Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beating a Martian Horse Dead

Courtesy NASA

I’ve touched on this subject before, but since this article came out yesterday, I felt I needed to vent a little more.  It flabbergasts me that people really don’t consider the consequences before they commit to the dangers of space travel.  It is understood that I’m not thrilled with the Mars-One experiment.  The more I learn, the less there is to like.
I have mentioned that there are significant barriers to living on Mars.  The greatest danger is the radiation.  The Curiosity Rover has given us data that shows that the trip to Mars ALONE will expose astronauts to 100 times the exposure on Earth.  Without significant shielding, the exposure could exceed the lifetime limit allowed by space agencies worldwide.  This wouldn’t even take into account the exposure experienced on the surface.
What is the upshot of all this exposure?  There is significant cancer risk and possible severe central nervous system damage.  I cannot think of a more horrible way to die, than radiation poisoning in a hostile environment.
More shielding is, of course, mandatory, but that would significantly increase the cost, and limit the storage available.  Water and fuel would provide some shielding, but any consumable wouldn’t be ideal shielding for long-term travel.
The real problem happens when you arrive on the planet.  The kind of person this project seems to have attracted is not the kind of person I would send on this type of mission.  The novelty would quickly wear off, and constant survival would kick in.  Even under the best of circumstances, people exposed to prolonged survival situations suffer severe emotional distress.  This mission would degenerate into a nightmare scenario that, until now, has fed hypothetical horror tales like “Event Horizon”, “Sunshine”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and the upcoming “Europa Report” (even “The Colony” looks like it has the elements I’m discussing).
It would only take one individual, suffering a psychotic break, to wipe out the entire settlement.  I’m certain that the people in charge of Mars-One will do their level best to screen out the people most likely to suffer mental illness under these conditions, but even the most careful screening can’t determine what will happen with absolute certainty.  We simply don’t fully understand all the variables of deep-space mental health.  There is a very good reason why NASA takes only the best, and even then, sometimes mental illness goes undiagnosed until something terrible happens.
Everything we have learned up to now, points to a serious issue that we won’t be able to adequately study within the Mars-One timeline.  I know I sound like a naysayer, but I’m not convinced that leaping into this venture without considerable study (at least an orbital flyby) would doom the explorers to a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  A catastrophe of this magnitude could doom future missions, and potentially setback deep-space exploration for decades.
Sure, the idea of planetary exploration is exciting, but we can’t let that cloud our judgment.  We have to look at things carefully, and not rush in because it sounds exciting.  This is human exploration, and contrary to popular belief, a life isn’t something that can’t be replaced by simply throwing money or platitudes at them.

No comments: