Crisscrossing the galaxy a la Captain Kirk may sound heroic, but would you volunteer for a Star Trek-like voyage if you knew you could never come home?
In a special edition published in October, the Journal of Cosmology detailed how a human mission to Mars could be a reality in as little as 20 years. But the complexity, risk and cost of getting astronauts there and back have kept the idea firmly on the ground.
So a few scientists proposed an unconventional idea: send astronauts -- but simplify the flight by making it a one-way trip. The astronauts would be settlers as well as explorers. A return trip is massively more difficult than the voyage there, partly because the fuel and supplies to get home would have make the round trip from Earth.
It's just a fanciful idea for now -- but the editors say they were stunned when more than 500 e-mail messages came from people around the world, volunteering to be the first Mars colonists.
Students, soldiers, law enforcement officers, nurses, and space enthusiasts young and old wrote in, saying they'd be happy to leave their lives on Earth for the chance to be pioneers. (The response was so great, in fact, that the journal announced Thursday that it would actively seek volunteers and supporters for a Mars mission. It encouraged the public to sign up on the journal's home page or e-mail them.)
"It's going to happen some way or another sometime. It may as well happen now. I don't see any sense in delaying it," said R.J. Musat, a 56-year-old computer operator at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio.
Musat, who was among the hundreds of volunteers to e-mail the journal, said he's been interested in exploring Mars since he read Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" in the 1960s.
Among his self-described credentials: a familiarity with computers, the ability to execute high-tech tasks and a genius-level I.Q.
When asked why he would be willing to leave his son, family and friends behind, he said, "Christopher Columbus did it. It's a pioneering thing. ...Because it's there."
In an e-mail to the journal, an honorably discharged Navy veteran said he should be a crew member because, aside from his military background, he has never fathered a child and has no commitments on Earth he wouldn't be able to leave behind.
"Sign me up for the adventure of a lifetime!" he said.
Many who claimed no relevant training at all added their names to the list.
"I think I would be a great candidate because I could help people cope with the depression, I'm continuously optimistic and happy," wrote an 18-year-old man from Alaska.
The one-way mission proposal, titled "To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars," is part of a book published by the journal that combines the work of more than 70 NASA scientists. "The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet" is billed as a step-by-step "how-to" series on going to Mars.
"I do think there is still part of the human spirit that is willing to explore new places and take risks," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, professor of earth sciences at Washington State University and co-author of the one-way mission proposal.