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One-way ticket to Mars?

'No return' flights to Mars are many times cheaper – and volunteers are lining up.

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The Mars Society trains scientists to live and work on another planet through simulations like this one at its Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah. The society is dedicated to encouraging the exploration and settlement of Mars.

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Humans could be walking on Mars within the next couple decades, for only a fraction of the cost the United States has already budgeted for space exploration.

How? The answer is simple, say a pair of Mars researchers: Give the explorers a one-way ticket.

The most costly and tricky part of any manned space mission is providing life-support for its human crew: food, oxygen, and protection from radiation and other hazards of space travel. On a human mission to Mars, most of the cost – some 80 percent of it – would involve returning the crew to Earth, say Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies in the October-November issue of the Journal of Cosmology. Rather than quintuple the cost, those funds could go toward building a permanent settlement, the two scientists argue.

They propose that, after several unmanned missions drop supplies at a base station on the Red Planet, two spacecraft carrying two humans each would be sent on the six- to eight-month voyage to Mars to begin the first human colony on another planet.

Further missions would continue to supply the first settlers, who would be older, beyond child-bearing age, and – of course – volunteers.

Eventually, as the colonists made more use of Mars' own resources, including water trapped as ice, they would be joined by more migrants from Earth.

"It's not a suicide mission at all," argues Dr. Schulze-Makuch, coauthor of the paper and an associate professor at the school of earth and environmental sciences at Washington State University in Pullman.

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