More than 200,000 Earthling adventurers from 140 countries have applied for a one-way ticket to the Red Planet.
But they won’t all get to go. This month Mars One, the visionary firm which plans to establish a human settlement on Martian soil, has narrowed the field of selected applicants to 1,058. The list will be further pared until only about 40 remain by the time the first quartet of adventurers is launched into space in 2023.
Mars One is a nonprofit with an ambitious goal. The private spaceflight project led by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced plans for the Mars One mission in May 2012. Lansdorp hopes to fund the enterprise through a combination of profits from an anticipated reality show, crowdfunding and private investors.
If Bansdorf’s dream comes true, his trained crews of four will depart for the Red Planet every two years. After eight years of strenuous training, the Mars-bound astronauts will undertake an arduous journey of seven or eight months, confined in a very small space and surviving on canned or freeze-dried food, amid constant noise from the ventilators, computer and life support systems.
Once they arrive on Mars, they’ll live in a settlement which includes inflatable components: bedrooms, working areas, a living room and a ‘plant production unit’, where they will grow greenery. They will also be able to shower as normal, prepare fresh food (that they themselves grew and harvested) in the kitchen, wear regular clothes, and, in essence, lead typical day-to-day lives. If the astronauts leave the settlement, they have to wear a Mars Suit. However, all living spaces are connected by passageways, in order for the astronauts to move freely from one end of the settlement to the other. As the rovers have done much of the heavy construction prior to their arrival, it will not take the astronauts a long time to find routine in their new life, moving into carrying out valuable construction works and research.
Who are these people who would willingly sacrifice family, friends and all that they know on Earth to set up housekeeping some 57 million miles away?
You know, they get a one-way ticket. They will never set foot on Earth again. Once they saunter off into the inter-planetary void, there would be no stopping back at Christmastime or summer driving in the van to introduce the kids to their grandma and grandpa in another state. No family camping trips or high school reunions. No hugs and kisses from elderly aunts bearing fresh-baked sugar cookies. Nada.
So would the only people who choose to go be social misfits or autism sufferers?
In the pool of 472 female and 586 male finalists, more than half are younger than 35; but 26 are older than 56. The oldest applicant to advance to the next round is 81 years of age. The United States is most heavily represented, with 297 contenders; Canada is second, with 75.
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The 1955 movie Conquest of Space tells the story of a Martian expedition gone awry. In the film, the spaceship’s captain is filled with religious remorse as the ship nears its destination. It was wrong, he realizes, to try to reach Mars.
Though the captain is the mastermind behind the space station orbiting Earth, and although he hasn’t shown any interest in the Bible before, he grows more and more convinced that mankind wasn’t meant to venture forth to other planets. The heavens are God’s abode, he worries, and it is sacrilege to breach His realm.
In Conquest of Space, that’s the source of the tension. The captain regrets his decision to make the journey; his son, also on the ship, disagrees. There’s a fight, a crash, a tough Martian winter, and the crew almost doesn’t make it back to Earth.
It’s science fiction, intended to spark the imagination.
Mars One sparks the imagination, too—but this time, it’s for real. Is it right?