Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts and their colony on the Red Planet.
Credit: Mars One/Bryan Versteeg
LONDON — A nonprofit organization that aims to land four astronauts on Mars in 2023 will kick off its two-year, televised search for Red Planet explorers by this summer.
The Netherlands-based Mars One will begin accepting application videos sometime between now and July, charging a fee to weed out folks who aren't serious about their candidacy. The group hopes to raise millions of dollars this way, with the proceeds paying for the ongoing selection process and technology studies.
"We expect a million applications with 1-minute videos, and hopefully some of those videos will go viral,” Mars One co-founder and chief executive officer Bas Lansdorp told SPACE.com on April 10. He was in London to speak to the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) that day.
Mars One now has 45,000 people registered for its mailing list and has already received 10,000 emails from interested individuals, Lansdorp added. The organization will unveil more details about its astronaut selection process at a press conference in New York City on April 22. [Mars One's Red Planet Colony Project (Gallery)]
A one-way trip to Mars
Mars One is casting a wide net, seeking applicants from all over the world. Application fees will vary from country to country, with folks from poorer nations getting a price break, Lansdorp said. The maximum fee will apparently be $25.
Anyone who is at least 18 years old can apply by sending in a video explaining why he or she should be selected. But prospective colonists must be prepared to say goodbye to Earth forever; there are no plans at this point to bring Mars One astronauts home.
By July 2015, Mars One wants to have 24 astronauts, organized into six teams of four people. Those teams then face seven years of training that will include spending three months at a time in a replica of the Mars colony.
"We will give them all the most stressful situations,” Lansdorp told the BIS audience on April 10, adding that the training base will have a 40-minute communications delay to replicate the time lag that would exist due to the vast distance between Earth and Mars.
Mars One officials expect some individuals and teams to fail these tests, so from 2015 on, the nonprofit will have an annual process to select 12 people (in three teams of four).
"We will always have about 10 groups [of four] in training, so if one group drops out, there will be replacement crews," Lansdorp told SPACE.com. This will continue even after 2023, because Mars One plans to send more colonists to the Red Planet every two years for as long as funding levels will allow.
Interplanetary 'Big Brother'
Mars One estimates that it needs $6 billion to send the first four astronauts to Mars. This money will cover developing the landing systems, habitats, Mars Transit Vehicle (MTV), rovers, solar arrays and other technologies associated with the colony, as well as pay for the crew's journey from Earth.
Every subsequent crew trip would cost $4 billion, Lansdorp told SPACE.com. Just sending a supply lander would cost $250 million.
Mars One plans to raise this money largely through a global reality television series that will follow the colonization effort from astronaut selection to the first landing and the settlement’s expansion.
The audience will vote for who gets to go to Mars from a pool of candidates selected by Mars One’s experts. Lansdorp points to the 2012 London Olympics and the $4 billion it generated from television revenues over its three weeks as evidence that such a funding plan can work.
Meanwhile, the application video revenue will finance early technology studies and prove there is demand for a television show. ['Big Brother' on Mars? (Video)]
“We can prove to the broadcasters that there is real demand and interest, and we will start negotiations after the [astronaut] selection procedure begins,” Lansdorp told SPACE.com.
Beyond the applicant videos and television show, future revenues include crowdfunding, exploiting the technologies developed for Earth’s markets and doing research on Mars for governments. For example, Mars One could eventually send samples of Martian soil to Earth, officials say.
Mission details taking shape
While the Mars spacecraft has yet to be designed, Lansdorp told the BIS audience that for the 210-day journey, the vehicle would have a hollow 660-gallon (2,500 liters) water tank with four compartments.
Astronauts would sleep in this area and use it as shelter from extreme solar radiation events. The water equates to a 9.84-inch (25 centimeters) column for radiation protection, which Lansdorp told the BIS is what NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) suggest for a return mission.
When the first team of four lands at the settlement’s location on April 24, 2023, the settlers will find a colony whose habitats and solar arrays started working before they left Earth. Lansdorp told SPACE.com that the colony will be located between 40 and 45 degrees north latitude.
"We want to be as south as possible for sunlight and north enough for water," he said, adding that the colony would be at a location that is 1.55 miles (2.5 kilometers) lower than Mars’ average ground level, to give the arriving spacecraft more time to land.
The colony will initially have rovers, two habitats, two life support landers and two supply landers. Mars One is designing five types of landers for life support, supplies, habitat and those that land the crew and rovers. The first equipment to be sent to Mars will be a communications satellite, a demonstration rover and a 5,500-pound (2,500 kilograms) supply lander, officials said.
"We have a conceptual rover right now. It is very likely there will be two rovers — one trailer rover and one intelligent rover that does all the advanced tasks,” Lansdorp told SPACE.com. The trailer rover will move landers from their landing point to the settlement, a distance not expected to exceed about 1 mile (1.6 km).
The colony’s habitats will be connected by fabric tunnels and covered in 6 feet (1.8 m) of Martian soil, to provide radiation protection. Lansdorp told the BIS audience that with the colony’s expected outdoor activities, the colonists will get a radiation dose over 10 years equal to that of ESA’s maximum allowed for its astronauts, which he described as “very safe."
At the same time the first team lands, the second crew’s habitat lander will also arrive. As well as being ready for the second crew's 2025 arrival, this habitat can be used by the first crew if they encounter problems with their own equipment.
The colony will have inflatable greenhouses and use water from the Martian soil and nitrogen from the atmosphere to grow crops. The crew will cultivate rice, algae and insects for their high protein content and will also likely grow mushrooms, along with tomatoes and other plants. [The Boldest Mars Missions of All Time]
Tapping private industry
Solar rather than nuclear power will be used for the base, Lansdorp said, and all the landers may be larger versions of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.
“We’ve discussed upscaling of Dragon capsule with SpaceX,” Lansdorp told the BIS audience.
In March, Mars One announced it had signed a contract with Paragon Space Development Corp. for a conceptual design study into life support and space suit systems.
Paragon has also been contracted by Dennis Tito for his Inspiration Mars project, which aims to launch two people on a Mars flyby mission in 2018 that will neither land on nor orbit the Red Planet. Lansdorp is slated to meet Tito in May in Washington, D.C.
As well as Paragon and SpaceX, Lansdorp is in discussions with Canada’s MDA Robotics for the rovers; Italy’s Thales Alenia Space for the MTV; ILC Dover, Astrobiotic and the U.K.’s Surrey Satellite Technology.
Lansdorp declined to answer questions about how much money Mars One has already raised, saying only that it's enough to start the selection process and to fund the Paragon contract. However, Mars One has named its first investors. Described as silver sponsors, they include Verkkokauppa.com, Finland’s second largest consumer electronics retailer, and Byte Internet, a Web hosting service.
This story was updated to reflect the fact that Mars One will accept video applications by July, not necessarily in July.