Two scientists, one from Washington State University and the other from Arizona State University, have come up with a new idea on how the first manned mission to Mars might work. I have two things to say about this. First: isn’t that my job? And second: thanks for doing my job for me. Their report is full of interesting ideas that could help science fiction writers not only colonize Mars but any planet in the galaxy.
The first step, according to this report, is to send robotic probes to Mars. Unlike the probes we’ve sent in the past, these robots would deliver equipment and supplies for future astronauts. That way, when the first man sets foot on the Red Planet, he’ll have food and shelter waiting for him.
The writers also argue that, rather than building an entire structure on the surface, the first Martian outpost could make use of underground lava tubes. Essentially, the first Martian colonists would be living in caves. This would reduce costs, and it is believed some of these caves have ice or liquid water in them.
The biggest proposal, the part that has sparked the most controversy, is that whoever goes to Mars will not be coming back. The authors say this would reduce cost by 80%, since the spaceship wouldn’t have to bring extra fuel for the return trip. It would also limit the astronauts’ exposure to cosmic radiation while in space and eliminate the need to recondition them to Earth’s gravity. Robotic probes would continue delivering supplies, but the colony would eventually become self-sufficient.
Somehow, I doubt NASA or any other space agency will approve this proposal. At least not for the first mission. The first man or woman on Mars will get to come home; but after that, when we start a real colonization effort, we might use some of these ideas. Sending robots ahead makes sense, and I think Isaac Asimov already wrote a story about that. It also makes sense to take advantage of natural features like Mars’s lava tubes. And a permanent colony would save a lot of money on fuel.