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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mars-One: Would You Sign-On For A One-Way Trip to Mars?

mars1 I recently read a story regarding a young Long Island woman who is a finalist in a process to be selected to take a one-way trip to Mars. Laurel Kaye, a 21-year-old senior at Duke University, will be 33 when she departs on the mission if she is selected. While a one-way trip to Mars implies that Laurel will die on Mars, she has a different take on it:
"Dying is going to happen whether you are here or on Mars. I don’t see myself as dying on Mars; I see myself as living on Mars. Besides, taking one-way trips for a better future is the history of humanity."
mars3Are you impressed by such words from one so young? Or is it an enthusiasm that is not tempered by the realities of such a mission? Laurel alludes to the settlers who came to the New World with no intentions of ever returning to Europe, but the Americas were teaming with all the resources to support life. Does she not realize that she will be heading to a cold, distant planet where there is no oxygen or water supplies?

 Laurel hopes to be part of what is known as the Mars One project, an ambitious plan funded privately that will send a team to live on Mars and prepare to pave the way for others to do the same. The application process started in 2013, and at this point finalists will be selected and then training will begin this year. The full-time training will continue until 2026 when Crew One will depart for Mars. Crew Two is scheduled to leave in 2028.

If you are anything like I am, visions of Flash Gordon films are dancing in your heads. I am thinking of the exciting dreams many of us had as kids when fantasizing about space travel – the adventure, the exploration, and the discovery. However, while these may be some of the reasons for people applying for the project, the reality is not the stuff of kids' imaginations. Those selected will be entering nine years of intensive full-time preparation that will get them adjusted to living in a remote place, train to operate and repair the equipment that will keep them alive, and learn how to grow their own food within the habitat.

mars4In between the start of training and the departure date, many other things have to happen for this project to be successful. A satellite will be launched to Mars to provide communication to Earth, and then a subsequent mission will send a rover to scout the best location for settlement (including the hope of finding water in the soil). Other missions will bring cargo, living quarters, and life support systems in 2025. The rovers will assemble the units and make certain the interiors are ready to support life.

All of this will be waiting for Crew One when its members arrive. The interiors will have to be additionally completed by the arriving crew, but there will be “wet areas” including kitchens and bathrooms. The satellites will provide “24/7 communication with Earth,” which will allow the crew constant access to information and entertainment. With all these amenities in place, it sounds like Mars-One will have all the comforts of home – except for the fact that it will be 50 million or so (distance between Earth and Mars fluctuates) miles away.

In one sense I understand Laurel’s enthusiasm and attitude – someone always has to be the first to do something; however, no matter how she spins it, the woman is never coming home. Of course, after nine years of intensive training, she and the others will have already been distanced from “home." Once they reach their objective, it will probably help them to start thinking of the Red Planet as theirs if they’re going to succeed and survive.

Other implications apply here. They are preparing the way for more settlers. No doubt as it happened in the past here on Earth, these Mars colonists will start families and their children will grow up and have children – all of whom have never been to Earth. The concept of “home” will change considerably then, just as American colonists over the years felt little or no connection to England and believed that they were Americans. Will future generations of Mars-raised humans start thinking of themselves as Martians?

Right now there are many questions about Mars-One – most salient is if it will ever secure all the necessary funding to get the project to the realization of its goals. As of now Laurel Kaye and many others are hoping for the chance to get a one-way ticket to Mars. As incongruous as it sounds, these people are willingly ready to step on a ship and know that they will never come back.

mars2In some ways this amazing attitude is indicative of the human spirit to explore and learn about the unknown. Whether it has been new land masses, the ocean deep, or outer space, this corroborates the human need to get in touch with the untouchable. We old Star Trek fans were enthralled by concept of watching our favorite space travelers boldly going “where no man has gone before” every week, but now we have people wanting to take that challenge one step further – boldly going and never returning. I wonder what old Captain Kirk would think about that!


  Photo credits: nydaily news, blastr.com, mars-one.com,

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