Comment »Posted on Friday 24 October 2008 at 7:02 pm by Jacob Aron
In Space & Astronomy

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to have ever walked on the Moon, has suggested that the first astronauts sent to Mars shouldn’t plan on coming back.

In an interview with AFP, he compared a Martian expedition to European explorers heading for America knowing that they would not be returning. His argument is that since Mars is a much more hospitable place than the Moon, a one-way trip makes sense – especially considering the time taken to get there.

At between 55 and 400 million kilometres (depending on the arrangement of the planets around the Sun), Mars is much further than the 0.38 million km to the moon. Aldrin made the trip with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins in just 8 days in 1969, but a Martian mission would be in transit for around a year and a half.

“That’s why you [should] send people there permanently,” said Aldrin. “If we are not willing to do that, then I don’t think we should just go once and have the expense of doing that and then stop.”

He asked: “If we are going to put a few people down there and ensure their appropriate safety, would you then go through all that trouble and then bring them back immediately, after a year, a year and a half?”

As I mentioned earlier this week, NASA already have plans for a return to the Moon. They hope to apply the knowledge gained from this experience into a manned mission to Mars, to take place around 2030 or 2040.

Life support systems and other equipment would be sent in advance by unmanned rockets, followed by half a dozen people. Aldrin suggested others could join them in later missions to make a colony of 30.

“They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don’t look forward to go back home again after a couple a years,” he said.

“At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, who knows what advances have taken place. They can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back.”

I tend to follow the British government’s official view: manned space exploration is an unnecessary expense and risk, and we should focus our efforts on improving the probes we send out. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel something stir when I think how much of an achievement a colony on Mars would be.

Perhaps Aldrin is right, but would anyone volunteer to leave the planet and never return? I think required reading for any potential Martian is the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, an epic tale of the colonisation of the Red Planet. Even if you’re planning on keeping your feet firmly on the Earth, I highly recommend it.

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