WASHINGTON, DC, April 28, 2013 – Last Monday a Dutch nonprofit announced its search for volunteers to become the first humans to inhabit Mars. With a scheduled landing on the Red Planet in 2023, Mars One will send four initial colonists to live out the rest of their lives on our neighboring planet.
Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit founded by entrepreneur and engineer Bas Lansdorp, will head the project, which will be televised from start to finish, reality-show style.
Thousands have already applied and interest is growing to see whether Mars One can really pull this off.
Mars One’s website claims that they are confident in the mission’s “technical feasibility and means of finance.” The company maintains that all the technology required to establish a colony on Mars already exists and can be acquired from proven suppliers.
Is anyone thinking of Robert A. Heinlein yet?
While the price tag for such a mission is astronomical—Mars One estimates $6 billion to send the first four colonists and $4 billion for each subsequent crew of four—the company plans to fund the project “by making it the biggest media spectacle in history.” Mars One says it will raise the bulk of its funding from media coverage and broadcasting rights.
“Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an ongoing, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from liftoff to landing,” says their website.
While Mars One is a nonprofit organization, it owns 90% of the shares of the for-profit Interplanetary Media Group (IMG), which will secure investments and manage broadcasting rights to training and launch of the astronauts. Another intended funding source is spin-off technology that will emerge from the mission.
The company has laid out a roadmap of what it must do before actually putting people on Mars. A planned test launch in 2016 to assess the landing technology will be followed by subsequent mission in 2018, which will transport an unmanned rover to scout landing sites. By 2020, a second rover mission will deliver and assemble certain equipment that will be waiting for the colonists once they land in 2023 after a seven-month trip from Earth. A second crew will join the first in 2025, followed by subsequent crews.
Ready to apply?
The application process opened April 22 and thousands have already responded. To apply, candidates over the age of 18 must submit an online application, where they must answer personal questions, submit a motivation letter, a resume, and a one-minute video of themselves.
There is no upper age limit to apply and applications are currently accepted in 11 languages. Videos and applications are posted on the Mars One website, where applicants are rated by the public.
Applicant videos can be viewed and rated here.
There are no qualifications to apply, but successful candidates should have resiliency, curiosity, an ability to trust, resourcefulness, and adaptability. There is an application fee based on the applicant’s country of citizenship’s GDP. The fee for the U.S. is $38.
At the end of this first round of applications, Mars One experts will select the applicants who will proceed to the second round. At this stage, candidates will need a statement of good health from a physician and will meet with a selection committee, which will decide whether they will continue to round three.
In a truly made-for-TV process, the third round is the national selection round, which will be broadcast on television and online. 20 to 40 applicants per country will compete against each other “in challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars.” One can only guess…
At this point the audience will vote to pick a winner from each country, who will—along with other applicants selected by Mars One—continue to the fourth and final round.
Mars One plans to have selected 24 finalists by 2015. The fourth round will consist of six teams of four. All applicants at this point are expected to speak English, which will be the language of the mission, and will become full-time Mars One employees as they train for life on another planet.
Criticism and Skepticism
Of course, Mars One has its critics. Beyond those who have dismissed it altogether as a hoax, Ian O’Neill writing for Discovery News points out that financing for the project relies on major assumptions and few facts.
For one thing, Mars One is betting that broadcasting rights will finance the entire trip. However, while some may be envisioning a Martian version of Big Brother, the big difference is that on Mars the colonists—and not the TV execs—will have all the power, something that may discourage many possible investors.
“Mars One would not allow 24/7 coverage … the people of Mars wouldn’t allow it,” said Lansdorp in a press conference in New York on April 22 to announce the opening of the application process. “If they don’t like a particular camera, they’d put a piece of duct tape over it and there’s nothing we can do about it. They are in charge.”
Many are calling this piece of news a bombshell that may very well reveal one of the major flaws in the Mars One business plan.
O’Neill and others also question Mars One’s budgeting, which has been kept under wraps and makes it impossible to verify the $6 billion estimate. The company has refused to release an itemized budget for “competition reasons.” Other questions center on whether in fact the technology for establishing a successful colony on Mars indeed does exist.
While I would love to see man reach and colonize Mars, I will have to echo other commentators in saying that at this stage it seems highly unlikely that Mars One will accomplish its goal, especially on the tight schedule that is has proposed.