A One-way or a Round-trip to Mars?


Interest in Mars has been increasing since NASA announced its program to invade it by sending human spaceflights to the Red Planet in the 1930s and 1940s. Since the 1960s, scientists have become more curious about Mars, and their research papers about it are steadily growing. The development of meteorological technology has also increased scientists' interest; today, more spacecrafts are sent to Mars than to any other planet.

The billionaire Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX—a private space company sponsoring space research—declared a special program to land the first humans on Mars in 2025–2026. "I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact," is Musk's famous quote on his dream journey to Mars to die there of natural causes.

The debate now is: Will the trips be round-trip or one-way, permanent colonization of Mars? Let me, dear reader, explain to you the difficulty and possibility of the two options.

The scenario of a one-way trip entails equipping a spacecraft with at least four well-trained astronauts, who should be selected based on their physical, mental, and psychological health, IQ scores, endurance, decency, wisdom, and calmness while dealing with emergencies. Assuming they land safely on the Red Planet, they will need to be lodged in special capsules equipped with all the necessary tools, food, and water supplies, as well as recycled and filtered air producing oxygen; they would be followed by another four astronauts every two years.

The selection scenario of the four would-be Martians is far more complex than this narrative. For example, which specializations will be sent first? How many males and females will be sent at a time? What will they do in the case of a birth or death on Mars? Will they initiate building cemeteries or birthing facilities? Accordingly, they will need medical equipment and medical care staff from among themselves. How about exploitation of Martian resources? How about farming methods and the supply of food, vegetables, and fruits? Are we sending them to Mars to be tortured, and change their natural lifestyle?

Will these first Martians depend on Earthian resources, and await aid and assistance every two years? Or, will they rebuild their lives and its needs there? It is indeed hard to answer the last two questions. The cost of transporting four astronauts every two years, with the needed supplies, equipment, and machinery is particularly high. It is especially hard to ask those Martians to depend on themselves and adapt to the new climate and life conditions because Mars is unpaved and unprepared for human habitation. Should that happen, and we attempt to adapt and build settlements there for a group of people that reproduces and grows, building their own civilization from scratch, that will require the entire Earth's budget.

Let us check the second scenario; that of a round-trip. The expected timeframe of getting to Mars and back again in human spaceflights is two-and-a-half years minimum in the best conditions; the scenario still requires some of the details of a one-way trip. Assuming a successful mission and a safe landing on Mars, an integrated system must be set on its surface to launch and escape its gravity. There should also be a craft orbiting Mars waiting to pick the astronauts up to return them safely to Earth.

Astronomically, based on celestial mechanics, the timing of getting there and back should be when Mars is at its closest to Earth. This would save time, shorten the duration of the mission, and reduce its impact on the astronauts and their health. The most prominent challenge of traveling to Mars is studying its psychological and biological effects on astronauts, especially those involving long-term solitude and the absence of gravity.

Summing up this brief argument of a one-way vs a round-trip to Mars, the subject still needs further study and research, though the second option is more likely. This has already occurred more than once to the International Space Station, which is constantly orbiting the Earth at altitudes of 400–600 km. There is no doubt that with Mars, the challenge will be much greater and more complex.

This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Summer/Autumn 2021 issue.

Cover image by pikisuperstar on Freepik.

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