If Eddie Money were pitching the Mars One proposal it might go something like this:
“I’ve got two tickets to a barren, desolate, uninhabitable wasteland. Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave in 10 years. And never return.”
I’ll admit, it doesn’t sound very tempting. But what if that “paradise” was Mars? What if you could be a part of the first manned mission to the Red Planet?
Mars One is a privately funded space program whose goal is to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.” It’s a 21st century version Mayflower, offering a new life to anyone daring enough to sign up. Unlike previous colonists, though, this particular adventure has a great deal more challenges. Many of those challenges have never been faced before.
Once thought to be earthlike and life bearing, Mars has proven to be a lot less friendly (Source). The atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide which is dispersed so thinly that it would feel like you were 35 km above Earth’s surface. So, those moments at night when you are hidden under the covers until you can’t breathe and have to emerge into the dark, cool air, Mars is like under those blankets but worse. Martian soil is basically mounds of oxidized iron and dust, literally rusted away by the acidic atmosphere and bombarded with solar winds (the protective Magnetosphere that the Earth enjoys was lost 4 billion years ago on Mars). Going outdoors doesn’t seem to be an option for any perspective colonist. Your home would be a cramped, hermetically sealed station that would serve to keep out any of the numerous harmful chemicals that Mars has an abundance of.
There is also the matter of being, at the closest, 34 million miles away. That’s a long way from home. It’s so long that communication between Earth and Mars wouldn’t happen in anywhere near real time. Talking to loved ones would be very one sided. Supplies would also be hard to come by. Most would have to be made onsite or brought on the initial trip. Once the colony was established, getting material goods to them from Earth would be extremely expensive, and of course they could never pay for it (how do you make money on Mars? Where would you even cash your paychecks if you could?).
And still, with these drawbacks and more, the appeal is there. On the Mars One website you can see video submissions from hundreds of people from all across the globe. According to the Mars One website:
In the last year Mars One received 10,000 messages from prospective applicants from over 100 countries. Mars One expects an unprecedented number of applications and even more internet users visiting the application website to support their favorite candidates.
I can only assume many of these candidates aren’t serious about actually going to Mars. But some are. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself over the years as I looked up at the stars or paged through a good science fiction book: Would I be willing to give up everything for a chance to see parts of the Universe that no one has ever seen before? It’s a question that’s hard to answer. Until now it has never been anything but a thought experiment.
It’s an interesting concept, but it really isn’t so different than what many of our ancestors did throughout history. A brave and idealistic few would strike out into the unknown, never to set foot in their home country again. They would board a ship (it was usually a ship) and know that whatever came next was already set in stone. There was no turning back. In our age, that idea is almost unimaginable. Nobody is ever really stranded anywhere. Nobody can’t go home.
The odds of success for a colony on Mars, especially one thrown together in a decade and comprised of people picked in the same way they pick contestants for a reality show, are remote. In the 15th and 16th centuries, many of the colonists establishing settlements in the New World failed, often times horrifyingly so, before they got the hang of it. Failure on Mars would mean certain death. The people on Earth could do nothing but stand by and watch it unfold, and not even in real time. Dying of starvation or asphyxiation 40 million miles away from Earth has got to be the loneliest feeling ever.
Even the likelihood of this mission even happening seems remote. Again, 10 years is not a lot of time to plan and execute a dangerous manned mission to a planet we’ve never been before. Even if the passengers were willing to sacrifice their lives trying to get there, its not a guarantee that the world Governments would allow them to go. Presumably, you would need permits for that sort of thing.
We can dream though. While I don’t think I’ll be joining those first brave souls (I’ve got two cats who hate traveling by rocket to distant worlds, or even to the vet), I would love to see this plan succeed. As Stephen Hawking once said, the future of mankind depends on us leaving Earth. We take too much, too quickly. We set ourselves up for disaster by placing all of our eggs in one basket. We are victims of our own success. But the Universe is vast, so vast that we will have reached the its Heat Death before we could ever reach, much less populate, all corners of it (the Universe doesn’t have corners, by the way). This may be the first step. It may just be crazy enough to work.
- The Mission to Mars is Now a Crowdfunded Reality Show (bigthink.com)
- Mars Attracts! (dailymaverick.co.za)
- 20,000 people have already applied for the one-way mission to Mars (io9.com)