FLIGHT MARS ONE IS NOW BOARDING
WILL YOU BE WAITING AT THE GATES?
We all know someone we’d like to ship off to Mars. And here’s your chance: Mars One is recruiting volunteers for a one-way trip to the Red Planet. Applicants send their videos to earn a place aboard. Some of them are hilarious…
It’s 2013, the global temperatures are on the rise, and the world population is steadily growing. Sometimes it can seem that the apocalypse has already begun. But why face up to our problems when we can pack our bags and move to Mars?
For decades, space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have dreamed of sending humans to the Red Planet for the sake of exploration, discovery, and satisfying our curiosity. However, in an attempt to outcompete NASA and the ESA – and to satisfy the impatient masses – several independent businesses have set up their own ‘space tourism’ projects, each with their own very specific agenda. While NASA and the ESA are concerned with scientific advance, independent businesses dream of commercial success. For them, the Earth is running out of moneymaking opportunities. And Mars looks to be a pretty attractive Plan B.
One-way ticket to Mars, anyone?
One of the most unconventional space tourism businesses is Mars One, a non-profit organisation that hopes to turn Mars into our future home by 2023. Their plan is ambitious to say the least, and they have attracted as much curiosity and enthusiasm as they have criticism. But what is perhaps keeping the public entertained and tuned in to this mission is Mars One’s outlandish astronaut selection strategy. The Mars One project is placing a lot of emphasis on making their interplanetary travels a worldwide, collaborative endeavour. Not only have they contacted companies, university professors, scientists, and a bunch of other people of interest from all over the world to help set up this mission, they also plan to select the humans who will be moving to Mars via democratic procedures. To gather international interest, they have opened the selection process to anyone. The only minimum requirement for entry is that you can record a video of yourself. The killer twist, however, is that the successful applicants will be making a one-way trip to Mars – with no possibility of ever getting back to Earth. Once the astronauts have been selected, trained, prepped, and rocketed off to Mars, the plan is to create a reality TV show (yes, seriously) of the whole thing… which the rest of us boring, unadventurous terrestrial humans will be able to watch in envy (or pity – Ed).
Astronaut auditions are open!
In April 2013, Mars One began recruiting astronauts. Citizens of the world applied to become one of the first four humans to land and settle on Mars. After filling in an application form, creating a public profile on their website, and (of course) paying an application fee, applicants were asked to upload a 30 second video outlining why they want to go and their sense of humour (no joke) – with the aim of convincing others that they are the right person for the job. By the deadline at the end of August, no less than 200,000 people had applied for a one-way ticket to Mars. Interestingly, although Mars One is a Dutch organization, when it came to the nationalities of applicants, the top three countries were the USA (24%), India (10%), and China (6%), respectively. Out of the top 10 countries, only 3 were European – the UK (4%), Russia (4%), and Spain (2%).
Estimated journey time: 7 months. Length of stay: eternity.
In contrast to some of the applicants (who seem almost intentionally ludicrous), the people behind Mars One are very serious about the mission. So far, however, the program has been widely criticised. Space flight is tricky enough on its own, but there is another hindrance that’s perhaps even more pressing: money. The truth is, the brains behind Mars One are still negotiating with their suppliers and carrying out their own research. As such, they haven’t yet managed to give a detailed estimate of how much money they’ll need for the mission. Currently, they’ve estimated a total cost of approximately $6 billion for the first group of astronauts, but outsiders have commented that this number is far too low to truly reflect all the costs involved. Another point of criticism is whether or not Mars One will have all the resources and knowledge necessary to carry out this mission beyond the initial space flight to Mars. Living in space is a complex business for several reasons. One of the most important of these is health:
being in space for seven months has a significant effect on the body. Due to the lack of gravity, your body requires much less strength to move around. This means that your muscles weaken and the density of your bones decreases, making them more fragile when you arrive on Mars. The heart is also damaged, predisposing astronauts to heart attacks and angina. And that’s not all! Zdenka Kuncic, Associate Professor of Physics in Sydney, insists that space radiation is a serious issue: “For a long-haul manned space mission like a trip to Mars, a serious risk that will be faced by astronauts is the sudden bursts of enhanced radiation associated with ‘ space shocks’. Such intense radiation can potentially cause adverse health effects like cataracts.” Kuncic goes on to explain how the answer isn’t straightforward: “One solution is to develop an alert system on the spacecraft that will automatically inflate an additional shielding layer around the inside. Another possible solution is to initiate a magnetic field that can deflect the charged particles in the radiation burst away from the spacecraft interior.” A recent study carried out in Russia, called Mars-500, tested how living in close quarters would affect astronauts. The experiment focused on the effects of isolation on the participants. They were confined to a mock spaceship for 520 days while the researchers observed their behavior. Although the Russians claimed that their participants were all healthy and
psychologically stable when the experiment ended, the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences disputed this rather optimistic claim. According to their report, two thirds of the participants experienced symptoms that weren’t healthy at all. Although astronauts are required to adhere to a strict exercise regime, many of the experiment’s participants abandoned their exercise schedules – most likely due to the side effects of living in isolation. Furthermore, while most astronauts have some problems sleeping when they’re in space, in this experiment the sleeping issues seemed to be far worse than anticipated due to the prolonged duration of the study. Their social behavior also changed: they withdrew from each other and entered a state similar to that of hibernating animals. The taxing effects that living on Mars will have on the four successful Mars One applicants seem to be being taken seriously by the Mars One program (as can be seen from their
extensive checklist for the perfect candidate). However, the trouble even NASA and the ESA are having in figuring out how to make living in space go smoothly makes Mars One’s plan seem somewhat overly confident. That said, no space mission has ever recruited a mix of sex-obsessed, conflict-loving cannibals. Perhaps they’ll be successful after all.
ABOVE: The last launch of the 30 year Space Shuttle program, on 8th
BELOW: Exerior of the Mars-500 module.
ABOVE: Inside the Mars-500