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​DEZOORT: The Mars One debate

The discourse surrounding Mars One is characteristic of current moment in space exploration history

Over 50 years ago, mankind left Earth. Soon after, we walked freely in the black of outer space and even set foot on the Moon. However, humanity itself stopped there. Today, of course, we’ve sent innumerable spacecrafts on various missions around and even outside the Solar System, yet no human has traveled significantly past the Moon. After all, Mars — the next-closest celestial body to Earth — is around 225,300,000 kilometers away, or around 1,000 times farther than the Moon. To say the least, reaching its red surface would require decades of planning, development and testing. Furthermore, it is not fully understood how human beings might subsist within Mars’ surface conditions.

Increasingly, organizations such as Mars One are confident they have what it takes to eventually make such a voyage. Mars One is radically different from its peers — through largely crowd-sourced funding, it plans to send two teams of astronauts on one-way trips to colonize Mars. . . all in around 12 years. The organization points to the merits of exploration and colonization, despite criticisms of infeasibility and unethicality. All the same, it pushes forward through projected technical infeasibility, drawing closer to what might amount to a suicide mission. Through radical aims and enormous risk taking, Mars One’s mission represents the pinnacle of both necessary ambition and incalculable (so far) folly, a strange paradox in the modern scientific era.

Just as the first ships headed west from Europe, there must be a first voyage to Mars. After all, exploration is innate in mankind, and we will eventually exhaust the Earth’s limited resources. Each of the journeys involves a long, treacherous road through a hostile environment. However, the circumstances are vastly different. Whereas the European-American colonists were met with essentially the same conditions they had left behind, Mars colonists would find themselves in an airless, radiation-heavy environment. At this point, it is impossible to ensure any long-term well being for the Mars colonists. Put simply, death is a real possibility for any who might venture to Mars. For these reasons, many countries have either delayed or scrapped plans to travel to Mars.

As we approach overpopulation and over-exhaustion of resources, though, an initial voyage to Mars becomes more urgent. The necessity of space travel isn’t new to mankind: quite literally, the Cold War drove both the United States and the Soviet Union straight out of the atmosphere. Despite its criticisms, Mars One represents an explorative ambition to rival those of the Cold War. While Cold War-era scientific fervor has stagnated in the United States over the last few decades, space exploration organizations breathe new life into the possibilities of space travel. This simple fact is unavoidable: Mars One has us all talking about space travel. It’s a lively discussion, and one that will certainly become more serious with each year of advanced research and development.

Is Mars One, then, merely a talking piece? At its best, yes. For the same reason most countries and organizations have long-term, removed plans to travel to Mars, Mars One’s short mission timeline stands alone. Why, then, must the organization colonize Mars with such haste? If it simply extended its timeline, it would certainly garner more respect from the scientific community. With additional time, it might also accrue more funding. However, doing so would lose precious momentum that the organization has built up over the last few years. Instead, it remains ambitious, silently cutting corners where necessary. Unfortunately, such actions don’t bode well for the future of the project.

All told, Mars One represents the aspirations that the United States should hold. Mankind’s footprint on the Earth grows with each day, and the Earth’s resources won’t last forever. Of course, these truths lend exactly towards the notion that humans must one day leave Earth behind. When that day comes, space exploration will be of the highest priority. In fact, it’s likely that the next superpower nation will not control land, but rather space. As a world-leading nation with enormous resources and manpower, the US invests scarcely little in NASA. In the interest of mankind’s future, it would be best suited to change that fact, following Mars One’s ambitious example. In the mean time, Mars One’s mission will prove to be either an enormous success or a predictable failure. Either way, it will break the ice for further Mars voyages.

Gage DeZoort is a Viewpoint writer.

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