FOGEL: One giant leap of faith

We should not send people to Mars until we create sufficient technology to get them home

Mars: ““The Next Giant Leap for Mankind”:” The Mars One website, which promotes its mission to colonize Mars through phrases like this, is doing everything it can to get the message out, and so far it has worked.

Less than a month ago, the Mars One project, which received more than 200,00 applicants to go on the mission, narrowed down the applicant pool to 1,058 men and women. Over the course of the next two years the program will narrow down the pool until there are six groups of four individuals remaining. From there, the future inter-planet explorers will undergo around eight years of training until the launch of their seven- to eight-month journey in 2024.

But there’s a catch. The final 24 astronauts will be given only a one-way ticket to Mars. They will never return home.

This is uncharacteristic of any space missions to date. Historically speaking, whenever astronauts have been sent into space or to the moon, the intent has been for them to return home safely. However, this has not always been the case. Think of the Challenger, Columbia, and other space missions that suffered astronaut fatalities. This difference between the round trip always featured with NASA and the Mars One’s one-way ticket is likely because the Mars project is not funded by NASA or any other country but rather by a Netherlands non-profit organization.

Nevertheless, I don’t think it is in anyone’s power to make the decision to send astronauts to their imminent deaths. I understand that these potential astronauts are signing up and agreeing to take part in this program under their own free will, but the program should not have been created in the first place because of this one-way trip aspect. Additionally, sometimes free will can be misinterpreted. For example, one man from Utah has decided that he would prefer to abandon his wife and four kids for the opportunity to journey to Mars. Thus, the Mars One would not only send people to live on Mars but would also potentially tear up families in the process.

Although there appear to be thousands of perfectly willing volunteers that will offer their lives on Earth for the chance to possibly live and die on Mars, this does not mean it is the right thing to do to send them there. Some may argue otherwise, but I believe an individual human life is more valuable than the knowledge gained from this expedition, especially since we could have the proper technology to bring them home 20 or 30 years down the road.

Even when the United States was first exploring potential moon exploration, the trip did not take place until we had sufficient technology to make a round trip: to the moon and back. I’m sure there were plenty of individuals who would have offered their lives for the eternal fame that comes with exploration, but that doesn’t mean it was right to offer up their lives for the sake of research and advancement. My point is that there was never any publicity involving one-way trips to the moon, and the trip did not take place until we knew that we could manage a round trip.

I understand that the moon is different than Mars, largely because Mars, after Earth, is the most habitable planet in the solar system thanks to its thin atmosphere and signs of water. Because there are no such conditions on the moon, there was never any mobilization to colonize there, but that doesn’t change the fact that we decided that human exploration comes before colonization. Mars also lies much farther — a seven- to eight-month journey — away from Earth than the moon. Moreover, much like the moon, to our knowledge there are no signs of current life on Mars. Even with all of the potential research possibilities, the distance and lack of life presents a tough case to consider colonization a worthy trip.

Technological feasibility aside, I believe that the ultimate aim of the Mars One project is to stimulate new research on a planet with which we don’t yet have much familiarity, and this is a very noble cause. On the other hand, it is not worth sacrificing lives, because no non-profit organization or any other organization should have the ability to offer up lives for the sake of research.

Mars One supporters agree that the technological and funding feasibilities are there, as well as the potential astronaut interest; however, even with technology and funding, the non-profit organization in the Netherlands that is running this mission has not yet proven that it can complete a single space mission. Although the organization plans to send out a demonstration mission and satellite in 2018, people are signing up for a mission with an organization with no established credibility. I do not doubt the intelligence of the creators of this mission; rather, I question whether people are being blinded by the fame and glory that will come with exploring Mars. Thus, they cannot assess whether this organization can even complete a satellite mission.

We should not send 24 people to live on Mars until we have first accomplished human contact by way of round trip and proven that it is possible to land on Mars in the first place. Until we are technologically equipped to handle longer journeys through space, we should wait to launch a large-scale Mars colonization mission. Although the prospect of exploring Mars is exciting, I think we need to take small steps to reach the ultimate giant leap for mankind.

Jared Fogel is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

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