A few weeks ago, I wrote about an effort to allow rich people to buy a spot on a spaceship that would fly around the planet Mars, and then come flying back to Earth. The idea seemed repugnant and rather pointless. The Mars Inspiration Foundation proposed to get human beings almost to Mars, with “no entry into the Mars atmosphere, and no rendezvous and docking”, and then turn right around without doing anything from orbit around Mars that robotic rovers couldn’t do. Choosing people to make the trip according to how much money they could pay seemed to miss the lesson of early European upper class colonists who bought their way onto boats to the Americas – and then starved there because they didn’t know how to work.
A different approach is being proposed by Mars One, which yesterday announced that it is planning to begin a human colony on Mars beginning in the year 2023 – just ten years from now. Whereas the Mars Inspiration Foundation is operating as an oligarchy, in which the people with the most money get the control, Mars One isn’t making the ability to pay its central criterion. In fact, Mars One is willing to allow outsiders to have a vote on which applicants can go first. The organization writes, “Mars One will open up this procedure for everyone to see. And not only to watch: after Mars One experts have eliminated unsuitable candidates, the audience will have a say in who will be the first humans on Mars. Mars One will make the selection of the first ambassadors to another planet a democratic process!”
Another important difference is that people taking the Mars One trip will actually go to Mars, rather than just going close to Mars. They’ll touch down on the planet’s surface, and then stay there for the rest of their lives.
That’s a long time to spend in a very hostile place. Who would want to take such a trip?
I imagine that someone young, physically fit, without a spouse and children, would be the sort of person to apply most often. But then, the dating potential on Mars isn’t very broad. Four people would make the initial trip, and four additional people would join the colony every couple of years or so, according to plans.
The living quarters would be quite cramped, and going for a walk would involve remarkable risks. Supplies would be short, and there wouldn’t be much in the way of natural resources. Perhaps water could be found underground, and there would be rocks, and dusk, and very weak sunlight. There would be lots and lots of thin, toxic air.
A few challenges come to mind:
- The living quarters are supposed to be lightweight and inflatable, but there are big dust storms on Mars. How could the quarters endure the local weather?
- What happens when someone gets sick?
- How could the colony grow enough food, with the sunlight so weak?
- What about the radiation from the sun? Does Mars provide anything like the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic core?
- How would people cope psychologically with the extreme isolation and deprivation? How could any psychological
- What’s the long term plan for economic sustainability of the Mars colony? The Mars One business model is centered around getting lots of attention because of the newsworthiness of having people on Mars. Where is the money going to come from when the newsworthiness fades away?
Do you intend to apply for this one way trip to Mars? Do you intend to donate any money to help it get off the ground?