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One Way Ticket to Mars
Posted In: NASA Articles  10/23/10
By: Chris Capps

Scientists at NASA have long been vexed by the daunting task of taking a manned mission all the way to Mars in order to collect samples and eventually return.  But this task, according to many scientists, would be nothing when compared to the incredible cost it would take to bring Mars explorers back home.  Two scientists believe they have uncovered a solution that is being seriously considered for the future mission to Mars.  Their solution?  Don't plan a return trip.

It may sound cold hearted to some or even ridiculous to many to propose sending several visitors to Mars and making them permanent residents, unable to ever return to Earth once they have reached the red planet.  Such a group would have to withstand the harsh terrains for the rest of their lives and be unable to even walk outside on the surface without wearing protective suits.  But the change such a plan would make to the cost of a return trip would be incredible.  A one way ticket to Mars would cost far less than a round trip ticket.  The secret lies in the amount of fuel required.  To get to Mars you need the initial fuel to escape Earth's terminal velocity.  But then you also need the fuel required to get to the planet.  Additionally you would need the fuel required to get off of Mars' surface and back into space.  And even then you would need additional fuel to get the rocket back to Earth.  But the trick is, for every pound of fuel you need even more fuel to be able to get off Earth.  And each pound of fuel extra requires even more fuel to get into space.  The more fuel you have, the more fuel you need.  As a result, the manned mission to Mars would need more fuel than scientists may be able to load on even a large rocket.  This would become far simpler if the amount of fuel was only limited to that required to get to Mars itself.

The plan is being proposed by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, both scientists who have taken careful consideration of exactly how a Mars mission would work and publishing their findings in the periodical Journal of Cosmology.  They have analyzed the mission proposed and discovered that the entire cost could be only a fraction of what it would otherwise be if the astronauts were to simply make themselves comfortable on the Red Planet.  And they would additionally be able to carry out research, grow food, and build shelters to sustain them on the Martian Surface.

If building a base on Mars sounds impossible, it could actually be quite easy.  Inflatable shelters made of lightweight but strong materials exist today that could easily create a strong and effective base camp, and could be combined with more traditional shelters including the landing module itself.  Oxygen could be created using hydroponics systems created in greenhouses and relying on water harvested from the Martian surface.  A few simple machines could refill the oxygen tanks of the Martian surface exploration suits, and communication could happen daily via satellite.  Those involved in the program could in time use the natural resources on the surface along with robotic assistance to build more sustainable subterranean shelters and eventually make way for future settlers.


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