The idea of a human mission to the Martian planet has been capturing the imagination of the scientific community and popular culture for decades, manifesting itself in cinema, literature, and art. Conceptualizations of how this mission would be planned, funded, and executed have waxed and waned since the space race of the mid-20th century. What has never been disputed is how an expedition to Mars is a momentous undertaking, with high risks and unknown rewards. When a mission takes place, it will most likely result into setting a human base on the Red Planet, with a scientific base which may perform resource exploitation, contribute to further colonization, and even terraforming.
While different space agencies have approached the idea of a manned mission to Mars as taking place in the vein of the Apollo explorations of the moon, the feasibility of such missions has diminished due to financial considerations and the lack of a public appetite in the current political climate (Schulze-Makuch & Davies, 2010). In recent years, some have advocated a “one-way” mission which would establish a permanent or semi-permanent base in order to reduce costs and maximize the scientific benefits of a trip (2010). Currently, the most ambitious proposal is the Mars One project, a non-profit Dutch venture, planning a one-way mission in 2023, which would rely in part on a reality television documentation of the expedition to raise funding through sponsorship and advertising (Wall, 2013). According to Mars One’s general director, this would allow a mission to last for decades, with new expeditions being sent every few years and would eventually lead to a self-sustaining settlement (2013).
There are many reasons why colonizing Mars is likely to follow the touchdown of a human spacecraft on the Martian surface. Aside from the fact an Apollo-style adventure would be enormously expensive, there is little reason for humans to land on the surface for a short period, given what rovers have discovered and accomplished over the last several years. The scientific benefits of a long-term presence, on the other hand, are virtually unlimited, and the risks associated with an immediate return would be eliminated, raising the possibility of success (Schulze-Makuch & Davies, 2010). A base could gradually expand and allow for ventures like the mining of Martian resources and terraforming projects, which could pave the way for solutions to current terrestrial problems, like climate change and overpopulation.
While much of this sounds impractical due to planetary conditions on Mars, recent rover discoveries seem to give positive results in terms of the possibility of human habitation. The extraction of usable, drinkable water from the surface is apparently feasible and minerals contained in this water can apparently sustain life (Gaudin, 2008), potentially allowing for the growth of terrestrial plants. This would make it much easier for robots to set up the foundation for a base before human arrival, as the extraction of water and gases from the soil is essential in such a process (2008). In turn, it would reduce the cost of the manned mission significantly.
The benefits of creating a Martian colony following the landing of a human spacecraft far outweigh the risks. The potential of scientific research is incalculable and a return mission to Earth would be perilous in itself. It is easy to envision a long-term mission which would gradually expand the human presence on Mars, and the rewards of the mission could help rekindle support and interest in space exploration. It would also, eventually, set humanity on a path to further explore the solar system, resulting in the propagation and flourishing of our race.
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