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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Should we send humans to Mars?
Nasa's discovery of vast reservoirs of water-ice on Mars will boost calls for the first manned mission to the Red Planet.
Such an enterprise would cost billions and carry huge risks.
It would be a hazardous mission, taking six months to reach Mars, and another six to return to Earth.
During that time, astronauts would have to live in a cramped spacecraft, isolated from their families. They would be vulnerable to radiation from deep space and the impact of zero gravity on their bodies.
But the potential rewards are huge and seductive. Imagine being the first human to take another giant leap for mankind on to the hostile Red Planet.
Should we push back the frontiers of space exploration? Or is the money better spent back on Earth? Would you be prepared to sign up as a Mars astronaut?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
If man is to go to Mars, it should be a private business venture and not one funded by taxpayers or governments.
Yes - as long as the politicians don't go with them.
We don't need to go to Mars. We don't need to keep increasing our technology. We do need to revisit ethics and morality and find out how to be better people before we figure out how to be more efficient ones.
I think that we should go to Mars, however believe that the person selected to make the next big step for humanity should be dubbed a human or a "citizen of Earth", rather than as a European, an American or whatever. It doesn't matter which nation sends the first person there, but the technology to do it would be the end result of thousands of years of human evolution and science.
It's insane to send people to Mars while so many of our fellow humans on this planet live on less than £2 a day. Science is not addressing the real issues here. We have to secure a decent standard of living for all our fellow humans before we start throwing money down the drain trying to emulate our childish Sci Fi fantasies.
Let's face facts; there is nothing of any real value on Mars. It's all about getting loads of money at the end of the day. Money that would be better spent in other areas. If the scientific community put as much effort into solving issues like poverty, and the environment then the planet Earth would be the only place we would ever need or want to live.
Kevin Jubert, USA
We should go there as soon as possible. There is no time to waste. The need to evacuate planet Earth could occur at any time now, considering the destructive forces now being unleashed by both man and nature. And we need to expand our horizons and evolve as a species.
The discovery of subsurface ice on mars is really exciting and greatly facilitates human settlement if this ice can be tapped to provide water for human needs. One envisions irrigated farms growing enough food for Martian colonies. Yes the settlement of Mars may be beneficial in many ways for mankind as long as we care for the environment and don't export the attitudes and the politics that has created so much misery here on earth. Carefully managed, human exploration and settlement of Mars and eventually outer space might even lead to solving some of the problems existing on our own world. Sending humans to Mars may be the first step in that direction.
I am thrilled that we have found water on Mars. However, I am concerned about something. On Earth, the water cycle is easy to identify. The water is replenished through various means. While Mars may have an abundance of water, how would it replenish it's supply if it's mostly frozen under a layer of dust and ice? What impact would man have on the ecosystem of Mars if we started to consume and process that water?
Steve Bailey, UK
Exploring space and going to the Moon gave us many technologies, not just computers, but also Teflon and Velcro. It also pushed existing technologies forward to a great extent. It also gave humanity a dream. Going to Mars will push technologies even more, and will have a lot of impact on down-to-earth worries. Space exploration costs huge amounts, but my belief is the repercussions are worth it.
As for the dangers, any human activity such as crossing the road or eating can be deadly. The astronauts selected for the travel will know the risks, and they will have chosen to go knowing full well that they may never come back.
May I pleae inform Pascal Jacquemain, UK, that Teflon was merely embraced by space technology and was not a spin-off of space research as is generally believed. Also, the invention of Velcro resulted from a scientist walking though an English meadow and getting burrs caught on his clothes. Space technology has certainly given us some technical advances in our domestic lives, but Teflon and Velcro are not amongst them.
Do people really think that if money was not spent on space exploration and travel, that it would instead be spent to relieve the suffering of our fellow humans? The amount of wealth spent on the space programs in comparison to that of say defence, is insignificant. Surely it would be better to ask politicians to build fewer tanks than lose the one opportunity that allows us to make our race immortal?
Mark Kidger, Tenerife/U.K.
Send my wife, please...
The economic benefits alone would justify a manned mission to Mars. New technologies in medicine, agriculture, energy, metallurgy, biology, electronics, psychology, and many others would be a direct result of simply launching the mission. The profits from this technology would justify the cost, and then there is the fact that finally, after all these years, humanity has started to step out of the cradle. Perhaps with this giant leap, we won't then take two steps back afterwards.
Under no circumstances should we send a manned mission to Mars until we have eliminated the possibility, by remote exploration using vehicles which will not return, that such a mission could return with microbial stowaways. Introducing potential pathogens from another planet to the earth ecosystem could be the first, and potentially the last, great act of scientific arrogance of the 21st century.
C. Mclaren, UK
The human race has reached a point in its development where we must leave the planet or risk being forever bound to it. Just like that 35 year old guy who lives in his parents basement. In true American spirit I say, Damn the Risk, Damn the Expense!
Mars is an enormous step, and one I would like to see taken, but wouldn't it be more prudent to establish a base on the moon first? A lot could be learned there about the kind of technology which would be needed for humans to survive a journey to Mars and back. A few more space stations might be useful as well. However, with all this we shouldn't forget that there are still horrible problems on this planet which need to be sorted out.
It is essential for the survival of the human race that we diversify our environment. Limiting ourselves to a single planet will lead to our ultimate demise, be it self-inflicted or from external sources. However, it doesn't seem sensible to send people to colonize other worlds when we still have people on our own planet who are dying of starvation. Such an imbalance shows gross negligence on the part of the citizens of the world's nations. We need to make our voices heard, tell our governments that we want an end to world hunger. Every person, regardless of nationality, religion, skin colour, etc. has a right to food, clothing and shelter.
No we should not send people to Mars. The costs and risks are huge. Robot probes can achieve so much why bother. The race to the Moon was all about politics not science. The money needed could be used for the benefit of all of the people of earth instead of fuelling the vanity of scientists and politicians
Yes! Nay sayers are repeating the same clichés used to sway the King and Queen of Spain in 1492 before Columbus set sail. Do we still think the world is flat? The quest for knowledge can be as compelling to some as the propagation of the species. Let it go forward.
A manned Mission to Mars is only a question of time, but I personally would like to see a human setting a first step on Mars, therefore I joined the Mars Society, which aims at having a human mission to Mars within 20 years. The technology is available, the will among the astronauts is there and the scientific and human reward will be out-of-this-world. We only need to persuade politicians to become more involved in space travel. Europe is proud to be highly developed continent, but we don't play a major role in human space travel. It is about time that Europe changes its focus towards human space travel.
Of course we should go! Quite apart from the fact that it would be against human nature not to follow our curiosity, and apart from the fact that the pure research involved will have benefits, there is a more important reason.
The effort to put a man on the moon gave inspiration and example to a generation, an example which still resounds today. A Mars mission could do the same today, and in this sad, confused world, we need it.
Sarah Bowyer, UK
If humans can create the machines that go to Mars, then surely these humans will be better just going there altogether? We'll be able to do a lot more, okay it'll take a long time, but surely there are people committed enough to do it.
It is in our nature as humans to want to set ourselves these challenges and achieve these goals. Like others have said, there will always be problems on this planet. It is foolish to think we can solve all terrestrial problems before looking further afield.
We should go as soon as possible. The universe is there to be explored so let's go for it.
Sure, let's go to Mars but first of all set up a base on the moon. It should be situated at the Apollo landing site. We can then all see if the landings actually took place!
The universe is huge, whilst we are so small. It's there to be explored. So why not explore it? Places exist to be explored or visited as far as I'm concerned.
Jonathan Brown, Yorkshire, UK
Of course we should. After all, the truth is out there!
What exactly will a manned mission to Mars gain us that an unmanned mission will not? If we need to colonise planets wouldn't the Moon be a more achievable first step?
Back in the 60s, the same "let's spend the money on solving the world's problems first" argument was bleated by the naysayers about the Apollo programme. These people need to realise that the money would never have been spent on solving the world's problems. The simple reality is that there is no financial payback in solving those issues. These people should also realise that, substantial as the space exploration budgets are, they are miniscule in comparison to military budgets. We never hear such hue and cry about national defence and research budgets, do we? It could be argued that a redirection of "defence" spending into solving issues such as health, poverty, famine and so on would provide a twofold gain but, again, it won't happen as there's no profit in it.
There are times in our history when we the human race have taken a great step forward, a huge leap into the unknown. It doesn't matter whether we think it should happen, it will, and this is one such time. It is time for man's spirit to be uplifted in one common goal, one common feeling, one common gain and one common success. How pathetic our little wars look against the vastness of the universe. We need this, we must do this and use it for our salvation.
Faheem Wyne, United Kingdom
The exploration of our own solar system is one of the most important explorations humans have left. Switching the focus from planetary issues to interplanetary issues might unify humans, although the Third World will still be against any technological advances. I think manned a Mars mission should be conducted, and so the rest of solar system should be explored. This might take hundreds of years, but it has to start some day.
Why should humans go to Mars? Isn't our planet beautiful enough? Let's make our own planet worth living on and then perhaps we should talk about going to Mars.
Problems will always prevail on our planet. Had we waited to resolve all our hunger, war, drugs, etc problems we still would not have made it to the moon, nor launched the Hubble and other sophisticated satellites. Both should be done simultaneously. Off we go to Mars!
When we become a little bit wiser, then we will go not only to Mars but also to the many other planets. Right now, we have work to do on this earth: feed, clothe, and protect our poor ones.
Exploring Mars with a manned mission would be an enormously risky and expensive undertaking, but I believe well worth it. We are far too preoccupied here on Earth with our own insignificant existences. We need to broaden our minds, our perspectives, and our understanding of our universe so that we can grow and prosper beyond the confines of our beautiful but fragile planet. Mars would be a step in the right direction for mankind.
Going to Mars is part of the human race's mission. Let us hope that we have now evolved to the point where we will not be going merely to colonise and exploit, but to understand and respect our place within a greater context.
Advancement of science must go hand in hand with poverty reduction in the Third World. I would like to see private money go into exploration of Mars with an manned mission.
It's a big picture vs. little picture thing. There will ALWAYS be problems at home, no matter how much money we pour into fixing them. The thing is, we have always been driven by expansion and exploration - the Red Planet is the inevitable next step. We will go there one day - why not set a date now and work towards it?
The potential for discovery and exploration is limitless, and the prospect of finding life outside of our planet is tantalising. Remote-controlled robot probes are extremely limited and only a team of well-trained astronauts will be able to tell us everything we long to know.
This IS the next step - why not take it?
Most of the effort and expense in a manned mission will involve keeping the crew alive.
A series of robot missions will be cheaper, quicker and may result in better science. A crew can only be in one location on the planet, but swarms of robots flying and crawling over the surface can explore widely. Manned missions are about politics and budgets, not science.
Space programmes cost national governments an inordinate amount of money. While exploration of Mars is undoubtedly interesting from a scientific perspective, this sort of money would be much better deployed elsewhere. Just in Britain, a few worthy causes spring to mind - the NHS, education, transport. Unless the solution to our infrastructural mess can be found in the icy Martian oceans, forget it.
While many point out the admittedly enormous amounts of money and resources a manned presence on Mars would require, I still feel that it is worth it. Foremost, a presence on Mars could protect the human race from extinction in the event of a catastrophe on Earth. Secondly, the natural resources on Mars could be utilised - by moving heavy industry to Mars, we can protect what little is left of the biosphere on Earth. All I can say to the naysayers is please, please see the big picture.
Yes we need to do this and fast don't we, I mean after Pakistan and India have blown the world up, we'll need an alternative home.
No. It would be a waste of money, and there would be nothing to be learned or gained by it. We have no right to pollute other planets.
Sure, we don't have the right to pollute other planets. How about this one!? Maybe, just maybe, a mission to Mars might mean that the human race survives in the wake of the US not taking the environment seriously.
Mars may hold the key to what will happen to Earth, if there are lessons to be learned, and we have the opportunity to learn them, we should. Or, alternatively, we could start a list about WHO we'd like to send there!
It would be foolish to attempt to send men (or women) to Mars in view of the unreliability of delivery systems, and the availability of robot landers that can do all that is required
I would certainly rather see China and the US in a race to land on Mars rather than at war over Taiwan. It could be argued that there would be many benefits from new technologies and incentives towards higher education in engineering and the sciences, but the most compelling reason for a trip to Mars is perhaps that we need great and ambitions collective enterprises in order to have a sense of national purpose, and a project of this scale would be a peaceful method of directing the energies of many nations, in co-operation or competition. It would be a far more interesting project than the rather ridiculous and useless International Space Station, and would lay the foundation of our eventual colonisation of other worlds.
Send humans to Mars? Yes. Let's start with Blair, Bush, Bin Laden, Sharon, Musharraf, Vajpayee, Putin, Chirac, Schroeder, Aherne, Berlusconi, Arafat.....
We might have asked the same questions around XVI century when some Europeans were trying to gather money and crew to travel around the world. We fear what we don't understand. It is in our nature. However we must face our fears. There is no other way to get more from life.
If human aspirations were so feeble we wouldn't be thinking of going to Mars, in fact we wouldn't even know what those silly little lights in the sky even were!
We can and will go to Mars it's inevitable. Short-term goal exploration, medium term goal a colony, long-term goal terraforming. The Earth on its own is too precarious a place for our species to survive.
We should work toward landing people on Mars. This is not a benign human race. Our need to discover will always be with us. Think of how a Mars mission would united the people of the world. Its our innate responsibility to go to Mars.
If the US spent the odd billions of dollars that they spend on space on feeding the Third World, not only would we have a nicer world to live in then we would also have no terrorism. Clearly it is not a simple as that but we should sort out all our problems on this planet before we go gallivanting off to the far reaches of the universe. We could become a utopia if we wanted to, we have the resources and the money to do so.
The problems we have on Earth will never be resolved until we start seeing ourselves as citizens of Earth, rather than individual countries whose only interest is the accumulation of national wealth or conquest. Space exploration is the one thing that brings mankind together as a whole. The more we see how small our planet is in the grand scheme of things, perhaps the more we learn about each other.
I remember something about President John F. Kennedy setting a target to have a manned mission to Mars some time in the 2030s. There is a lot less need now that the Cold War is finished. However, I think it would be a very good idea as I am sure there are quite a lot of mineral resources on Mars to exploit.
Remember if you will that the money spent on this effort is spent right here at home. Thousands of people will be employed and new technology will undoubtedly result. It is not whether or not money will be spent but what do we want to achieve from the expenditure.
A positive YES! If we do not get off this planet, out of this solar system and out into the universe, humans will not further evolve nor survive.
This simply must be done.
If we wish to survive for as long as is possible, an expedition to Mars is essential to colonisation of the Red Planet, as well as the countless other planets viable for manned bases and civilisation in the galaxy. The Earth will not live forever, not while we plunder and pillage her various resources. It is pivotal to our survival that we explore this option.
The idea of exploring planets in outer space are comic book dreams, and there are hundreds of people who would be willing to take the personal risks involved in such an adventure. But sadly I do not believe the billions needed could be justified, not while there are countries suffering from famine, poverty and disease. If countries have such money to spare, it should be spent more wisely than walking on Mars.
The moon race brought us the computer and communications revolution that lets us enjoy the internet and instant information transfer today. Imagine what actually landing on another planet may bring us in the future. Surely the results will do more about alleviating poverty than a handful of rich fat cranks complaining about it on the BBC web page.
I expect that this argument was made many centuries ago ... about navigating the seas. No-one fell off the edge of the planet then.
I think we should go to Mars. It will inspire us to spread life to different planets. Humans could adapt to different planets. Think of the possibilities!!!
The thought of a human standing on the surface of another planet brings pride into my heart. Intelligence brings with it the desire, ability and obligation to explore the cosmos. No matter the cost. No matter the risk.
I think it's time we decided on the future of humanity. Do we ensure everyone on the planet has good health care, education and a full belly - or do we continue with the present situation AND squander money on mars projects?
We should put our own house in order first before messing up another.
It would be a better allocation of current NASA resources to explore Mars than to constantly orbit the earth in search of another boring mission.
The shuttle is ageing & it's time to get back into the manned exploration business. The technology advances will provide a good return on the investment & jobs. I would suggest putting those old Langley facilities to good use again, they still have the right stuff.
Perhaps this would finally provide a mission for the International Space Station in that a large transport ship could be assembled & launched from orbit.
In the same way that many people came to America knowing they would never return "home" again, any project to send humans to Mars should be planned as a one-way trip, otherwise the logistics cripple the possibilities. Unmanned cargo shipments could sustain the colony until it becomes self-sufficient.
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