I just happened to find this cool Wikipedia article while doing completely unrelated research. The idea of Mars to Stay is that the best way to establish a persistent colony on Mars – and prevent politicians from chickening out – is to send the first people over there without a way to come back. Bizarre, you say? Well, I kind of like the idea.
The idea isn’t that it’d be a suicide mission, even though it would be considerably dangerous. Instead, older astronauts would be selected with the idea that, already having a full life on Earth, they wouldn’t mind spending their last twenty or thirty years on the red planet paving the way for future colonists. They would receive regular shipments of supplies and additional colonists while they worked to develop the infrastructure for in situ resource utilization. They’d extract water from the soil, mine exposed metals, grow crops, and dig habitats for what would hopefully be a continual influx of new colonists.
Once the colony reached thirty or forty people, they would have a sufficiently stable genetic pool that they could start to grow themselves “the old-fashioned way.” Maybe in vitro fertilization would help here; I’m not sure of that.
I’m like 90% sure that this will never happen, just because it makes a terrible sound bite. Who would have the political will to send people to another planet to die? Not in this Congress. Never mind the fact that you would probably have thousands of volunteers, and even if only one tenth of one percent of those turned out to be suitable you’d have crew for a dozen missions.
Anyway, there’s cool stuff in that article, so I’d recommend checking it out and reading some of the editorials it links to. This is really what space travel is all about – humans will have to leave the Earth eventually, and daring exploits are needed to get the job done.