“Getting to Mars is a marvelous opportunity” - Interview with Dr. Gerard ‘t Hooft
by Vince on Tuesday, 24th November 2015 in Expert Opinions, People, Gerard ‘t Hooft
Professor Dr. Gerard ‘t Hooft, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for physics, is a Mars One Ambassador. Read more about Dr. Gerard ‘t Hooft here. Recently Mars One Exchange spoke with him about his interest and support for the mission.
Dr. ‘t Hooft, do you believe it is important that humanity should be seeking to settle on Mars or other places in the solar system? What do you see as the benefits and risks for humanity of this venture?
Dr. ‘t Hooft: I do not know how important space colonization will be. The reason why I became ambassador of the Mars One project is the realization that this may really be possible, and exciting. Getting to Mars is a marvelous opportunity, and if we grab it, it's because of the challenge. But only the future can tell how important it is to grab such challenges.
Usually, with these kinds of adventures, the direct importance is evident only after many years. In the meantime, there are short-term pay-offs: many new ideas and inventions will be made in the process of trying to get humans to Mars. This will yield many new scientific tools for mankind, and it will show all how useful science can be for us.
What are good reasons for scientists and others to support this mission, given the risks?
Dr. ‘t Hooft: Many scientists do not support such ideas. Their point is that robots could do better research, cheaper, and at much lower risk. Being a scientist myself, I see and understand such points of view. But I am thinking of the long term. Being there in person will give us all sorts of new opportunities to discover things that robots won't see.
I do have some reservations also: maybe it would be better to wait until more technical abilities are developed, such as much more intelligent robots, more powerful space transportation (such as ion drives, etc.), and procedures to prepare a colony site that will receive human guests only when the site is fully prepared. The problem is that such an effort might not catch the public's imagination to the degree that Mars One is doing now. Mars One has noted that perhaps the only way to get plans like these realized will be by earning a strong, world-wide public support.
If Mars were the only target for colonization, it would indeed be questionable whether peopleshould go and live there. But Mars could be the door towards a much wider future; we could strive for human presence much further out in the solar system.
Why do you, as a Mars One Ambassador, personally support this?
Dr. ‘t Hooft: Maybe the answer is that I am just a bit crazy. I am fond of the idea that highly technical constructions could be used to put humans in places we were never before. I regard this as a fantastic adventure.
What would you recommend Mars One do to build support among scientists for the mission?
Dr. ‘t Hooft: Mars One needs to gain much more credibility than it has now. At this moment we are passing through a bottleneck: will we be able to collect the funds necessary to continue? If yes, then Mars One can prepare the next components of its mission, those being much more detailed studies of the entire road map, followed by the first unmanned mission to Mars, demonstrating that water and breathable air can be harvested there. That will certainly boost their credibility, which in turn will be needed to collect funds. The public and scientists alike will then be able to better assess its potential.
The other thing that has to be done is a detailed study of all safety aspects. Indeed there will be risks endangering the lives and comfort of the crews, but quite a few of these risks can be carefully studied and weighed. Like many others, I am very much worried that things might not work out exactly as planned, that obstacles might arise, and that seemingly minor accidents could turn out to be fatal. There may also be quite a few health issues, technical uncertainties, and what not.
I find it amazing that in spite of the combined enormity of all these issues, the Mars One initiators have managed to reach the stage they have attained now. It's much less than 1% of what still has to be done. The road ahead is a long, tedious, and perilous one.
Story by Vincent Hyman, a writer and Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.