Author : Ian Rennie

Dear Tony, Amanda, Vladimir, and Manami,

If I set this right, then this message has appeared just as you lost radio contact with Earth, alongside the real figures for how little fuel there actually is on your ship.

The first thing I want to do is apologize. You don’t deserve this. Nobody would deserve this. You deserve much more than an explanation, but an explanation is all I can give you.

Ultimately, this has come down to money. For decades NASA, ESA, and JAEA have been asked to do even more with even less, and as a result we’ve been forced to be a little more creative than we would have liked with our budget.

One of the largest costs of any Mars mission is the cost of bringing the ship back. All the way there, you have to lug the fuel to bring you all the way home again, meaning that the mass of the craft turns out to be more fuel than anything else. However we span it, a return trip to Mars costs exponentially more than a one way. We looked at sending the fuel first for you to collect when you got there, we looked at sending means of manufacturing the fuel for your return journey. Nothing worked. We could afford a one way but not a round trip.

We could have been open about it, recruited specifically for people who wouldn’t have objected to spending the rest of their life on the red planet. It would have been a bigger trip, but it would also have been a bargain rate for multiple years of data collection. This wasn’t possible politically. No elected representative would sign off on people going to Mars to die there.

So, we’re left with this, and I’m sorry. Your instruments have been lying to you the whole time, telling carefully constructed untruths, making sure you and everyone else believed you would be coming back.

You will be remembered, and honoured, and loved. The news will call this a noble sacrifice and they will be closer to the truth than they know. We’ll come back to Mars sooner, and in greater numbers, to honour the four brave souls who died on the takeoff of their return trip.

The countdown on the explosives should be nearing zero now.


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