Life on Mars? New space project seeks volunteers to one-way trip to the Red Planet

Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, and bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.” Thus read Ernest Shackleton’s ominous advert for his now-legendary traversing of Antarctica via the South Pole. Despite his bleak, blunt words, the response was overwhelming.

And it would seem that voyages with the possibility if no return are still as appealing to would-be explorers now as they were for Shackleton’s team in the early 1900’s. Mars One is a new private spaceflight project which plans to create a community of settlers on Mars, and despite advertising his project as a one-way trip, founder Bas Lansdorp has already received thousands emails from intrepid explorers who are willing to take the challenge.

Lansdorp and his team of Dutch entrepreneurs hope to successfully emigrate an initial team of four astronauts to the red planet in 2023, followed by subsequent pairs of astronauts ever following two years. Far from a pipe dream, Mars One are serious about their dream to create a community of colonists, and have received over 8000 emails from prospective candidates before the application process has even begun. Mars One are keen to stress that this will be, most likely, a one way trip. ‘The technology to get humans to Mars and keep them alive there exists,’ explains Lansdorp, ‘but the technology to bring them from Mars and back to Earth simply does not yet.’

Technology is not the only reason why the successful candidates would be spending the rest of their lives on the red planet. The journey to Mars will take around seven to eight months, during which the astronauts will lose up to a massive 35 per cent of their bone and muscle mass. If the astronauts do not follow a strict exercise regime during their time aboard the rocket, they may not even be able to walk out of it on their own two legs. After spending an extended period of time under Mars’ gravitational field, which is much weaker than our own on Earth, they would not be able to readjust to the strong gravitational pull of Earth if they were to return.

Other risks include radiation exposure, which is much higher on Mars due to Mars’s thin atmosphere.  Whilst Earth’s strong magnetic field protects us from solar wind (the sun’s high energy particles), Mars has no such shield protecting it from the Sun’s harmful energy, hugely increasing the risks of cancer, lowered immune systems and infertility. Additionally, there are other serious problems that the team will face, such as the complete lack of liquid water, low atmospheric pressure, and wildly varying temperatures. The team will not be able to venture outside of their self-built ‘campus’ without wearing a spacesuit.

A rigorous selection process will be followed, taking into account applicants’ psychological and emotional stability and general health, as well as their creativity, resilience, adaptability and resourcefulness. The selection process will be televised, as will the entire project, as a reality ‘big brother’ TV-style broadcast which Lansdorp hopes will provide the main source of funding for the project, the costs of which are estimated at some £3.8billion. The astronaut’s journey will be documented, from the astronaut selections and their eight years of preparation, to the arrival on Mars and their lives on the red planet.

Many are sceptical of the Mars One project. Some are doubtful whether colonisation is physically possible, believing that whilst it is perfectly possible for mankind to land on Mars, it is another thing altogether for them to survive there for an extended period of time. Others are critical of the funding process, dubious that a reality TV show could successfully captivate an audience for the duration of the (at least) decade-long project.

Bas Lansdorp has remained resolutely positive in the face of his critics, comparing the Mars One project to the revenue created from the worldwide broadcasting rights of the 2012 Olympics. ‘This will be the biggest thing that humanity has ever done. In 15 years people will still be watching. Exploring our world, and now beyond is what humans do, it’s in our genome. The settler’s dream of going to Mars will come true.’

Sources include BBC, Mars-one.com

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