Want to travel to Mars? The one way trip is not for Muslims, say Islamic leaders

In ten years, you may get your chance to travel one-way to Mars. (Credit: D Mitriy)

In ten years, you may get your chance to travel one-way to Mars. (Credit: D Mitriy)

Haven’t heard of the Mars One mission? A Dutch nonprofit (and potential reality show) is making plans to start a civilian Mars colony in 2024. While their plan for travel to Mars has met criticism from science bloggers who feel the plan is overly ambitious for the time frame they’ve established, on February 19, 2014, the project met another opponent: Islamic leaders who issued a fatwa against the one way travel, essentially declaring it a suicide mission. (Meanwhile, the project is taking applications, so if the Islamic fatwa does not apply to you and you’re desperate to travel to Mars, you can start the process.)

Mars One

What is the Mars One mission? According to its website, Mars One plans to launch crews of four, which will depart every two years, beginning in 2024. An unmanned mission in 2018 will start taking supplies to the Red Planet, and the habitat modules will be fully assembled by the first four crew members to arrive. Eventually, the colony will support a population of twenty “Martians.” The project claims that no new technology is required to build a colony on Mars.

But that’s part of the problem, according to science blogger Harry Keller of Educational Technology and Change in “Mars One: Exciting adventure or hoax?” posted April 8, 2013. While Keller acknowledged the excitement of the pioneering spirit, “The true problems arise when you look more deeply into the circumstances under which the Mars colonists will live. Skip over the problems with four people traveling in cramped quarters for the eight-month trip to Mars. They pale in comparison to living on the planet.”

Keller’s initial list of concerns required, he believed, new answers—and new technology—to adequately solve the problems:

  • Radiation: Because Mars has only 1/100 of the atmosphere that Earth does, none of the atmospheric shielding against radiation will be available to Martian colonists. The Mars One explained that a few meters of Martian soil will be used to create an Earth-like shield; Keller remained dubious.
  • Physical Problems: Even assuming that the radiation problem is solved, plants will still struggle to convert solar energy to edible food for the colonists, given Mars’s lower solar intensity. Keller expressed concerns about water availability, replicating air lost any time the colonists leave the settlement, and medical issues.
  • Psychological pressures: Colonists will continually be in a high stress environment—one accident could kill them all. And with such a small living area and so few people to interact with, the colonists are likely to get cabin fever, which would be the least of their worries.

Islamic fatwa

Keller isn’t the only one concerned about the unaddressed risks of the Mars One mission. A committee of Islamic leaders on the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment commission of the UAE issued its proclamation against the Mars One project because it believed it to effectively be a suicide mission. “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living,” the committee declared, according to Leone Lakhani of CNN in “UAE Islamic affairs authority warns Muslims against a mission to Mars,” posted February 26, 2014. Islam prohibits suicide.

Mars One responded with a statement that cited the Islamic tradition of exploration, quoting a verse in the Koran that encourages Muslims to travel the “heavens and the earth,” Lakhani noted. She reported that the Mars One statement recommended, “The GAIAE should assess the potential risk for humans as if an unmanned habitable outpost is ready and waiting on Mars. Only when that outpost is established will human lives be risked in Mars One’s plan.”

Other space exploration options

Not sure you want the risk of the Martian colony? Prefer a plan with a return trip? There are other space exploration options, if you have the cash:

  • Space Adventures is already taking private clients into space; they’re also planning lunar touchdown missions.
  • Star Chaser has a contest to become the navigator of their Starchaser 4; the European company is focused on space tourism.
  • You can fly on the Xcor Aerospace Lynx for a ticket price of $100k.
  • Richard Branson’s Virgin is expanding into space with Virgin Galactic, planning trips to the moon by 2043.

In “Space travel is moving toward private funding,” posted on TriCities February 21, 2014, Jack Kennedy suggested that civilian space flight is the future. “The next dramatic moments in human spaceflight might not be from a square-jawed, buzz-cut, hotshot male aviator superhero piloting a spacecraft to the surface of the moon,” he wrote. “Instead, it may be the corporate researcher mom holding a doctoral degree in lunar geology and mining engineering.”

Would you ever consider living life on Mars? Share with us in the comments why you would or would not do so.

1 reply
  1. Harry Keller says:

    Thank you for the shout-out. As the discussion has advanced over the last year, I have come to the conclusion that two major issues stand in the way of colonization of Mars. One is energy. The other is gravity. A number of substantial but potentially solvable issues also exist and may loom larger if they are not solved.

    The use of solar energy on Mars will be very limited in terms of building a civilization. It is likely to be barely enough to sustain life. We would have to send tons of solar panels to Mars to provide enough energy for more than life support. Mining and refining would require enormous amount of energy for which no one on Earth would be willing to pay the cost of getting those solar panels to Mars. Nuclear power is a possibility but one that has its own issues.

    Gravity on Mars is about 38% of that on Earth. We just don’t have any idea of the health effects of that gravity over long periods, especially entire lifetimes. There’s no data there. It could be good, bad, or indifferent. Until people spend a long time on Mars, we won’t know. I know one thing, with four degenerated lumbar disks, I’d love to be living in 38% gravity right now.


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