Will our first colony mission to Mars end with us impaled upon the spear, or riding it further into new frontiers? Welcome to ‘Ask 5 Friends’, where I ask 5 authors their opinion on specific topics. This article addresses the Mars One(way) Mission.
We humans love to explore. It’s deeply engrained into our cultures, if not down into our DNA. Primitive man migrated from their land of origin to every continent around the world. An impressive impulse to possess when you sit back and consider it.
For eons people have packed their precious belongings, be it the furs on their backs or the family silver, on foot, by wagon or ship, and left the safety of the homes they knew, for lands unknown. Granted, some of those homes were no longer safe due to a changing landscapes, politics or religion. Some migrations were at one end of a chain, or the other. But whether voluntary or forced, few of these people repatriated once their feet hit the new shores.
The big difference between then and now? Let’s see… air, water, fertile fields and wild game to survive on when rations run out… and the possible option to go home again.
The first proposed manned Mars mission is a ‘flyby’ around 2018. Supposedly a married couple to see how people will behave in close environments for a prolonged period of time. Approximately 500 days. That will be followed by the first phases of the Mars One mission to colonize Mars. Unmanned missions are planned to launch between 2020-24. These ships will carry the supplies and equipment needed on Mars. The first batch of volunteers will blast off somewhere around 2025-26, with more colonists launching approximately every two years thereafter. On their one-way missions to colonize Mars. One-way! Yeah, I keep emphasizing that key piece of information.
Virtually every Science Fiction story written makes it clear that the ‘first’ colony missions are one-way endeavors, survive or die. It makes sense, as the planets were outside our solar system and took a lifetime or many to reach. Those fictional colonists ‘understood’ the risks. So did all our ancestors, in rational theory. They knew that the natives of the lands they invaded might kill them. That their ships might sink crossing a vast ocean, or they might die of a magnitude of causes.
They were told the risks, but we humans are driven to explore and many tend to live in a state of denial. That ‘not me’ mentality, until shit happens. The Donner Party thought they could make it over the mountains and we all know how that ended. I’m hoping we’re not standing at the base of another mountain saying, “Sure, we can reach the other side before the snow sets in.” Like Ray Bradbury said, “It’s not going to do any good to land on Mars if we’re stupid.”
So, is it wise to take on this mission before we have propulsion systems capable of making the trip in a shorter period of time? Would it be ethical of us to do this now, when we have no choice but make it a one-way mission? Will we send our brave volunteers out there with no contingency plans in place for when (not if) shit happens? Because, really, shit happens when we least need it to. What would viable contingency plans be?
Let’s hear what my 5 friends have to say about that.
From my good friend, author/astronomer David Lee Summers, who lives with his head in the stars, while his feet are firmly planted in the sands of southern Arizona, at the Kitt Peak Observatory:
My understanding is that Mars One is a non-profit corporation headed by some very smart people with the ambitious goal of colonizing Mars in the next twenty years. As you say, they are proposing a series of all-or-nothing one-way supply trips, which seem reminiscent of the colonial efforts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In those days, when a ship brought colonists to a destination, other ships would be sent to relieve those people after a period of time with food and supplies. If the colony were failing, the colonists could, in principal, go home on those ships. Of course, sometimes those relief ships would be delayed, which caused some colonies to suffer many losses and some to disappear. However, those early colonies also were placed in locations where there was fresh water, the ability to grow food in the native soil, and air to breathe. Even in the famous historical case of the Roanoake Colony, there are indications the colonists did not die out, but were integrated into the local Native American tribes.
Mars offers no breathable air and minimal water. It wouldn’t take much to go wrong for people to die. There are plans for relief ships, but it’s not clear to me that if things start to go wrong, the colonists can pack up and go home on the relief ships.
The best analogy we have for this kind of mission is the International Space Station. Crews are sent up, but don’t have an immediate way to return to Earth. Relief ships are sent periodically and crews rotate. In an emergency, additional ships can be sent. Still, it wouldn’t take much to go wrong on the International Space Station to create a situation where the astronauts aboard could not be rescued.
This all noted, there is another ethical concern with respect to Mars. In recent news, we learned about the presence of hydrated salts, which indicates there is liquid water flowing on Mars from time to time. If there is liquid water, it’s not impossible that there’s life. Returning to the history of colonization from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, we know colonization efforts have not gone well for the indigenes — but on Earth, the indigenes had at least some ability to fight back. If there proves to be life on Mars, even microbial life, do we have a right to take the planet away from that life?
My sense is, we’re still learning about Mars. We should determine whether there is life there and have the discussion about the ethics of settling if such life exists. We’re also working on new and inexpensive space flight technologies, like solar sails, which might provide ways to give an emergency lift back to Earth, or at least a cheap way to get supplies to Mars.
My ancestors were among those colonists who came to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They also moved west in wagon trains. The idea of going into space and forging a new colony is in my very genes and a very tempting proposition. If I had the opportunity, knew all the risks, had the best possible training, I would hate to have someone say I couldn’t go for my own safety.
That said, I think Mars One may be pushing to get to Mars a little too fast, without waiting to learn more about Mars and without working on inexpensive relief missions or finding ways to get people home if a Mars mission really does prove untenable.
David Lee Summers is the author of eight novels. When not writing he operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. He’s currently putting the final touches on his third steampunk novel, The Brazen Shark and his novel about astronomers trapped with ghosts at a remote observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. Learn more about David’s novels and more at www.davidleesummers.com
And I’d love to introduce you to a new friend. I met him this year at San Diego Comic-Con. As a winner of Writers of the Future, you’ll be finding his work popping up everywhere. So welcome to my club of friends, author Steve Pantazis:
Ahoy Mars! Why Visiting the Red Planet is worth the Risk — With the release of the major motion picture, The Martian this week, it’s only fitting we pair the movie premier with one of the biggest announcements ever to come from NASA: evidence of water on Mars! NASA confirmed the existence of water on the Red Planet, even though the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has yet to show visual proof of water flow. That’s because linae—patches of salt—are showing signs of watery movement, as if the planet were crying salty tears, but not the water itself. What does that mean for us? Well, a whole heck of a lot.
If you’ve read The Martian, you know Mark Watney, the protagonist in the story, is between a red rock and a hard place. He’s stranded on Mars with a limited amount of water, and is forced to create more water through the dangerous operation of burning hydrazine, a type of rocket fuel. As he so aptly puts it, he has to “science the sh*t” out of his predicament if he wants to survive. Now picture Mark having access to an underground water supply. Suddenly, life is a tad easier. Of course, you’d have to “get to” the water; it’s not in some river nearby. Still, the prospect of water on Mars makes going there a whole lot more desirable for a manned mission. Which brings us to the big question: should we risk the lives of our astronauts and spend billions to go there?
Is that a trick question? Of course, we should! It’s the most sought-after dream of anyone who’s thought of getting on a spaceship. The scientific justification would depend on a lot more than “yeah, we should go.” For starters, our crew needs to survive the trip—each other, too. They would have to endure a number of risk factors: isolation, radiation, lack of natural light, and biological stresses, such as ocular problems and bone loss due to microgravity, and increased potential for kidney stones. That’s on top of suffering through a long trip (have three years to spare?), trying to land and take off without crippling your ship, and having enough supplies to make it through a Mark Watney debacle. Sure, there are plenty of reasons not to go to Mars. How about a reason to go?
Beside the fact it’s in our nature to explore and discover new things, how about the idea of colonization? Could we survive an inhospitable world where any mistake can cost us our lives? Now that there is proof of water, the answer is no longer a resounding no. Water is the key to life on our planet, and it will be the key on others we will explore, including Mars. It might be a few decades before we get a chance at such an undertaking, but if we don’t try, then we will always wonder, what if? While we wait for that launch date to arrive, we will travel there in our imaginations. Until then, grab some popcorn, relax, and enjoy the experience firsthand through the eyes of a true Martian.
Steve Pantazis is an award-winning author whose short story, “Switch” won the internationally-acclaimed Writers of the Future contest, published in the national-bestselling Writers of the Future, Volume 31 anthology. He has been published in Writer’s Digest magazine and has a short story coming out in Galaxy’s Edge magazine. You can find Steve on Twitter at @pantazis or on his website, www.StevePantazis.com. He writes from sunny, warm San Diego.
And from a Friend you’ve met before, an amazing author of Science Fiction (and other realms), Alan Black gives us his whimsical, yet serious take on Mars One.
Thar Be Dragons There — Mars is not Earth’s twin planet. At best, it might be considered a second cousin twice removed. There are similarities that attract the curious. A Mars day is twenty-four hours and some minutes, although a Martian year is about twice as long as Earth’s. The red planet has about the same land mass area as our home. However, there are differences that make colonization difficult, if not impossible.
Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars. There is ice in the polar caps and trapped in the soil. However, the low atmospheric pressure, which is about one hundred times thinner than Earth’s, doesn’t allow water to pool beyond a few seasonal oddities in specific locations.
Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of -225F to highs of 95F. Admittedly, temperatures of less than two hundred degrees below zero doesn’t sound habitable, but ninety-five degrees is a balmy day in Phoenix, Arizona. Yet, Mars is a poor thermal conductor. Unlike Earth, a Martian warm day on the equator won’t affect the temperature in its northern climes. This is due to the loss of the magnetosphere about four billion years ago. The sun blasts the surface of Mars with intense ultraviolet light — a danger to human life — but it does nothing to retain the ions necessary to capture, retain, and transfer heat.
Much has been made of the high Martian winds. However, they aren’t as deadly as depicted. The lower atmospheric pressure and the lower Mars gravity, at sixty-two percent of Earths, affect the planet wide storms. The maximum recorded wind speed on Mars is sixty mph. That is a calm day in Chicago and the residents of Key West won’t even close their hurricane shutters.
Almost every culture has envisioned Mars as a place full of wonders. It’s been imagined as a place of vast cities and lost cities, massive civilizations and lost civilizations, and (if scifi of the late fifties could be believed) a place populated by beautiful women in skimpy outfits vying for the attention of lost astronauts. However, in a few far eastern cultures, the red planet has long been believed to be the home of dragons. With Mars’ lesser gravity, huge flying creatures could easily evolve from reptiles as the planet’s oceans dried and turned to dust. Over the eons, the dragon population on Mars would have dwindled to a hardy few, living within the protection of the steep canal walls, finding water in the deep underground caverns, feeding on such creatures as remain.
It’s into this environment that we send a few humans with little to no protection against stronger creatures than ever walked on Earth. In Mars’s lighter gravity, dragons will be agile, while humans will have to learn to walk all over again, once their space-going atrophied muscles can hold them upright. The native dragon — trained to fly in the dust filled Martian winds — will be faster than any dragon humans ever faced on Earth.
Worst of all, humans will lack protein so necessary for our diet, except the scant protein found in certain plants. Hauling cattle to Mars won’t work, yet. Dragons are protein, however their diets have consisted only of other Martian creatures. They won’t even taste good, assuming humans can even drop one out of the sky.
Alan Black is a multi-genre author who’s never met a good story he didn’t want to tell. Check out any of his many stories. Chasing Harpo, Metal Boxes, Metal Boxes – Trapped Outside, Empty Space, Titanium Texicans, Chewing Rocks, Steel Walls and Dirt Drops, The Friendship Stones, The Granite Heart, The Heaviest Rock and The Inconvenient Pebble, A Cold Winter & How to Start, Write, and Finish Your First Novel. You can find out more about Alan or check his appearances at: www.alanblackauthor.com
After 65+ books, my friend, L.E. Modesitt knows Fantasy from Science Fiction, and fiction from reality. He brings his insights to his readers, and to you. So this is what he has to say about the Mars One Mission:
The big difference, as the book — and movie — The Martian points out, is that in all those other treks into the unknown, the explorers didn’t have to worry about what to breathe along the way. Sometimes they had to worry about lack of water or food, but never about what to breathe. They also knew up from down, which, unless Mars One or NASA decides to change their plans, won’t be feasible for any first missions to Mars, because there won’t be any gravity between Earth and Mars.
One contingency plan that is already being considered by both NASA and Mars One is to deliver hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment to Mars, Mars orbit, or possibly to Phobos, well before our intrepid colonists ever leave Earth orbit. Until everything is in place, the colonists won’t be launched.
If everything is waiting for them, what could go wrong? Just about everything. To begin with, even with the fastest possible travel time, using on-orbit staging, one way to Mars would take roughly 125 days. Most Mars missions are estimated at 200 to 225 days one way. Once the habitat/spacecraft leaves the environs of the Earth-Moon system, the colonists are essentially on their own. If their oxygen supplies and atmospheric regeneration systems fail, they’re toast. Ditto for water recycling, although back-up systems for this are possible, provided there are no massive leaks in the water storage systems.
What it all boils down to is that almost any contingency will have to be handled by those on the mission. Is this ethical? In some ways that’s no different from a lot of things we take as “normal.” If something goes wrong in a combat aircraft at high speed, it’s all up to the pilot… and we lose pilots every year. No one seems terribly upset for long, except a few colleagues and the pilot’s loved ones. The difference in contingencies on a Mars mission is that emergencies can be in comparative slow motion, and there may be nothing anyone else can do, and a fix isn’t likely to be something that can be cobbled together, as was done with the Apollo 13 mission, to hold things together for just a few days.
As for ethical… I’d claim it’s not ethical to send off would-be colonists to Mars unless they fully understand that they could die a quick, or a long slow and painful death, if things go wrong, and that going on the mission is totally their choice. Some human beings have always chosen to attempt incredibly dangerous things, and so long as it’s an informed choice, with as many contingencies planned for as possible… then it’s ethical. Whether it’s wise… that’s another matter.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is the bestselling author of over sixty-five novels encompassing three science fiction series and four fantasy series, as well as twenty other science fiction novels. His most recent release is Madness in Solidar (2015), and Solar Express will be released on November 3rd. Check out his website at: www.lemodesittjr.com
And Gini Koch, the author of over 40 novels, novellas, and short stories, echoes L.E. Modisett (without seeing his answer, too — they just apparently think alike):
Humans need the basics – oxygen, water, and food – in order to survive. Pioneer colonists on Mars will need all of that, and the means to create and fix said basics, and themselves, as the situation calls for.
The most expedient and intelligent way to set up failsafes is to have them done first, before the colonists are sent. We’ve successfully landed a rover on Mars. The next steps are to successfully land an unmanned craft. If we can land one, we can land many.
Send the unmanned crafts filled with supplies, and make them redundant. Don’t send just one craft with hydroponic equipment – send several, at different times. Same with building materials, medicines and emergency supplies, seeds, other scientific equipment, whatever has been determined to be needed to support human life on Mars.
The humans should travel with these too, as the last failsafes. Don’t assume that it’s all working, or will still be working, when you get there. Plan ahead, and over pack the spaceship with all it can possibly hold, including livestock. Firefly had horses and cattle and such in it not because Whedon was being twee, but because he knows that equipment can break down, and humans can ride horses and eat cows and pigs and chickens.
Having many extras already there means there will be backups, including backup spaceships, in case leaving Mars becomes expedient or necessary to survival. And if it’s not all needed right away? Things break down, need new parts, and so forth. It’ll all get used eventually.
Is this costly? Yes. But we’re colonizing a new world, and we honestly don’t want to lose the astronauts/colonists – we want them to create a world we can all, ultimately, go to, survive, and thrive upon.
Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, as well as lots of others. She’s made the most of multiple personality disorder by writing under a variety of pen names, including G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch. Buy her books — her meds don’t come free, you know. Gini can be reached through her website: www.ginikoch.com
These are all just a few of the concerns people have as we prepare to stretch ourselves out into the next frontier, space. My comments at the beginning might sound a bit negative, but I’m a huge supporter of the space program. If I was younger, had the background required and fewer ties to family, I’d have probably filled out the application. I’m all for the adventure and long been waiting for the alien ship to beam me up.
But rational thought prevails. We all agree this isn’t the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria. Mars lacks the water and air necessary for survival. Even the best-laid plans, the best scientific contraptions to combat this simple fact, can fail. The next ship carrying desperately needed supplies gets lost. An inescapable environment can drive people crazy. Crazy people do stupid things. Maybe it won’t even be human or machines, but the tiniest undiscovered microbe that no one identified (because we didn’t do the footwork beforehand?), that eats into the brains of our colonists and turns them into real zombies. Just saying…
Seriously, any number of things can happen and cascade into disaster. Unlike settling a new continent, there’s not going to be a cornucopia of edibles, plant or animal. There won’t be indigenous tribes teaching humans how to survive the wilds, or adopting our people into their families. No ship is going to arrive to bring them home. Because right now, that’s not the mission plan.
We should go to Mars. We need to go to Mars. But the current timetable and technology doesn’t support the plan to colonize the planet. 2026 isn’t decades away. It’s barely 10 years. We need faster and better ships. Round-trip ships, not just a fleet of disposables as currently planned. Granted our colonists will cannibalize those ships over time. (Hopefully that’s the only thing they cannibalize.) We need to be sure that we don’t violate the simple ethics that life of some sort exists on that planet and we might bring about its extinction, or vice-versa. (Again… zombies.)
We need to be able to support this colony, within our own solar system, before launching any truly one-way missions into the vast unknown.
So that’s what me and my five friends got to say about that!