David Bowie sang about Major Tom, and Peter Schilling continued the story in the 80’s about an astronaut that got trapped in space and would not be coming home. It sounded and still seems like a dangerous proposition.
Yet, do you know that 200,000 people, including 30,000 Americans, have expressed interest in going on a one-way trip to Mars starting in 2022? To think that there are still a lot of questions regarding its viability, whether financial or scientific.
The Mars One Project
The Mars One Project aims to colonize Mars, the red planet, by 2022. According to the people behind it, including the Chief Executive Officer and company co-founder Bas Landsdorp, humans will be sent to Mars and settle on it to help build a new Earth.
Applications are open for anyone at least 18 years old. A fee is charged from every applicant, though curiously, the amount varies depending on the person’s nationality. For Americans, the fee is $38.
Out of the applicants, only 40 will be chosen this year. Why a fee is charged to the other 199,960 applicants is not clear, but the 40 lucky souls will undergo an eight-year training program in a secluded and still unannounced location. The applicants will come from different nationalities, races and backgrounds. They will learn together how to build and repair habitat and other structures. They will also be given lectures on how to grow vegetables in small and limited spaces. Training will also be provided for medical issues both simple and routine, ranging from dental problems to muscle tears and even bone fractures.
Eight of them will then be picked to go on the one-way mission to Mars. They will be divided into two groups of four. The ideal scenario is that each group will have an equal number of two men and two women each, with the four of them coming from different continents.
The first group will then be launched into space in September 2022. They are expected to land on Mars in April 2023. That is a trip that will take seven months with no real stopovers. The second group will then leave either in 2024 or 2025. Not one of them will step foot on our planet again. They are expected to start a new human settlement on Mars that will last forever.
More missions that will deploy other trainees will be sent eventually.
Feasibility of the Colonization Plan
How does Mars One plan to push through with the project? Take note that not all the 200,000 that have expressed their interest in joining the mission have paid the application fee. However, even if all of them decides that the project is indeed feasible and pay an average of $40, the total would only come up to $8 million. That amount will only buy a couple of Bugatti Veyrons or Lykan Hypersports. These may be super cars that boast of outstanding engineering, but they definitely are not designed to travel all the way to Mars.
Mars One estimates that the first mission alone will cost around $6 billion. The organizers hope to raise the money by selling the rights to broadcast everything from the training to actual deployment to media and other broadcast facilities. In other words, it will go the way of reality television.
If they get enough money to pay for the first mission, Mars One plans to send a lander that can carry around 5,511 pounds of useful load to the red planet. If they get lucky enough to raise funds for eight complete missions, the colonists would have more than 44,000 pounds of supplies. The organizers remain hopeful that the funding would come. After all, they are only asking for around eight missions; the reality competition show Big Brother is already in its 15th run.
Food and solar panels will also be sent to the colonists. Two essential supplies won’t be taking up a lot of space in the supply capsule however. These are water and oxygen.
Water will be manufactured by filtering it from the red planet’s soil. The colonists will be trained to evaporate it and then condense it to a liquid state. Oxygen can then be created from the water. These will be actually prepared before the colonists even step foot on the planet to enable them to hit the ground running.
Lansdorp said they would be terraforming the habitat, but not the entire planet. This will allow the creation and modification of conditions to make Mars habitable.
Even the best-trained astronauts in the world have not gone to such a distance, so the danger is real, in case the project does push through.
There is also the risk brought about by space radiation. The maximum time that an astronaut can spend in space for a solar minimum activity is between 300 and 360 days; for a solar maximum activity, it is between 275 and 500 days. A trip to Mars would expose a person to the maximum amount of radiation allowed in an astronaut’s entire career.
Even while just orbiting Earth, a person can already be exposed to huge amounts of cosmic background radiation, as well as to charged particles trapped in the sun and the upper atmosphere. These get even worse as one moves deeper into space.
The radiation can damage a cells’ DNA. This can then lead to the death of the cell. The permanent changes may turn into cancer for the person concerned.
NASA is trying to develop a faster spacecraft that can cut travel time to less than the 500-day maximum exposure, but this won’t be ready until the 2030’s, and even that is an optimistic estimate. Still, that has not discouraged the organizers of Mars One.
Mars One is not alone. Another company, Inspiration Mars Foundation, aims to send a man and a woman on a 501-day trip to Mars by 2018. The difference is that their craft will not land on Mars and will instead make an immediate u-turn back to Earth.
So will this project push through? If Lansdorp is to be believed, there will finally be Martians in 2023.
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