A Washington State University professor is calling for one-way missions to Mars - and says he'd be happy to volunteer himself.
Associate professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch, together with Paul Davies, a physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University, point out that most of the cost of a manned Mars mission relates to bringing the astronauts safely back to Earth.
They reason that a manned one-way mission would not only cut the costs by several-fold, but also mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the planet.
Mars is by far the best bet for sustained colonization and development, they say, because it's similar in many respects to Earth and, crucially, possesses a moderate surface gravity, an atmosphere, abundant water and carbon dioxide, together with a range of essential minerals.
"We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only," says Schulze-Makuch.
"One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two space craft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet."
Schulze-Makuch and Davies do stress that they aren't suggesting that astronauts simply be abandoned on Mars for the sake of science. They propose a series of missions over time, sufficient to support long-term colonization.
"It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return," Davies says.
"Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt."
The astronauts would probably start off living in a lava cave. They could be regularly supplied with basic necessities from Earth, but otherwise would be expected to use whatever water, minerals and nutrients they could find on Mars. Eventually they would reach self-sufficiency.
The two are convinced that there would be plenty of volunteers.
"Informal surveys conducted after lectures and conference presentations on our proposal, have repeatedly shown that many people are willing to volunteer for a one-way mission, both for reasons of scientific curiosity and in a spirit of adventure and human destiny," they write.
And Schulze-Makuch says he's willing to go - but only once his young children have grown up.