85: Calculated risk

A Thousand Things to Talk About
85: Calculated risk


Would a one-way trip to another planet be a brave adventure, a suicide mission, or something else entirely?

Show notes and links:
Is this ethical? (Mars One)
NASA Can’t Ethically Send Astronauts on One-Way Missions to Deep Space (Motherboard / Vice)

Full episode text

In 2014, NASA commissioned a study of their health and safety standards, intended to figure out if the idea of a one-way trip to another planet – or any deep-space mission – would be permissible under their current rules.

The short answer? No. Current rules regarding everything from radiation exposure to communication would prevent a “responsible” trip to deep space. The short answer NASA gives is that there are still far too many unknowns to plan that kind of a trip.

But Mars One is doing it. And thousands of people applied, with hundreds of people still on the list to be potential explorers. To quote from the Mars One “ethics” page:

“Despite all of the above, it still sounds rather extreme nowadays to only offer a one way trip, but it bears mentioning that thousands of Europeans agreed to do just that – they took all they owned and moved to Australia, for example. That agreement did not come with a return ticket.”

Suicide missions, after all, are not always unethical. It may, in fact, be a question of choice – if someone chooses to do something dangerous, knowing all of the risks, then whose place is it to say their choice is wrong?