Is it science fiction, make believe or will it really happen? In 2023, Dutch enterprise Mars One wants to send the first people to Mars. One way, paid by a worldwide reality show. And there is plenty of interest in the exclusive all-inclusive single fare arrangement.
It is the brainchild of young entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp: in 2023, four people will land on Mars and set up a colony, where they will live for the rest of their lives. They will be joined by four new colonists every four years. A rocket is being built by the American space organisation SpaceX. Other space organisations have been contacted for the necessary equipment (accommodation units, mars buggies, space suits).
The project is expected to cost 5 billion euros. That is much cheaper than NASA has calculated (75 billion dollars), but that is because the main cost has been scrapped: the return journey. There is no need for an expensive rocket with food and fuel to be standing ready for take-off on Mars, because the participants will never come back.
The financing of the mission is also different. The whole event is to be a huge media spectacle. Big Brother 3.0 meets Idols in Space. The selection of the astronauts, the adventures in the rocket, the first ride in the Mars buggy and the colony itself will all be filmed and broadcast both online and on television.
Great ingredients for an exciting sci-fi book, you would think. And there are plenty of critics ready to pull the project to pieces. But the Mars One project is real. Nobel prize winner and theoretical physics professor Gerard ’t Hooft is one of its ambassadors:
“My first reaction was like everyone else’s, this will never work. But if you take a better look, you see it is possible - as a private enterprise without government meddling or taxpayers’ money. It is going to be one big media spectacle which will make Big Brother pale in comparison.”
So it’s no coincidence that Paul Römer – who produced Big Brother - is one of the ambassadors for the Mars One project.
Hundreds of applications
The big question is of course: can you find anyone mad enough to leave Earth behind them and spend the rest of their lives on Mars? According to Mr Lansdorp, many people are interested.
“We haven’t even started asking for people, but since we announced the project last week, hundreds of people have applied. All kinds of people: a 13-year-old girl to a 75-year-old man, people from the Netherlands to Nigeria. We even received an email from a man who wants to take his wife and three children with him. There are also people who are serious about going and sent long letters, who we are considering.”
“When we do start advertising for applicants, there will be even more.” thinks Mr Lansdorp. “Candidates will undergo a stringent selection procedure, to see who is really suitable for a trip like this.” Groups of four will be made, who undergo extensive training and will spend a number of months in the desert. All of this will be filmed of course.
The television viewers will decide which group of astronauts will actually enter the rocket in September 2022. Besides all the scientific, technological, medical and psychological requirements, the first people who go to Mars will have to be interesting enough to look at. “The only way to finance this is to make it the biggest media even of all time,” Mr Lansdorp explains.
Most of the applicants are men, but women are also meant to move to Mars. Mr Lansdorp:
“Missions to Antarctica, where people are also shut away from the outside world show that a mixed group works better.”
First Mars baby
But if you put two couples on a planet where there is nothing to do, it’ll only lead to sex. And possibly the birth of the first Mars baby. But reproduction is not the first priority of the mission:
“The conditions in early years of the colony certainly won’t be suitable for small children. But first you have to see whether reproduction is possible on Mars, where there is less gravity than on Earth. I’d not recommend it at first. But who knows, in the future. It might be the only way to eventually start a community on Mars."
So sex on Mars is something for the future. But Mars One expects to place its first advert for astronauts on its website within a year. Then the selection, training and worldwide – even interplanetary - reality show will begin. There is one advantage, the candidates will never have to worry about being recognised on the street like other Big Brother stars do.
Schedule Mars One
A journey into the unknown requires good preparations. What needs to happen before the mission can start?
2013: Astronauts are selected and given years of training.
2016: Communication satellite is launched and first supplies (including 2500 kilos of astronaut food) are sent to Mars.
2018: An exploration robot vehicle is sent to Mars to look for the best location for the colony.
2021: More materials are sent to Mars, including accommodation units, life support units and more supplies.
2022: On 14 September the four selected astronauts leave for Mars.
2023: Seven months later the first people will land on Mars. They finish building the colony and have to spend the rest of their lives on the Red Planet.