Is it necessary for man to go to Mars? Probably not. Is it desirable? From a scientific standpoint-yes. While these are interesting questions a better question would be, “Is it practical to send a manned mission to Mars?” The answer to that question is no.
The present administration and NASA have stated that they want to research the possibility of sending a manned mission to the red planet by 2025; and while this may be a technically feasible goal it is not practical. While we have had some success with the shuttle program (despite two devastating disasters) and the international space station has shown that long term stays in space are possible, but the simple fact remains that we have never been further away than the moon and that was over 30 years ago.
A manned mission to Mars more than likely will last longer than six months (probably closer to a year) and I just don’t believe that the benefits of such a mission outweigh the risk factor or the expense that would be incurred. The space station has shown that long term stays in space are possible but they rely heavily on regular visits from mother Earth and such supply runs would not be possible for a mission to Mars. A mission to such a faraway planet would need to take all necessary supplies, including food, water, and air, with them and such supplies take up a lot of room. Experiments have shown that it is possible to grow plants in space but I do not believe that they have much success growing large enough quantities of food stuffs to make a long term space mission feasible.
Another consideration should be emergency situations that may arise in a long term manned mission. Despite the successes of unmanned missions such as Viking and Pathfinder only about 25 percent of the spacecraft sent there have arrived safely. It is doubtful that if something were to happen aboard a manned mission to Mars that it would be possible for the crews on Earth to mount a rescue operation in time to save anybody. What if somebody on board a Mars mission needed surgery; can they operate in space?
I believe that we made a misstep by going to the moon before we established a permanent space station in orbit and that is probably why we have never been back to the moon since. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again. The resources NASA has for planning a trip to Mars should be devoted to establishing a permanent, self-sustaining moon base. A successful long term mission to Mars depends on a spacecraft that can sustain itself and the only way to prove that it can be done practically is to show that a moon base is capable of doing it themselves. A moon base would be close enough to Earth to mount a rescue operation if something devastating happens but far enough away that it would have to be self-sustaining. A moon base would be the perfect laboratory for exploring the possibilities of sending a mission to Mars.