The big cost of traveling to Mars is in the coming back. Solution: Don't come back.
It's not a popular plan. Yet. But the basic idea—admitting that what we really want to do is colonize other worlds, and switching goals from exploration to permanent settlement—is starting to be openly discussed, says Popular Science. There's a paper on the subject in the Journal of Cosmology. And NASA and DARPA have started work on a project to build a "100 Year Starship". (Although, to be fair, they're not going to get very far on $1,100,000.)
Also interesting: One of the authors of the Cosmology paper says he'd go—but only after his kids were grown. Seems to me, if a colony of space Pilgrims was going to succeed in any meaningful way, it would need to include kids. Or, at least, couples and potential couples of child-bearing age. After all, you're going to become somewhat emotionally disconnected from Earth pretty quick out there. And who else are you building your Martian colony for?
What do you guys think? Would you go? Would you take your kids? Could you talk your spouse into it? Bearing in mind, we're talking real pioneering conditions here: "They would get periodic supply missions, but they would be expected to fend for themselves for water, shelter, nutrients and mineral/chemical processing. They would be expected to develop some kind of homegrown Martian industry."
If I'm being more honest, and less Walter Mitty, I'm not sure I could do it.
Popular Science: NASA, DARPA plan "Hundred Year Starship"
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.