Mars One: Auditions For Red Planet Explorers To Open - But Is It Anything More Than A PR Stunt?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

The company behind an attempt to send human explorers on a one-way trip to Mars will announce its selection process live on the Internet - despite only reporting $72,000 in online donations.

The Mars One mission would theoretically send four astronauts to the Red Planet to try and set up a permanent human colony in 2023.

The Netherlands-based non-profit behind the plan says that it wants to "establish the foundation of a permanent settlement from which we will prosper, learn, and grow" - but that its explorers should not expect to ever return.

mars one

It says that the mission will rely on pre-existing, proven technology, and claims support from academics and various companies on its website. It says:

"To accomplish this, Mars One has developed a precise, realistic plan based entirely upon existing technologies. It is both economically and logistically feasible, in motion through the integration of existing suppliers and experts in space exploration."

But scepticism remains - particularly over the financial side of launching the mission. If it ever gets beyond the initial planning stages, the trip would cost billions of pounds to develop and launch. Early estimates suggest $6 billion as an initial cost - though in reality it would likely stretch far beyond that total.

And a recent call for online donations to get initial scoping for the mission off the ground has apparently stalled at just $72,000, according to Mars One's website.

It would also require a massive investment in life support systems and equipment to both get the explorers to Mars, and keep them alive for a length of time once they're on the surface.

Mars One says it will raise the money through a massive multi-media campaign, including selling the TV rights for the selection process - sort of an X-Factor for Martians.

But aside from the enormous technical, logistical and financial challenges, one of its bigger problems might be how to choose the pioneers it attempts to send.

It will announce the first stages of the process at a press conference in New York set to be televised on the Internet on Monday. It is reportedly set to include a 'video tape audition' stage, and the establishment of six teams of four astronauts who will compete for a spot on the rocket.

According to the company's medical director, Norbert Kraft, it has already received 10,000 applications, mostly from men, with their ages ranging from 18-62 years old.

But as the company told the Guardian, the winners will have to accept that if they do go to Mars, they're not coming home. Partly that's a matter of cost, but it's also one of physiology. The reduced gravity of Mars means that any colonists would eventually be too weak to cope with life back home, suffering from reduced bone density and probably radiation poisoning. And that creates enormous problems in selecting the right candidates, checking they're able to make the journey and preparing them to leave Earth for ever.

Confronting the reality of the trip - that it is likely to be short, unpleasant and possibly deadly - is just a reality of life on Mars, according to some experts.

"Radiation exposure is a concern, especially during the trip," Dr Veronica Bray, from the University of Arizona, told the BBC.

"This can lead to increased cancer risk, a lowered immune system and possibly infertility."

"I have no doubt that we could physically place a human being on Mars. Whether they'd be able to survive for an extended period of time is much more doubtful."

Quick Poll

Would you take a one-way trip to Mars if it was leaving tomorrow?

VOTE

The eventual announcement will be made in July 2015 - and as long as the technology, finances and other problems are ironed out, blast off is scheduled for eight years after that.

Still, the project does have at least one new supporter - Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

At a recent conference, Woz said that going to Mars was "enticing" - if fanciful.

"Would I want to go to Mars? I - that's so enticing. That's one of the hottest ideas around. I would have to say yes. But I would not want to go just into space, like to the space station. But Mars, yeah. Because it's just so out there, because nobody's done it.

"And it's almost impossible."