Friday, April 4, 2014

Mars One

Since the rise of science fiction, people have always dreamed of humans visiting and even living on Mars. In 2011, a plan was set in motion to make this dream a reality. Rather than being a venture of NASA or the European Space Agency, the mission is the private project of a Dutch non-profit organization called Mars One.

Mars One has a plan in place to put humans on Mars in 2025, following an intense selection and training process that lasts several years. The initial application process yielded over 200,000 applications, from which 1000 people were selected for an interview. Only four of these people will be selected for the final mission. In 2015, the four mission participants will begin their rigorous training, which includes technical, geological, medical, psychological, agricultural and simulation components. Since the astronauts will not be returning to Earth, it is imperative that they learn every possible detail regarding their future lives.

Prior to the human launch, Mars One will send a rover to find an ideal spot to inhabit Mars, followed by six “cargo missions” (two living units, two life support systems, and two supply units). The initial crew of four will be followed every two years by four more colonists until the Mars settlement reaches a population of twenty.

The cost of the initial four-person mission alone is $6 billion, and each additional mission will cost another $4 billion. The Mars One team, led by Bas Lansdorp, is using an innovative but risky model to finance the missions. In addition to any private donations the organization receives, Mars One plans on gaining revenue through selling broadcast rights to the Mars landing and a reality TV show documenting the crew’s life on the Red Planet.

So what is to be gained from this groundbreaking, but costly, mission? Obviously, putting people on Mars would be a watershed moment in human history. As Lansdorp puts it, “I believe that it will truly change the outlook of our entire species. If humanity can send humans to Mars, is there anything that we cannot do? And if on Mars we do find life — that would change our entire perspective on the universe.” Lansdorp also believes that the privatization of space travel is a good thing, since it can potentially unite people across the world without the need for collaboration between various governments. More practically, findings on Mars may inspire further research and developments in energy, health, and sustainability, among many other areas.

While this is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious ventures ever, questions still remain about how feasible the project actually is. The technological components certainly seem to be in good hands — Mars One has hired contractors from the top of their respective fields, such as Lockheed Martin, Paragon Space Development Corporation, SpaceX, Surrey Satellite Technology, Uwingu and Kristian von Bengtson. Where the potential problem lies, in my opinion, is in the most volatile component — the astronauts themselves. No matter how much isolated training they endure, I don’t think anything can quite simulate the permanent isolation and desolation that comes with living on another planet for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the crewmembers will realize that they are leading the way for the rest of the human population and, as the Mars One website says, “the human spirit will continue to persevere, to even thrive in this challenging environment.”

Mars One is still in the infancy stage of development, so it remains to be seen whether the mission will actually happen. For now, we can only watch with curiosity and imagine the possibilities.
Achyuta Burra