The Dutch private company Mars One, founded by entrepreneur Bas Landorp, has released a plan that, if executed, will create a permanent human settlement on Mars.
The project involves several steps, including the selection of astronauts, the building of a space station, and finally sending a group of four individuals to launch the first settlement, followed by a new group every two years.
Funding for the mission is planned through the creation of a “media spectacle” revolving around a reality show and a public selection of astronaut candidates.
Preparing for take-off
On its website and through a video that has circulated the internet, Mars One outlines a step-by-step plan to render this seemingly implausible mission a reality. The group intends to begin with astronaut selection in 2013 after which those selected will be trained for the demanding trip. Given the time required to complete the necessary technical training, the FAQ selection cites twenty-five as the ideal age for candidates. Over the next couple of years, the base on Mars will be established, including the coordination of food supplies and communications. This will be followed by a space rover and the installation of living units on Mars by 2021. Finally, four astronauts will be launched into space September 2022 and arrive on Mars in 2023 to remain there indefinitely. Mars One plans to continue sending groups of four every two years until there is a substantial settlement on the planet.
Upon arriving, the Mars One website indicates that the astronauts will engage in research of an unspecified nature. They will also work to establish capacities for sustained settlement, such as the all-important ability to produce food and oxygen.
Thus far, the practical details of the project remain quite broad. For example, the plan for ensuring that Mars settlers have enough oxygen has not yet expanded beyond this fairly basic scientific statement: “oxygen can be produced by splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen.”
A major part of the business model is contingent on the use of a flamboyant media campaign to finance what is estimated to be a $6 billion project. Heads of the company say that they will televise the major parts of the process, including the astronaut selection and training, as well as key moments like the landing of the rover. The group hopes to harness the excitement and scope of world participation to generate funds to support and maintain the mission in the future.
Landorp references the funding obtained by the Olympic Games as evidence of the plausibility of his financial model. He plans for it to be a “worldwide multi-media spectacle.” However, though he has hinted at a reality like set-up in which viewers participate in the selection of settlers, he stated to Business Insider that “a reality show has a very negative ring to it. What we want to do is to send people to Mars and share the experience of those people…They’ll be our eyes and ears.”
While parts of the plan remain unclear, Mars One claims to have found companies who can provide all of the essential materials needed for the initial mission and the project in the long-term, though the group declined to name anyone specific.
Bringing it back down to earth
Reaction to the project has been mixed. The group cites the support of several prominent figures including Nobel Prize winner Doctor Gerard ‘t Hooft, a theoretical physist.
Another non-profit group, the Mars Society, has also pledged its support for the project. In a statement to Business Insider about the project, the founder of the Mars Society, Dr. Zubrin, claimed, “What they are planning to do is extremely difficult, but not impossible. It’s possible, technically and financially, to get humans to Mars in about a decade and establish them there.”
The group has also obtained the support of Paul Romer, one of the co-creators of Big Brother, who has been named an “ambassador” of the Mars One project. Quoted on the Mars One website he says, “A lot still needs to happen and the technical facets will determine whether or not the media frenzy will truly happen, but the idea alone conjures up an endless amount of creative possibility.”
However, there has also been skepticism about the project, as well as concern that the entire thing is simply a publicity stunt. In response to some popular questions and concerns about of the project posted on social media site Reddit, the founders of Mars One attempted to allay criticism over the feasibility of a mission to Mars. Unfortunately, the brevity and lack of detail in the founders’ responses has so far failed to quiet their detractors.
While less central, the project also raises many ethical questions that have yet to be addressed. Although Mars One states that those who join the mission will be free to leave, other issues like the inclusion of children and the establishment of laws and a governing structure, may leave some human rights groups uncomfortable.
In addition, there have also been technical and health concerns raised. For example, the problem of extended radiation exposure, dangers associated with dust storms, the deterioration of astronauts’ bodies on the trip, and the long-term effects of lessened gravity on the human body are all issues that might impact the safety and viability of the project.
Overall, the Mars One project presents an interesting perspective on the possibilities for both reality television and scientific innovation. It remains to be seen whether or not the dependency on media fundraising will present a practical alternative to government-funded space exploration, but at the very least the project has managed to expand the conversation over the merits and possibility of space travel at time when NASA has seen its budget and scope reduced significantly.