Audacious plan to send 24 people on one-way trip to Mars

2014-01-03 09:44

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The Hague – More than 1 000 candidates – from 200 000 hopefuls – have been chosen to train for a private Mars colonisation mission to be partly funded by a reality TV show following their training and subsequent steps.

They are to be whittled down to just 24 and will be sent over six launches starting in 2024, according to Mars One, the Dutch-based non-profit group behind the audacious endeavour.

The only catch is that the space-bound settlers will be on a one-way ticket to the Red Planet which lies a minimum of 55 million kilometres – six months’ travel – from Earth. Costs are too high to contemplate a return trip.

Mars One said the selected 1 058 would-be emigrants to Mars, from 140 countries, were informed on December 30 that they were the lucky few to meet the criteria – including an “indomitable spirit”, “good judgement”, “a good sense of play”, disease- and drug-free, English-speaking – to be interplanetary pioneers.

Said organisation co-founder Bas Landsdorp: “The challenge with 200 000 applicants is separating those who we feel are physically and mentally adept to become human ambassadors on Mars from those who are obviously taking the mission much less seriously. We even had a couple of applicants submit their videos in the nude.”

The group’s chief medical officer, Norbert Kraft, said the candidates would now be called in for “rigorous simulations, many in team settings, with focus on testing [their] physical and emotional capabilities” over the next two years.

The candidates will now be narrowed down in several phases starting this year. Mars One said that process was caught up in “ongoing negotiations” with media companies over television rights.

The organisers announced last month that they had signed a $250 000 (R2.6 million) contract with US group Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build a concept landing module that would be sent in a 2018 unmanned test flight.

It hopes to add more sponsors and partners to its roster to help cover the $6 billion cost of its plan which would see self-sufficient living modules shot off to Mars.

Key to that is an interactive reality TV programme built around the project in which the audience decides which candidates make the cut for the one-way mission and which stay behind on Earth.

Cameras will also follow the settlement of Mars as those it calls “a new generation of heroes” conduct experiments and work out how to live long and happy lives in airlocked pods, growing their own food, far from their native planet, in a new habitat with a thin, unbreathable atmosphere and sub-zero average temperatures.

Crowd funding – getting donations over the internet – is also meant to finance the task of turning the entrepreneurial dream into reality.

Mars One counts a Dutch 1999 Nobel physics prizewinner, Gerard’t Hooft, among its supporters.

But there are many sceptics, too. The chief engineer of US space agency Nasa, Brian Muirhead, reportedly said last April that a commercial venture to colonise Mars is “way beyond our capability to do today“. Nasa’s plan is to put an astronaut on the dry planet in a couple of decades’ time.

So far, Nasa, the Soviet Union and the European Space Agency are the only ones to have made unmanned missions to Mars – more than half of which have been unsuccessful. Only Nasa has landed robots on the surface.

A Chinese probe launched in 2011 was declared lost and burnt up in a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere nearly a year ago. On December 1, India flung its own Mars orbiter into space, aiming to reach Earth’s neighbour in September this year.

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