“Space: The Final Frontier…
To explore strange new worlds,
To seek out new life and new civilizations,
To boldly go where no man has gone before”
This might sound familiar to some, as these were the iconic opening credits monologue of the television series, and later on turned into films, “Star Trek”. Similar to it is the vision of Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch entrepreneur who dreams of sending men to one of those places where no man has gone before – Mars.
In 2011, Lansdorp co-founded and is now the CEO of Mars One, a Netherlands-based non-profit foundation and profit corporation that seeks not only to send the first men to Mars, but also to establish a permanent ever-growing human colony in the red planet by 2027, which would allow the continuous exploration of Mars and aid in the further understanding of the origin of the solar system and life itself.
Two years after Mars One was founded, the organization launched its Astronaut Selection Program. Hopeful candidates that wanted to be a part of the historic mission were asked to submit a video application and pay an administration fee that served as a donation to help fund the project. The application fee depended on the candidate’s nationality, wherein the computation is based on his country’s Gross Domestic Product per Capita, ranging from 5 USD to 73 USD. According to the organization, they wanted the fee to be “high enough for people to have to really think about it and low enough for anyone to be able to afford it”. And one should really contemplate on whether one truly wants to participate in the program, because the trip would be a one way ticket. The organization has emphasized that the technology required for the flight back to Earth is still inexistent.
However, not having a return flight significantly reduces the cost of the mission, and minimizes the risks involved thus making the program more financially feasible. Mars One, as a non-profit foundation intends to raise its 6 billion dollar budget from donations sent from all around the globe, while its profit corporation plans to raise it from intellectual property rights, and from the media coverage of the selection and training process, to the liftoff, and eventually the landing. Skeptics are concerned whether the organization’s proposed budget will be enough to execute the entire program, and if Mars One will be able to raise the amount in time for the departure of its first four-man crew in 2027.
Together with the effort to obtain their target budget, and in preparation for the next giant leap for mankind, Mars One has been conducting its astronaut selection program for the past two years. Initially, the organization received around 200,000 applications from Martian colonist hopefuls, but only 4,227 individuals paid the administration fee that needs to be settled to complete one’s application. Out of those 4,227 astronaut wannabes, only 660 made it to the second round of the screening process involving the program’s medical criteria. These 660 were then interviewed by Mars One’s Chief Medical Director Norbert Kraft.
Earlier this year, with the process now on its third round, the selection committee was able to bring the number of candidates down to 100 that consist of 50 men and 50 women. From that group, 39 are from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania. In the third round of the selection program, the volunteers will participate in group challenges that simulate the rigors of the Martian life to determine the applicant’s suitability for the mission. At the end of the selection, the 24 volunteers who will be chosen to be part of Mars One astronaut corps will be organized into six groups of four and will undergo technical, personal and group trainings for seven years.
While the six four-person crew are preparing for their Martian life, a rover that will determine the best location for the settlement, and a communication satellite will be launched in 2022; living units, life support systems, and supply units will be launched by 2024. By the year 2025, the Mars One outpost will be fully operational and will be ready to receive the first crew that will leave Earth in 2026 via SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule – which was already used in two commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station. After seven to eight months of space travel Crew One will land on Mars in 2027.
Exactly two years after the departure of the Crew One, a second team would be leaving for Mars; more teams will follow in regular intervals to build the human settlement that will be able to grow. A crew will be composed of two men and two women to ensure the feasibility of reproduction on Mars.
“If humans land on Mars, everyone will want to watch. It will be bigger than the Olympic Games”, said Lansdorp. We are still ten years away from 2026; a lot of things can still happen for life is full of possibilities, a lot of things can still change, It is one life’s greatest tragedies – something always changes. We don’t know how far the Mars One program will get, we don’t know if they will ever get to launch something. One thing is for sure: “There is this about the human mind: if it can be done, it will be done. We can do it, so we will do it. So we might as well start.”