Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Manned mission to Mars?

A 2009 episode of the highly entertaining latest incarnation of "Dr. Who" that aired Monday on BBC America centered around the first humans to colonize Mars.

In the "Who" universe, anyway, this happened in the year 2059. According to a story here, NASA hopes to get astronauts to the Red Planet by 2030.

One catch, though. They won't be coming back.

As early as 2009, Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State and author of "The Physics of 'Star Trek,'" was advocating for a one-way mission to Mars. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Krauss points to the Pilgrims as an example. They didn't count on coming home, either.

Krauss writes that the biggest impediment to sending humans to Mars involves shielding them from solar radiation, before one even bothers with funding and logistics. He argues convincingly that a one-way trip is not only feasible, it's preferable.

"To boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again," he writes.

Common sense tells you we're years away from even entertaining the possibility. NASA doesn't even go to the moon anymore (President Obama canceled the George W. Bush-backed Constellation Project, which called for a moon landing by 2020). The space shuttle is being scrapped in favor of a new heavy load vehicle, which is scheduled to debut four years from now.

When Neil and Buzz landed on the moon in 1969, Vice President Spiro Agnew boldly predicted that manned missions to Mars were right around the corner, guaranteed to happen before the year 2000. We know now that didn't happen. Challenger, Columbia and budget cuts certainly didn't help.

If you'd wandered into my 2nd grade classroom a quarter-century ago, I'd have told you humans would haunt Mars before I turned 40. Call me cynical, but I'm starting to think that seeing it on "Dr. Who" will be as close as I'll ever get.

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