Aldrin: Mars Pioneers Should Not Return to Earth

[/caption]Commenting on the strategy for the exploration of Mars, Buzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon and tireless space exploration advocate, has said that he believes the first explorers of the Red Planet should stay there. Following similar lines of the first European pioneers who settled in America, a small group of interplanetary explorers should expect to land, build, live and retire (probably even die) on Mars.

Setting up home on the Martian surface will be no easy thing (after all, the atmosphere is 100 times thinner than the Earth’s and the planet has no magnetic field to protect colonists from the ravages of solar radiation), but Mars offers far greater potential as a habitable world than any other Solar System option.

40 years after Aldrin landed on the Moon, one can understand his frustration that there is no current manned space exploration program leaving Earth orbit. Perhaps a pioneering effort to Mars will make all the difference – if we succeed there, who knows where it might lead…

The subject of sending a manned expedition to Mars has always been a controversial one. Who do we send? How long should the mission last? Is sending one explorer an option (it would certainly be cheaper)? Do we make plans for a return mission? What about the health risks? Do we set up a human colony in the first instance? Is it REALLY worth the effort and money? But whether you like it or not, mankind will always have the urge to venture beyond Planet Earth and colonize other worlds (whether the funding or political will is there or not, but that’s another story).

But how can it be done? There has been much speculation about the future of Mars exploration, and we are beginning to take the first baby-steps toward the ultimate goal – a manned mission. The Phoenix Mars lander is classed as a “scout mission” intended to aid the planning of future colonies; satellites such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (the clue is in the name – you have to do a bit of reconnaissance before sending in the troops!) has the The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on board with the primary task of finding mineral deposits on the surface that might be of use to a manned settlement. Every mission we send to the Red Planet has some function to aid the planning of a future human presence on the Martian surface.

As if commenting on his personal experience of the Apollo Program, Buzz Aldrin has shared his views on manned exploration of Mars. As any manned spaceship could take up to 18 months to travel to Mars, Aldrin believes it makes more sense for the first mission to be a one-way trip. “That’s why you [should] send people there permanently,” said Aldrin. “If we are not willing to do that, then I don’t think we should just go once and have the expense of doing that and then stop.”

If we are going to put a few people down there and ensure their appropriate safety, would you then go through all that trouble and then bring them back immediately, after a year, a year and a half?” Buzz added.

Currently, NASA and the European Space Agency has tentatively said they are planning for a trip to Mars by 2030 or 2040. The current idea is to send a small group of explorers (possibly six individuals) to Mars, but have all the life support systems and supplies already set up on the surface before they arrive. Once an outpost is established, more colonists can be sent out to join them. The first operational manned colony will probably be 30-strong.

I'd like to shake Buzz's hand... oh yes, I did! (Ian O'Neill)However, these colonists will need to be unique individuals. “They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don’t look forward to go back home again after a couple a years,” Aldrin said. But that’s not to say they’ll never return to Earth. Years down the line, there may be the opportunity for a return mission, depending on technological advancements. “At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, who knows what advances have taken place. They can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back.”

Many will argue that a manned mission to Mars is a “waste of money,” after all, why go through the expense and risk of sending humans when robots can do the same job. Aldrin disagrees with this stance, pointing out that it makes more sense to have humans on the ground, making on-the-spot decisions. I would argue that robotic explorers can only achieve so much; we can send the most advanced analysis equipment on board the most advanced robot, but there is no substitute for human ingenuity and experience. Far more science can be done on the Martian surface by an astronaut rather than a remote controlled robot. If life really does exist on the Martian surface, a man on Mars will find it far quicker than any rover.

Why else send man to Mars? To “do things that are innovative, new, pioneering,” rather than letting manned space flight continue to be a disappointment, Buzz added. After all, the International Space Station hasn’t lived up to many expectations, and the last time we walked on the Moon was in 1972… perhaps we need to start making some bold moves in the direction of Mars before we can consider ourselves to be a space faring race.


41 Replies to “Aldrin: Mars Pioneers Should Not Return to Earth”

  1. Me too! If I knew I was going to set up a colony on another planet, I think I’d be keen. Of course, there will be the psychological factors that I have no clue about (after all, no more ocean views, hot sun on your face, breathing fresh air, the smell of freshly cooked turkey, fish and chips… oh and family, friends and other stuff I’m used to on Earth but don’t realise it yet), but if it were to further mankind’s longevity, I think I’d want to sign up. An then there’s the opportunity to live on another planet! Pure awesomeness πŸ™‚

  2. It would certainly make the mission simpler. It would also give the colonists more incentive to make things self-sufficient since if they don’t, THEY DIE.

    Of course, we probably shouldn’t be sending one-way trips to Mars until we get good at making such colonies. Fortunately, the Moon is just next door for us to practice.

  3. I agree. One way trip missions. Not sure what the fuss about this idea is. I’d volunteer for one of those in a jiffy πŸ™‚

  4. What about a Mars sample return mission first? That way humans can do all the innovative science they want right here on Earth.
    “If you can’t bring Muhammad to the mountain bring the mountain to Muhammad.”

  5. I am sure we’d get Colonists to volunteer to go on a one way trip, what happens when one of them decides they *MUST* return to earth? Could the rest of us handle their desperate pleas to save them? Could their fellow colonists handle the strain of having such a person in their midst? I know I would find it difficult to work with personally.

    I maintain that if we’re going to make a colony, it needs to be ready, at least to some degree, when the colonists arrive in the form of some prefabricated structure presumably assemble by robots. Heck they might even be run from Orbit on mars. In my opinion which is one of 6.5 Billion, If we’re going to colonize, we need to first get a handle on travel to and from the destination then set up a colony from Orbit around Mars, maybe using Phobos or Deimos as a base of operations.

    This would be akin to the System we used for Lunar Landings but on a larger, longer term scale. To quote my High School Football coach, Go Big or Go Home.

  6. Just a question Ian, Could we just dump the old clichΓ© “Buzz Aldrin: The second man on the moon” whenever we refer to Buzz? He’s probably the astronaut I respect the most and to always put the term “the second” appear to me as a knife in the back type of statement, unworthy of this great man. I think everyone who read here know who Buzz Aldrin is.

    Mind you, I woud certainly settle for “second man on Mars” title. I wouldn’t even look back on good ole Earth. Wife and kids would be set, family name is taken care of, don’t live near the sea, don’t like turkey, and lived 8 months in Koweiti desert during Desert Storm. Not a far fetched desolate landscape for me… πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Random63

    You’re right, this idea has been around for a while (the one-way mission), but the links you refer to are for a one-person, one-way mission. That idea Nancy followed up hadn’t really been aired before and it caused a huge storm on the web! Imagine that, one man or woman, on their own, going to an alien planet to a certain doom… thought provoking stuff.

    The idea Buzz is referring to has been put together before – a group of colonists going to Mars to set up home. In fact, this idea is depicted in graphic detail in Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars” trilogy. Amazing read.

    As for Digg, it’s a problem we are working on. It looks like Digg has undergone some changes recently and completely innocent news sources have been randomly banned. Fraser is trying to get to the bottom of it. Thanks for trying to submit my article though!

    Cheers! Ian πŸ™‚

  8. I think this is an unrealistic expectation on Buzz’s part. From everything I have ever read, the very first explorers to America went with the intention of coming back with gold and glory. The fact that some ended up staying, is probably more a result of them discovering they could easily sustain themselves in the lands they discovered. The same is not true of Mars, where being able to sustain one’s life short or long term is going to be a heck of alot harder. Sure sailors faced some rough conditions at sea, or on land when they got to the world, but nothing on the order of magnitude of mars, where a simple puncturing of your space suite, or stepping outside your shielded space craft at the wrong time) could kill you in an instant.

    Eventually when life becomes sustainable in the colonies I do see the possibility that some will go and never come back to earth, but that will happen naturally when conditions are right…not in some forced premature survival by the seat of your pants manner.

  9. Its not unrealistic at all.

    If you consider this as a weight problem and figure how much equipment is tied up in returning your astronauts safely to earth… theres alot of packing room if your plan is to keep them on the surface indefinably.

    You could send compressors, filters, extra suits, even some digging equipment to expand the base. Hell you could send a few years worth of food per rocket even if you don’t believe in a self sustaining colony with greenhouse and all.

    There are a million things that could go wrong. Its audacious and scary and also a bit disturbing. It could never happen in todays political climate.

    …and there was a time when we dared to accept such lofty missions.

    Why not?

  10. At what point, if ever, will we realize that talk about visiting, much less colonizing Mars, the moon, or any other celestial body is simply not possible? We have a hard enough time sending robots, but humans? Give me a break – this is total and complete nonsense, a science geek wet dream.

    Even if it were possible, which it isn’t, such a mission would be so ridiculously expensive as to be far beyond the political will of the entire governmental apparatus of all nations combined.

    It is time that we accept that plain truth staring us square in the face – the only future for us in space is vicariously through robots. Our track record in this area is quite spectacular, and we have only just begun. The International Space Station, trips to the moon or Mars – all a gigantic waste of resources. Think of all the space telescopes, planetary landers, comet interceptors etc we could have had with the money that has been squandered on the ISS.

  11. Not doing something because its difficult is a fantastic excuse for not doing anything. Which includes not sending growingly advanced robots into space.

    Its not a line of argument we should be embracing if the goal is to keep public money flowing into space exploration.

  12. @ tballou:

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion. After all, I would imagine that many people shared your pessimism about the Apollo program… at least until July 21st 1969.

    While it is not the 60’s anymore, and a manned mission to Mars would be ridiculously expensive, that does not make it impossible.

    At some point, whether it is three decades from now or three centuries hence, I believe the attempt will be made.

  13. I wish I could live long enough to see us land on Mars but we are a long way from that. It’s not a question of finding volunteers (even for the “don’t come back” mission that the second man on the moon likest). Or even whether we can do the landing.

    It’s a question of waiting until technology and time brings us to the point where we can land people there with the resources and tools, not yet invented, that are needed to live securely for years at a time. You can’t do science when you are struggling to survive, to produce breathable air, create soil (and find water) to grow food.

  14. A one-way mission sounds great, however, we’re talking here about a dramatic human experience that is, ‘literally’ out of this world (pardon the pun).

    From most of the expresssed views above, one can immediately see how optimistic we all sound in even contemplating a one-way trip, let alone being one of the actual few chosen to go (I’ve signed up, so I’m going :-D).

    However, we’re thinking along lines from an Earthly sense rather than from a Mars(ly) sense — that is, our earthly emotions and mind-sets will need to be quite different to those for living on another planet.

    We, in effect, will need to think as non-earthlings as we launch towards Mars — becoming the first, REAL Martians of the future.

    John — [[|MOONPOSTER – The most detailed poster around on important aspects about the Moon]]
    (A nice gift for someone at Christmas)

  15. Hey I tried to put this article on and I got this message…

    “This domain has been consistently flagged as violating the Digg Terms of Service and cannot be submitted at this time. Please refer to our Terms of Service ( for more information.”

    Does anyone know why UniverseToday is blocked from Digg?

  16. I guess if we do send a manned mission to Mars, then it must mostly be to establish a living environment, the science can come after that. We need to implement a mission that will create water from the waterice on the pole or such, and seed it with a few algae that can generate O2 for the surface. No doubt this will take several years, and the algae will probably need shielding from the sun. But in this manner, won’t we be able to gradually build an O3 layer to stop the uv?

    It sound like sci-fi, but if the human race can only put petty politics and race aside. We can most certainly do anything our hearts desire.

    Sidenote: We seriously need to find some other means to get to other planets… anyone for Microwave/UV/Nuclear fusion engines? 18months is like forever!

  17. The first colonists that crossed the Atlantic Ocean had a desperate time trying to survive and many died before a stable colony was capable of long term survival. They had one great advantage, the ships they used were already a well understood technology.

    The primary aim should be to create cheap, reliable transport, for long distance journeys. Personally, I see a Parsons with a Turbinia, (first steam turbine powered ship), correcting the illusion that we need to take years at a time in the out and return journey.

    The first settlers will almost certainly be on the far side of the Moon where the land is already sold to purchasers that will want to exploit their investments.

    As with the United States, the settlers will bypass the government “forts” and make their own journey into the destiny of the human race.

    The human race will arrive, like it or not.

    Mars presents a quite different challenge, particularly as it has deep chasms that will permit settlers to both live out of the full glare of the sun while being able to access a warmer climate than on the surface on the sun lit sides of the chasms. But we do not have any information on the structure of the atmosphere in those chasms, so that is, for now, wishful thinking on my part.

    All such colonists, whether on the Moon or Mars, will have to dig into the surface and create structures that will be airtight and reliable.

    But there is, in my humble opinion, a much better object to potentially colonise, Europa.

    It has an ice surface that must have, (yes deep inside), a liquid ocean with potentially a living ecosystem that could provide food. We are used to living in a very low temperature environment where there is a total surface of ice. But that has many advantages, not the least, water in abundance. Ice is a great insulator and creating accommodation is going to be very easy.

    Overall, the primary problem to be overcome is a reliable, economic transport system. Once that is in place, colonisation will occur where ever there is the potential for success.

  18. Joe has an exceptional point if the profit does not meet the risk then there is no point in risking so much “NOW”.
    But lets see in another 30 to 40 years when our resources are on the edge. Then the risk to profit ratio will look alot better and so would the tech.

  19. The bottom line is, what do we get in return by going to Mars? a challenge of living in a very difficult environment? whats the point? There has to be an objective. We have to profit from this in some way.
    I don’t see the human race going anywhere unless we build a case that we will profit by going. Or hoping for the next space race to gain momentum and speed things up.


  20. Yeah, Buzz! Listen to this man, NASA! Or if not NASA, then whoever is going to get humans on Mars!

    We cannot afford a Mars version of Apollo, where we visit a few times to plant flags then not go back for 50 years. And by not afford I mean for both financial and species survival reasons.

    There will be plenty of “normal” people who will not hesitate to go to Mars permanently.

  21. Allthough – it never would be any problems to find some unexsperienced, romantic and adventurerus person or persons to send to Mars for a one way thicked – it’s simply insane … and lacking of human eticks.

    No doubt, humans are going to settle on Mars – before og later, at least for a while. But why in such a hurry – we don’t really need it now, for the sake of greath benefit to mankind. For now, and the neerest future, there is much more sence in getting to the moon, and get a good grip in handling this, with economic benefits for mankind. Then later upon that expirience challinging Mars. Meanwhile … the more and more advanced robots can be taking in use for Mars, as we allready are doing. The developement for such advanced robots, can then be used for exploring lots of other planets and moons further out and away, to give importent information about our solarsystem.

    As in generel aspects of human destination – it’s not neccesarely the distination in itself which is the most inportence, but the journey, and the experience collected during our journeys.

    Lets face it. Few of us – living now, are going to experience manns setlement on Mars, allthough it could be interessting. What is of much more importence is the collectable knowledge we can gather about our solar system, as well as our universe. Thereby get a better understanding to our mere excistense and new purposeses for beeing here – on earth.

    Please look aside for my bad spelling – don’t have a spelling correcting program – besides I’m danish.

  22. An interesting idea, but I think one of the many big problems will be spare parts and supply. I’m thinking about the toilet on the ISS. Its one thing to resupply and fix it in Earths orbit (no small feat mind you) but another to get spare parts to Mars. And that’s just mechanical parts. Medical needs will be more complex. You can try to plan ahead and send lots of everything, but “for the rest of your life” will hopefully be a long, long time.

    I’m usually optimistic about this kind of thing, but the more I think about it…sheesh…I think its more complicated than people think. And I don’t know how this world would react to watching colonists die on another world.

    But then again, people live on Antartica for long stretches in isolation…I suppose there’s lessons there.

    And I personally wouldn’t go. Mars, as they say, is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. There’d be too many things here I’d miss. I’d risk my life to get there. I’d just want a plan to try to get back!

    Cool article.

  23. Hi, nice piece! Another problem with a full return mission is the very long chain of possible failure points – only one thing has to go wrong, and thats some dead astronauts and $x00 billion down the drain, and maybe a cancelled project. Split it all up into a number of outgoing (& later return) missions, you might survive *some* failures – and in fact just getting there and surviving a decade would be a success of sorts.. I dont know if thats a bit cynical, but I thinks theres some truth in it..

  24. I found this on the Mars Direct wiki..

    “A modified proposal has also been offered by Dean Unick, to not return the first immigrant/explorers immediately, or ever. The cost of sending a four or six person team is one fifth to one tenth the cost of returning that same four or six person team. A quite complete lab can be sent and landed for less than the cost of sending back even 50 kilos of rocks. Twenty or more persons can be sent for the cost of returning four. It is far less expensive, makes for better science, makes far more sense, to colonize. Returns would be far easier and less expensive, and far safer, once there is a developed and operating base. Send brick masons, not pilots. Send older explorers, not young.”

  25. Joe got it right. I come from a background in marine biology, and I remember well all of the grand pronouncements I heard as a child in the ’60s (much like the Mars pronouncements today) about how we would have permanently inhabited undersea colonies by the 80’s, with families living and working underwater full-time. Many well-known visionaries in the field (such as Cousteau) initially held with this vision of the future. Eventually even Cousteau came around to the reality that, unless there is a compelling financial (example: offshore oil) or scientific reason, it is simply too risky and expensive to place people in such hostile setting in cases where unmanned systems can do the job. There has been a revolution in the offshore industry of building better & better robot systems to do the work cheaper & more safely.

    As for the “frontier” or “New World Explorer” analogy, with all due respect to Aldrin and others, I think this is fatlally flawed. Colombus didn’t come to the “New World” and stay: he came, saw, and went home with samples and reports for his “funding agency”. Others who followed DID stay, but that is where the analogy REALLY breaks down. They had come to a place with food, water, and breathable air there for the taking. They were not restricted to living in pressurised modules or spacesuits, all the while being bombarded with dangerous levels of cosmic radiation. There are compelling scientific reasons to visit Mars, perhaps (although the robots are much cheaper & getting better all the time), and there certainly are “romantic/heroic explorer” resons to go perhaps, but make no mistake: unrealistic fantasy visions of a terraformed future Mars notwithstanding, Mars is NOT an analog for “The New World”.

  26. I’d love to go; actually, I volunter.
    I am cheap,free, aveilable dispensable, and so on.
    Actually, I think I might not need sex (Been living in Wisconsin for the last 10 years…).
    E meil me if there is an opening soon.

  27. a Mars colony would really have almost no true shared history with Earth within a few generations. Which creates interesting issues. On the sarcastic side, it will make a great scenario for potential future interstellar war over recources once Earth is fully stripped.

  28. We should go to Mars ,but bring them after a couple of years unless they choose to stay,we need to bold once oagain and get to the moon and then move on to mars, man was meant to explore, the United States need to quit being timid and lead the world in theis exploration.

  29. For those who fancy being the pioneers living on Mars, you better be heck of a doctor youself so you can cure your own illness. And make sure to bring enough medicine to last your whole life. The bright side though, is that you don’t have to worry about getting infected deseases cause there will be no germs/virus on Mars, or is there? πŸ˜‰

  30. To tballou, I believe you are absolutely correct. Permanent colonization (anywhere in space) isn’t going to happen because of your argument. In addition to all you’ve described; what the dreamers fail to realize is that while each technical challenge can be solved individually, in total, the challenges of colonization will be impossible to overcome. Every molecule of life support and protection will have to be accounted for and positively controlled every second of the day. It simply can’t be done.

  31. “After all, the International Space Station hasn’t lived up to many expectations…”

    Actually, the ISS’s construction won’t be complete until 2010. The initial experiments haven’t even been completed yet. See:

    I don’t think we want the government running anything like this anyway. It’s terribly inefficient and vulnerable to the whims of Congress’s fickle spending urges. We need an X-Prize to settle effectively on the moon first.

  32. @ Chuck Lam, tballou et. al.

    You can join the long list of people, often famous scientists, that claim things are impossible or won’t happen, only to have progress laugh in their face. There are literally hundreds of examples of this throughout history that I can’t be bothered going into… The stock standard example is Lord Kelvins famous dictum ‘…heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible…’. There are many, many more.

    In the scheme of things when it comes to human beings, most often when things are derided as improbable or even impossible some set of circumstances and brilliant minds arises and conspires to drive technology forward and make tomorrow’s improbable today’s reality.

    It is beyond prediction what forces may drive us to do things such as colonize another planet or whatever. Even something as simple as the pride and prestige of achieving such a thing for nations is powerful incentive, let alone any one of a million more complex motivators.

    If I had to bet – I’d bet it will happen.

  33. When we do send humans to Mars, they should plan to make sure the first missions are equipped to survive a long time on the planet in case something goes wrong where they can’t get back.

    I was always bothered by the fact that if something went wrong on Apollo during the landing part of the mission, the two astronauts on the lunar surface were doomed. At the very least they should have designed the LM to sustain the explorers until another mission could arrive for rescue.

    Before you mention the expense, we are talking human lives here. Yes, these men knew the risks and accidents will always happen, but the one I am mentioning did have a viable solution.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with Apollo was sending humans to the Moon on the cheap. It was all about getting there before the Soviets and everything else, including science, took a back seat.

    If we had followed the plans laid out by von Braun and Disney, we would have at least several lunar colonies by now, and perhaps even on Mars and the asteroids. But no, we let politics rule the day and now we are maybe going to have a manned colony in 20 years.

    I am not holding my breath.

  34. There’s a much more sensible way to colonize – but it’ll involve executing a long term plan (which we COULD have been doing for the past 30 years).

    – Use robots, controlled 24-7 by shift workers on Earth (difficult but possible, far cheaper sending people), to set up limited industrial production capabilities on the moon – energy production, oxygen mining and liquifaction, a robot repair / equipment production shop, etc.

    – Establish a small human base orbiting the moon, rotating to simulate gravity for long-duration missions, from which robots can be controlled with lower radio delay.

    – Send several landers to Mars loaded with robots, spare parts, equipment and raw materials to Mars surface.

    – Send a dozen people in a larger (rotating) ship / base to orbit Mars near Phobos. Expore Mars’ moons directly, and use remote controlled robots to explore and build up a base on Mars.

    – When they have production of air, food, shelter, power, fuel, communications and other survival essentials ready on Mars – THEN land the first long-term colonists. Beyond exploration, they’d have the economic goal to produce and deliver food, air and water to the orbiting base.

    More thoughts on my blog, if anyone cares:

  35. I have been a proponent of human exploration of Mars for some time. I am relieved and gladdened to see this article. I’d love the opportunity to meet Mr. Aldrin someday just to shake his hand and say, “Thank you.” I have often felt the lone voice.

    The math is what brought me to this idea, the pure illogical nature of returning a computer AFTER it has completed all of its requirements, at a cost 10 times the cost of delivery. The ‘computer ‘ is, of course, a living, loving, human. That is a difficult and daunting concept to accept, but it is correct, and should be adopted.

    We do not live forever. The measurement of our 4th dimension is finite. I absolutely do not see a reason why the where of that end point matters. There is the visceral, it cannot be denied. But as in any business venture of mine, I would not ask an employee to do, what I would not do or risk myself.

    I do therefore, volunteer, and gladly.

    Dean Unick

  36. Buzz has a point. To go to Mars to stay, would simply drive the ambition to survive and invent. Moreover, it would fuel the speed of development for redundant travel between the two.

    His analogy of Mar’ exploration and that of the North America (for late comer Europeans) expeditions is essential.

    Who knows, the New Martians may make leaps in tech. ahead of us as a result of their struggle on their new planet. (perhaps aided by the locals)

    Remember, they would arrive with thousands of years of human technology at their finger tips.

    I think we can do it!

  37. ahh man i wish we could have all the money that was spent on the pointless iraqi war for this mission.. wed be able to go and comeback about 50 times

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