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Should missions to Mars be one-way?

resonance: 32.2% from: robg

One of the main costs associated with sending humans into space is not the cost of launching the rocket and sending them on their way. Rather, a significant cost is returning the astronauts home safely to our little blue rock. Think for instance of all of the backup systems and fuel necessary to ensure the return voyage.

There a few good arguments to eliminating this cost. The most prominent is based on using only robots in space exploration. Given the success of the Mars rovers, it's very easy to see how we can effectively and efficiently explore space using only robotic vehicles. However a nagging concern is whether this disembodiment of exploration, without an actual person standing on the surface of a distant planet, undermines the emotional tugs of discovery.

To add an additional wrinkle, this [1] op-ed suggests sending humans on one-way missions into space and specifically to Mars. Krauss proposes using older astronauts who would establish a extraterrestrial base and then live out their days building and sustaining the colony or dying during the efforts. While a bit jarring a first, this proposal makes some sense. Humans can improvise in ways that robots may be unable to. And more importantly those of us stuck on Earth get to hear and see one of our siblings trekking through truly foreign soil. The question is how much are we willing to pay for that vicarious projection of our souls?

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/opinion/01kra...

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