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Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars

It's usually cheaper to fly one way, even to Mars.

Two scientists are suggesting that colonization of the red planet could happen faster and more economically if astronauts behaved like the first settlers to come to North America — not expecting to go home.

"The main point is to get Mars exploration moving," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a Washington State University professor who co-wrote an article that seriously proposes what sounds like a preposterous idea.

At least one moon-walking astronaut was not impressed. "This is premature," Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14 wrote in an e-mail. "We aren't ready for this yet."

Also cool to the idea was NASA. "We want our people back," spokesman Michael Braukus said.

The article titled "To Boldly Go" appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Cosmology, which featured more than 50 articles and essays on Mars exploration.

Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State, argue that humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth. They believe the one-way trips could start in two decades. "You would send a little bit older folks, around 60 or something like that," Schulze-Makuch said, bringing to mind the aging heroes who saved the day in the movie Space Cowboys.

That's because the mission would undoubtedly reduce a person's lifespan, from a lack of medical care and exposure to radiation. Radiation could also damage reproductive organs, so sending people of childbearing age is not a good idea, Schulze-Makuch said.

Mars is a six-month flight, and it has surface gravity, a thin atmosphere, frozen water, carbon dioxide and essential minerals. The scientists propose the missions begin with two two-person teams, in separate ships that would serve as living quarters on the planet. More colonists and regular supply ships would follow. By not taking the extra fuel and provisions necessary for a return, the mission could cut costs by 80 percent.

"The astronauts would go to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony," they wrote.

Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 9:49pm]
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