those three other people. That’s the best case scenario.
What I suspect would happen is one of two things. First: things would go very wrong, very fast, and the entire world would watch as these four people died. The other is that they would struggle along and we would have to be sending them many more supplies much faster than planned. There would be no real colonization: we would just be taking pity of these people and providing for them until they died.
Regardless, Regis is right: it is too soon to be doing this. And it doesn’t make sense. There is lots that we could do on the Moon first. You really have to wonder, “Why not a Moon colony first?” And I think the answer is clear and very telling: we’ve already been to the Moon. So this really isn’t about expanding out into space. It is about some kind of conquest: we put a human on Mars! Hooray! Now we can all get bored and move onto putting someone on Pluto.