Politics Magazine

2018: A Space Odyssey

Posted on the 28 February 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, part-funded by American businessman Dennis Tito, has released plans to send a middle-aged civilian couple on a rocket which will pass within a “hair’s breadth” of Mars.

The 18 month journey would begin in 2018, and will apparently be done using currently existing technology. However, funding of well over $1 billion is yet to be secured, meaning only limited work can be done now. However, the couple will not be charged for their journey: Inspiration Mars is seeking people who can “represent humanity”. Perhaps billionaires would not be well-suited to this role, particularly if they would struggle without a small army of servants and five surplus homes.

But why a middle aged couple? Apparently a strong relationship is needed to withstand the tensions of life in such an enclosed environment, and middle aged people will, to put it delicately, be less likely to have the pristine health of the young, so their fertility and health will not be so severely affected. Remember that Frenchman who said “Hell would be to locked in a room with one’s friends for eternity”? He was wrong. Hell is to be trapped in a small vessel with one’s spouse with the real threat of death on your minds. Even the Mars 500 project had a crew of several people. There will be serious psychological issues that will develop: it is an inevitability. Also, if something goes wrong in the same way as Apollo 13, there is no prospect of muddling through, and the ability for a rescue mission to be launched are even slimmer. If disaster doesn’t strike, then what about the effects of constant zero gravity and exposure to cosmic radiation? Though my knowledge of the Sciences doesn’t extend far beyond the GCSE syllabus, I do know that the closest we’ve got to knowledge of this is evidence from International Space Station and MIR guests, and that this is far from a 500 day journey beyond Earth’s orbit.

A number of figures in the scientific world are already saying that the couple would expect the chances of survival to be below 50%. Nevertheless, there will be no shortage of people willing to to that risk. As an interviewee on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme said: “when a baby first learns to crawl, it crawls away from its parents”. Inspire Mars is trying to crawl before we can walk, or even toddle. Should we not have worked out radiation proofing, the real effects of long-term lack of gravity, the means of carrying a larger crew, and perhaps how to land on Mars before we risk astronaut’s lives? And should we not consider the effects of the protect on Earth’s environment, the one which the other 7.1 billion (yes, we’ve added a further 100 million in the past year!) of us have to live in.

I wonder about the eagerness of businesses billionaires to sponsor this private space project. While I’ve little problem with privately funded missions saving taxpayer funds for terrestrial science, I don’t know how many of the ultra-rich would be keen to associate themselves with a potential disaster. There is every possibility that the funding won’t be found in time, but should a foolhardy sponsor with sufficiently deep pockets step into the breach, my message is this: on your own head be it


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