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ASU, Washington State professors urge human mission to Mars

November 07, 2011

Editor's Note: Arizona State will take on Washington State University, at 8:30 p.m., Nov. 12, in Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

The time for a human mission to Mars is now, according to astrobiologists Paul Davies of Arizona State University and Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University.

The two collaborated this year to edit “A One Way Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet,” a collection of articles. They say the book provides a road map for how we can accomplish one of the major upcoming challenges for humankind.

The overall message of this volume is not just that going to Mars is a worthwhile scientific program and a great adventure worthy of Homo sapiens. "It is that we can begin the project now,” wrote the editors.

“I truly believe that the exploration and eventual colonization of Mars is a critical step toward the long-term survival of our species, and this book, laying out the plan toward this endeavor, is a significant move in the right direction,” said Schulze-Makuch, director of the Laboratory for Astrobiological Investigations and Space Mission Planning in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Washington State.

The two also authored “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars,” which appeared in October 2010 in the Journal of Cosmology and which attracted massive interest worldwide.

“The dream of humans going to Mars is a recurring theme of the scientific age,” said Davies, founding director of the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at ASU, where he teaches in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“To make this dream a reality requires an audacious plan: to send humans with a one-way ticket,” Davies said. “We are not talking about a suicide mission. Our plan is to put four astronauts on Mars to do great science, and build a base camp for others to follow. These trailblazers will be resupplied from Earth, and eventually joined by additional colonists. It will be the first step in building a permanent human presence on the Red Planet.”

According to Davies and Schulze-Makuch, the huge advantage of a one-way mission is the enormous savings in costs and the long-term commitment required for space exploration, particularly Mars exploration. They write that by cutting out the return journey, the budget can be slashed by 80 percent, bringing a Mars mission within the reach of a consortium of space agencies and private operators.

“The lure of possible microbial life on Mars, which could have stunning consequences for our science and our understanding of our place in the universe is a major motivation for such a mission,” Davies said. “But the ultimate goal is to create a self-sustaining human colony on another planet as a safeguard for humanity should a mega-disaster occur on Earth.”

Would anyone be bold enough to volunteer for such a one-way mission?

“My inbox has been overflowing with messages from people eager to go. Some of them distinguished scientists,” Davies said.

Written by Carol Hughes