But a retired NASA engineer named James C. McLane III says a Mars mission is doable, and would unify the world as never before.
Just a couple of details: McLane would send only one astronaut. And it would be a one-way flight.
“There would be tremendous risk, yes,” McLane is quoted by Nancy Atkinson on the Universe Today website, “but I don’t think that’s guaranteed any more than you would say climbing a mountain alone is a suicide mission. People do dangerous things all the time, and this would be something really unique, to go to Mars. I don’t think there would be any shortage of people willing to volunteer for the mission. Lindbergh was someone who was willing to risk everything because it was worth it."
McLane, whose father was a NASA engineer in the Apollo days, has been pushing the one-way-ticket idea as a way to recapture Apollo's spirit. In 2006 in The Space Review, he wrote, "Americans forget that Apollo succeeded in large part because the country knew that sending humans to the Moon within the short time frame of ten years would be exciting, difficult, dangerous, and perhaps even impossible."
Difficult and dangerous, yes -- but no return trip? Past explorers he cites -- Columbus, Lindbergh, Armstrong -- knew they were taking chances, but believed they had a decent chance of coming home.
McLane insists that for now, one-way is the only way.
"Return to Earth from the Martian surface is a daunting technical problem for which current technology offers no obvious solution," he wrote in 2006. "Realistically, there aren’t even any schemes based on futuristic technology that are likely to be perfected within the next 20 years. When we eliminate the need to launch off Mars, we remove the mission’s most daunting obstacle."
Soon enough, McLane argues, the first mission would be followed by others, and a colony might grow. The story spread to Wired, Gizmodo, Slashdot and other sites -- overwhelming, at times, the Universe Today servers.
Do take a look at Nancy Atkinson's piece. Is McLane's idea crazy? Or are there people crazy enough to make it happen? McLane writes, "From our global population of over six billion, it will be easy to find suitable astronaut candidates."
(Above: artist's conception courtesy NASA.)