Human exploration of Mars will benefit humanity

Professor Martin Barstow, Department of Physics and Engineering, University of Leicester:

barstow-white-bgIt is now more than 40 years since men first landed on the Moon. In the technologically optimistic age of the late 1960s, the next obvious step seemed to be a mission to Mars within a few decades and certainly before the end of the century. Yet, as we move into 2011 the goal seems as far away as ever. To achieve it will require a large financial investment in the space hardware and, while the US has made several attempts to start this development, it always seems to stall in face of the financial realities. Most recently, NASA cancelled its planned launcher developments for future human space flight.

It seems timely, particularly in the current economic climate, to re-visit the question “Should Humans Go to Mars?” I believe we should and we should start planning now. The timescales for this are several decades and will span several economic cycles. So, we need to take an approach that makes the process of living and working in space economy-proof. That requires much more international collaboration and robust agreements that ensure continuity of the effort. It will also be necessary to explore more innovative, lower cost systems to make the effort affordable.

So why should we do this and what are the benefits? Although robotic exploration of Mars and the rest of the Solar System has been extremely productive and instruments become ever more sophisticated, we are a long way from being able to match the flexible processing power of the human brain. Fully exploring Mars and searching for evidence of life on the planet will require a combination of human and robotic capabilities. Decades of space research and exploration involving both humans and robots have led to the development of a space infrastructure that is now of considerable benefit to humanity. Communications, navigation and global monitoring are just some of the facets that we could not live without. It has also led to a significant global space industry that drives technological development and delivers an impressive economic return. Further investment in Human exploration will create even more, perhaps as yet unforeseen, opportunities.

Professor Martin Barstow is Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of the College of Science and Engineering, Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science at the University of Leicester.


  1. Michael
    Posted 17/03/2011 at 07:31 | Permalink

    Reading what you said David… It is human nature to explore and to be able to see the world, do we have the right to deny children the right to do this? It is a moral issue… However I am for doing this because it is a great idea! But that is the only problem I see… We deny them a chance to choose…


  2. David
    Posted 07/03/2011 at 04:14 | Permalink

    David T. Agan Jr.
    There are many avenues of discussion in this noble question. Various arguements could be made on a variety of topics as well. The overall, in my opinion, …..

    The human species is modern enough to achieve this goal within certain countries, but the generalized mind of most of the populous on Earth, is just not ready to become a first at this type of lifestyle required to initiate colonazation. What most people consider human needs, such as interaction, sex, sanity without obsession or lonliness are traits I feel will interfere. Law and governement must not intercede either, but rather a community of morals and self preservation should be enacted, punishment of any “crime” by an unworthy would face death through seperation of the colony should such a scenerio arise. In todays society with the socialism and interaction of the American culture, we will not have success. Man cannot part with selfishness and greed. The only proper way to achieve this goal in todays time as a starting point would be to initiate a community now, here on Earth with the purpose of commiting their lives to the next generations within an illusion (per say). They live their life in a colony here on Earth in the same manner which will be lived there. Procreation is done within the colony and all outside communication be virtually non exsistant yet monitored by the NASA community for study. The offspring are educated within the confines of the colony. Religion, art, culture, politics, buisness is not to be taught, only the sciences, and it is that offspring which will become the new culture, untainted by the global people, and as they grow they will also prepare, to also be the new generation. With one sole purpose, procreation of a species to be proceeded outside of our earthly confines. It is the way in which a new society is created, and like any person in any country… the debate of freedom or human rights is not to be an issue, the issue is survival and these will be the people who will be taught how to survive within the new world, created by a government, for the purpose of survival. With politics and currency invokes a new world of productivity to society, income, currency, and taxation is offset into a new era as well. Labor hours are the income, measured with time, not a pay rate. Every job is equal to survive as a colony, it must be on time submission. Taxation is the supply of goods with fair trade for supplies and luxuries.

    This is my generalized overview in a “Readers Digest Version”. Please do not search for my background or credentials, but rather talk to me as I am today if anyone wants to further this opinion, or inquirey of solution. This topic has been one which I have implemented in mind since birth, and one which I currently teach to my offspring, whom I pray will succeed where I was forced to fail. And for what it is worth… I would love to hear any feedback.

    David T. Agan Jr.
    Valatie, NY. 12184


    Ann Mulqueen Reply:

    Hi David,

    I have just read you email about the colonisation of Mars.

    I like and endorse your thoughts apart from the one of punishment by death by being separated from the colony!

    Selfishness and greed has to be conquered to achieve the utopia you envisage, how to overcome that with the people with the power, is the key to the whole thing!

    I desire the world you envisage, achieving it would be ideal!


  3. b Sanson
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 02:46 | Permalink

    I don’t know about the concept of MAN going to mars but I certainly believe that
    Cameron should take Clegg with him,,,,and not come back


  4. Posted 04/03/2011 at 13:13 | Permalink

    “Though you have conquered Earth and charted Sea
    And planned the courses of all Stars that be,
    Adventure on, more wonders are in Thee.

    Adventure on, for from the littlest clue
    Has come whatever worth man ever knew;
    The next to lighten all men may be you.”


  5. P.Mudhir
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 06:02 | Permalink

    Honestly i cannot imagine a more worthwhile pursuit than exploration, and more importantly the renewal of mans interest into space, space travel, and space colonizaion. In my opinion it is an area of exploration and adventure practically forgotten about by the civilizations of today, and if we arent striving to improve technology in this area it will take far longer than it could or should to advance. I strongly believe, as do many people that our future as a race is in space. Sooner we land on Mars and achieve this minor stepping stone, the better for future generations….


  6. Mark Alexander
    Posted 01/03/2011 at 23:07 | Permalink

    I think the worst thing about Mars is the low gravity and what that will do to an astronaut’s back. Its ok for the shuttle crews doing a week in orbit to “just get on with it”, but what about the very long journey to Mars and an extended stay there? If astronauts spend two years at less than normal gravity, will they end up permanently disabled? We’re the only mammals to walk upright all the time, so we’re pushing our luck as it is. Most vertibrates use their spines in the traditional horizontal way. If we add low gravity into the mix we could be asking too much of our bodies. Or is the solution as simple as wearing lots of diving weights? These are the things that will have to be sorted out.The devil is in the detail.


    Thomas Cuffe Reply:

    Well I can tell you that the longest continuous space flight was done by Valeri Polyakov, he spent 437 days in space. It isn’t 2 years but once he got out of the landing shuttle he walked (admittely it was a few feet to a deck chair) but there were no long term problems that he had, so to say they were permanently disabled… perhaps a bit of an overstatement. Also the human body adapts, the reason we lose muscle mass is because we aren’t holding ourselves up constantly. Bone mass is more difficult to fix, however usually they simply up calcium intake. There are even drugs that can help if it comes to that for space flights of two years or over.

    The only reason the problem that you are talking about will arise is if we bring them back, once they are on Mars they will be fine on Mars as they will have adapted to its gravity, as far as my knowledge is aware of, correct me if I am wrong I am but an A level student.


  7. Tony Valentine
    Posted 01/03/2011 at 12:33 | Permalink

    Professor Barstow’s justifications for going to Mars are correct but are only part of the reason why we should. Stephan Hawking said that our only hope of survival as a species is for us to leave this planet. The Moon was the first step of the journey, logically, Mars is the next.
    By the way, young people might form the majority of those who think we should go there but, as someone who watched enthralled, as Armstrong and Aldrin landed and walked on the Moon, I’ve never lost my belief that humans need to continue exploring outer space. Perhaps the answer to the probability, that the first people to go to Mars would die there, would be to send older people on the first mission.


  8. Thomas Cuffe
    Posted 28/02/2011 at 17:11 | Permalink

    I believe any manned mission to Mars should not have it main target to be ‘Searching for Life’. From the many robotic missions sent out there I believe that right now we are pretty sure there is little chance for life and if there is I am sure we will discover it as we explore. But it should not be our main reason. Of course the longest term objective is simple: Colonisation. Some seem to believe this planet of ours will just keep happily going and that the sun will just keep on giving out its energy in a nice constant rate. Well those of us know its not going to, we must leave at some point. And using the excuse ‘It won’t happen for billions of years what is the point of starting now?’ cannot be used, much like a work project or coursework. Start early, you do it better and you get it done quicker. And yes Mars will too be swallowed up by the Sun but Mars is just the first stepping stone, the Moon landings were simply us dipping our toes in the stream to check how cold it was.

    And I do believe that it will happen, there is no question about it. Human nature will drive us to go out. Imagine if in the late 1400s Spain decided not to take up Columbus’ offer of exploration to the west because say, they wanted to work on the repopulation of Andalucia after the expulsion of the Moors.

    You cannot simply talk about economic or political benfits nor about spending money on better things. This is more than that. As many say it (and I’m quite the optimist too) this is our destiny.


    David Kidd Reply:

    I too am an optimist. I too strongly believe space is our destiny, but not for the reasons you give. Space is our destiny because one way or another we must make contact with other intelligent life. Do we wait for them to come to us, as colonisers and conquerers, or do we go out to meet them as equals? Soon we will be able to detect earthlike planets around nearby stars, maybe even see the signs of intelligence in their atmospheres (pollution, etc. it is easy to see on Earth). To know there is someone out there, and perhaps discover that “real” space travel is possible – not just a short hop to nearby barren rock – is not just a dream of science fiction. It could happen in our life time. Of couse man (and woman) will go to Mars, but not yet because there is no reason. When we really know how to travel in space trips to Mars will be easy and unremarkable, and it will truely be a stepping stone to the stars.


  9. David Kidd
    Posted 27/02/2011 at 19:17 | Permalink

    It is difficult to justify a manned mission to Mars on any economic or scientific grounds. Perhaps the mission could be compared to the polar expeditions of the early twentieth century which were inspiring and had some valid scientific results but were ultimately pointless except as patriotic flag waving. There are so many possibilities in space that what is needed is a clear assessment of the aims and objectives of the space programme. If the main objective is to search for life there are surely many more possibilities than scientists would have thought possible at the time of the moon landings when everone agreed Mars was the next step: Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, Titan to name but a few. Many robotic missions could be sent for the cost of one manned mission to Mars. Then there is a real possibility that earthlike planets could be identified around nearby stars from larger and better space telescopes. The discovery of such planets would surely be one of the greatest events in the history of science and would give a clear focus to space science for generations to come. It might even answer the question are we alone in the universe? A manned mission to Mars has been the next objective of the space programme for too long when there are other more exciting,more rewarding, and more affordable objectives. Time for some creative thinking I suggest.


  10. Pete H
    Posted 23/02/2011 at 10:52 | Permalink

    Of course man should go to Mars. The only issue is how we weigh up the cost of this compared to the other things we could be doing. Manned space flight is a hard sell in a world where people still die from malaria and don’t have enough food to eat (not that the cost of a manned Mars mission would approach even 1% of the cost of dealing with these problems, but people won’t see it that way)

    If someone does go, I can’t see the UK being involved at all. There just isn’t the political will to be involved in something this big and long term.


  11. Phil
    Posted 18/02/2011 at 21:25 | Permalink

    If it gets me out of visiting the in-laws tomorrow count me in.


  12. Mariner
    Posted 18/02/2011 at 16:31 | Permalink

    I suggest that manned missions to Mars cannot be justified purely on scientific or technological reasons. For instance, arguably it will be better to look for signs of life on Mars with robots before people and all the associated equipment with their potential for contamination of the martian surface, are sent to the red planet.

    However, if the Apollo astronaut landings hadn’t happened then I think our collective human knowledge and experience would be less than it is: not just because we definitely wouldn’t know nearly as much about the evolution of the Moon and planets but also because of the near universal fascination with the idea of exploration beyond our planet. Every time I have seen the question raised of whether we should send people to Mars I have noticed young people endorse the idea in a large majority.

    Because of this enduring attraction to the endeavour and results of exploration I am convinced that ultimately there will be manned missions to Mars. I also think that the UK should take some part in it, in proportion to our national wealth. Perhaps such a mission will be spurred on by the Chinese wishing to show off their resurgent technological capability and economy. Probably it would have to be a joint international effort which leads on from some of the technology and missions that are currently being developed.

    This includes new rocket designs and meeting the challenges of sustaining human life over such long missions. In April 2010 President Obama said: ‘By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.’ The Chinese Space Agency have declared long term strategic interests in manned exploration and suggested they would be interested in collaboration for human exploration of Mars.
    I think its unlikely that a manned mission to Mars would currently be supported to the same extent as the Apollo Program cost (e.g. ~1 % of US GDP). The cost overruns on the NASA Mars Science Laboratory and ESA ExoMars rovers show the difficulties of organising complex space missions on budget. This means that a rapid program, analogous to Apollo, is not going to happen again. But so what? Such a great human endeavour deserves some patience for the technological components of this mission to be developed. If the UK invests in its space science and technology base including the current robotic exploration mission plans then our scientists and engineers of the future will come to be involved in human landings on Mars as well.

    So my suggestion for UK involvement is for it to evolve out of our current space science activities, responding to technological challenges. This will attract new blood into science and engineering even if we dont all end up going to Mars.

    How do we prioritise manned space exploration versus eradicating diseases or improving educational opportunities? I don’t know, but I suggest that many of us who wont work on the mission will be still feel enriched by the experience of watching the next step in human exploration of space develop and succeed.


    Tony P Reply:

    There’s something in the human spirit that should, and probably will take us there. When the Angel of the North was built near Gateshead people initially said, “what a waste of money”. Now it’s a totemic symbol of the region. And human exploration of Mars will be totemic for humankind. Something to inspire and be proud of.


    Martin Barstow Reply:

    I agree with your sentiments. However, I think it is worth saying that I also feel robotic exploration is extremely important. Robots are the pathfinders of future human missions adn allow us to go to many places where we cannot yet conceived of sending humans. Also, an human exploration of Mars will certainly be accompanied by robotic support (landers and rovers) to increase the scope and flexibility of the missions.


  13. Posted 17/02/2011 at 15:59 | Permalink

    We’re approaching this from an anglo-euro-american perspective, but we are not the only humans with an interest. My research – Kul’tra Kosmosa: the Russian Popular Culture of Space Exploration – (my thesis now at and argues that since the time of Nikolai Fedorov, Russia has accepted a moral obligation to visit and colonise Mars and elsewhere. Fedorov argued that mankind had a responsibility to house the immortal souls of our ancestors in whatever material form they took; he was a devout Orthodox Christian with an interest in Newtonian science (his contemporary science). He inspired Konstantin Tsiolkovsky at what became the Lenin library, who, as well as working out the mass/velocity equation to make extra-planetary travel possible, was an equally adherent follower of Russian Cosmism. Tsiolkovsky’s work inspired Sergei Korolev, although his neice told me they had never met, and Korolev flew Gagarin into space. Today, the Ukrainian governement consider Korolev one of their own and the Russian government still claim Gagarin by myth and ritual.

    A copule of years ago in a tour of Star City I asked a senior engineer if the Cosmonaut corps would go to Mars. His reply was that they would. I asked if they knew they would die in so doing. His reply was that they did, but they would still go. That’s Russia for you.


    Martin Barstow Reply:

    I think any trip to Mars has to be a global effort, so I was at least mentally including Russia, China and others in my view, even if it wasn’t clear in the text. It is notable that the Russians are currently carrying out a simulation of a trip to Mars (from the psychological point of view as much as anything) that has been widely reported in the media. This seems to me to be an important experiment and step towards a real mission.


  14. ziggy
    Posted 17/02/2011 at 11:00 | Permalink

    Perhaps it might be a woman who goes!


    Martin Barstow Reply:

    Absolutely! Thats why I was careful to use the term “human” exploration. Female astronauts are still in the minority but numbers are increasing and some of the artifical barriers that prevented women joining the various space programmes have gone.


    ziggy Reply:

    Unfortunately, the whole debate is under the banner ‘Should man go to Mars?’


  15. flatfooted
    Posted 14/02/2011 at 18:40 | Permalink

    “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

    JFK 1962

    Words that are still inspiring and relevant.


  16. Martin Barstow
    Posted 14/02/2011 at 13:48 | Permalink

    Thats a fair question. There are a number of myths propagating about the spin-offs from space exploration. For example, Teflon was NOT discovered as a result of the Apollo programme. Space Exploration can’t be completely justified in terms of spin-off. One part is about the exploration for its own sake. Nevertheless, we have gained considerable benefits from creating our space exploration infra-structure. Our telecommunications, weather forecasting and navigation are now mostly operated from space because of the benefits of being able to “look down” from that vantage point. Space infrastructure has been essential in understanding the threats to our planet such as climate change and is now actively used in monitoring and mitigating natural and human-made disasters. The space industry is now a major contributor to the UK and world economy, with high added value.


    Spaceman Reply:

    Martin – “Nevertheless, we have gained considerable benefits from creating our space exploration infra-structure. Our telecommunications, weather forecasting and navigation are now mostly operated from space” – yes but surely this is done with satellites at just 36,000Km, launched from unmanned craft? This is something that man acheived on July 26, 1963, 6 years before the manned moon landings. It hardly justifies manned exploration.


    Martin Barstow Reply:

    I dont disagree completely with this point of view, but there is a very complex relationship between the politically driven space race and the creation of the means to put satellites into space. I am not sure we would have the second without the first.


  17. PeteV
    Posted 11/02/2011 at 21:22 | Permalink

    This much I don’t understand. There is much claimed about the spin-off benefits of space exploration. That pen that writes upside down for a start. But why did we have to go into space to think that up? Do scientists have to have their pre-conceptions so shaken up by other dimensions to be productive? Are there other mothers of invention than necessity?


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