Some have said it’s a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it’s not: it’s a pie-on-Mars idea. And, for the moment at least, it is beyond Nasa’s reach.
First there were 200,000 people who wanted to give up life on Earth and travel to Mars – and not return. They included doctors, lawyers, students and, of course, scientists. Yesterday, they were being whittled down to a shortlist of 100, to be announced on Monday. Just 24 of them will get to leave Earth.
The name of the organisation that could be the first to put humans on the Red Planet is Mars One – as in “one-way”. It will launch people into space, land them on Mars and attempt to keep them alive for the length of their natural lives – but it won’t be bringing them back.
The critics of Mars One number almost as many as those willing to die on the red planet. “There are so many unknowns with this mission, and so many possible ways the whole endeavour could fall apart,” wrote Amy Shira Teitel in Physics Focus when the mission was announced.
“It will be an interesting mission to follow, but I suspect it will be another in the growing list of old and abandoned Mars plans that have been forgotten by everyone save a handful of historians.”
The project was dreamt up by Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch entrepreneur, who says he has “never been one to let bold ventures intimidate him”. Arno Wielders, the project’s chief technical officer, has been involved in space telescopes and ozone-monitoring projects since gaining an MSc in physics at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1997. But the prospect of sending crews to Mars has defeated the brightest minds in the world. It has also defeated governments with the deepest pockets on Earth.
Explaining how the seemingly unachievable could be achieved, Mars One says: “Much of what was learned from Skylab, Mir and the International Space Station has resulted in vital data, experiences with systems and related know-how – all of which are applicable to living on Mars.”
True, perhaps, but there is still the matter of transporting crews of four to Mars – a journey of at least 33 million miles (the planet’s maximum separation from Earth is 249 million miles). Then they will have to be landed safely, and resources found to keep them alive.
First, though, the two dozen candidates, broken into six teams of four people, will spend nine years training and preparing, while competing against each other to determine which group will leave for Mars first. To help fund the estimated £4bn trip (so far only £500,000 has been raised), their experiences will be broadcast in a new reality television show.
Maggie Lieu: "I’m very open to having a baby on Mars … My baby could be the first ever Martian: we’d be the Adam and Eve of Mars"
Sixty-three of the remaining hopefuls have PhDs, and 12 are doctors. They include lawyers, pilots, veterans and businessmen. They come from all over the world. The youngest is 18, the oldest 71.
Among the 36 Britons is Ryan MacDonald, 20, a physics student at Oxford University. “By going to Mars I suspect I could accomplish much more for science than I could as one of seven billion people on Earth,” he told ITV last month.
Maggie Lieu, 24, from Coventry, told BBC’s Newsbeat yesterday that she was unconcerned about leaving her friends and family for good. “It’s true I’ll never be able to see [them] ever again in person, but I’ll be able to see their pictures, I’ll still have access to the internet.”
She added: “I’m very open to having a baby on Mars. I think it would be really exciting to be the mother of the first ever baby born there. My baby could be the first ever Martian: we’d be the Adam and Eve of Mars.”
Nasa has no public plans to attempt a human landing on Mars until the 2030s, and it will only be sending experienced astronauts. Mars One, by contrast, is happy to train non-astronauts.
By 2018 a communication satellite will have been launched into Mars’ orbit, Mars One says. Two years later a rover will be launched, and in 2022 cargo will the sent to Mars for the crew to live in. The first crew will land in 2025 and a second a year later. Who the members of that crew will be will become clearer next week.