The new space race: why we need a human mission to Mars

A view from the ‘Kimberley’ formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating flow of water toward a basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The new space race: why we need a human mission to Mars

If we want to know whether there is life beyond Earth then the quickest way to answer that question is to explore Mars. That exploration is currently being done by remote space probes sent from Earth.

The race is on though to send human explorers to Mars and a number of Earth-bound projects are trying to learn what life would be like on the red planet.

But the notion of any one-way human mission to Mars is nonsensical, as is the thought that we should colonise Mars simply because we are making a mess of Earth.

The first suggestion is pointless and unethical – we would be sending astronauts to their certain death – while the second would be a licence for us to continue polluting our home planet.

I believe we should go to Mars because of what we can learn from the red planet, and from developing the technologies to get people there safely.

The SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk last September outlined his vision for a mission to send people to Mars by 2022. But first he is planning to send people around the Moon.