How to slash the cost of sending astronauts to Mars: Don’t bring them back.

September 1, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

How do we cut the cost of sending astronauts to Mars? Lawrence Krauss dares to make this suggestion:

The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the Sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive. There is, however, a way to surmount this problem while reducing the cost and technical requirements, but it demands that we ask this vexing question: Why are we so interested in bringing the Mars astronauts home again?

Krauss suggests that we could get many volunteers for a one-way mission, but that we should choose older astronauts, who have already lived most of their lives.  Many people would be aghast to read this. But consider that it’s a matter of degree, in that we do tolerate consistently high death rates for some jobs, such as combat soldiers and, of all things, pizza delivery:

On-the-job accidents and homicides claimed the lives of 5,524 Americans last year . . . Of that 5,524, only 104 were timber-cutters, but those fatalities represent a death rate nearly 30 times that of a typical workplace. Loggers died at a rate of 117.8 per 100,000 workers, the BLS said, with most of them killed by falling trees. Fishing was the second most dangerous occupation, with 71.1 deaths for every 100,000 workers, followed by pilots and navigators, 69.8, structural metal workers, 58.2, and, perhaps surprisingly, drivers-sales workers, which include pizza delivery drivers at 37.9.


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Category: American Culture, Good and Evil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Jay Fraz says:

    I think the real problem is how many 'people' we would send, I say colonize. With endangered animals and so forth we have found that to have a comfortable level of genetic diversity among mammals, you need about 200 individuals(I think). What good is sending 6 geriatrics to send back rocks you know.

    Think about it, a single asteroid easily has more metal and mineral resources than most of the planet. The real expense is getting people in and out of the atmosphere, once you got them out there self-sufficiency should be easy as Nasa has developed most of the technology. Not to mention you don't need many plants in space.

    Of course with placing seeds in space having such a large effect on their growth, I am curious what effects on humans born in space will occur.

    Maybe we aren't ready. Or perhaps we should just go for it, for science!

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    More information on a one-way mission to Mars.

    I have to wonder what proportion of Americans would consider this type of mission to be "suicide," even were it to be conducted by older astronauts who are begging for the opportunity to go to Mars, knowing that they would never return. I'm presuming that the first mission would not present the astronauts with a sustainable environment, and that they would die on Mars within a few weeks or months of landing there.

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