For most of us the planet Mars is just far, far away. And not someplace that many of us envision visiting. But within the next ten years manned missions to the red planet may become possible and even routine. A Dutch television company is banking on Mars becoming a hot, new destination sometime in the early 2020s. And it will create a reality show to mark the historic human move to other planets.
The company Mars One thinks that when the first people land on Mars most of the world will be watching. And it wants to make sure cameras are rolling. But this isn’t an ordinary reality TV show. Instead of just being sequestered for a short period while producers incite conflict to create juicy dialogue, the lucky winners of this selection process will move to Mars — permanently. Just think, reality TV stars may be the first to colonize Mars.
Beginning next year the man behind the reality TV success Big Brother and his partners will select several teams of four astronauts each. Then the public will make the final choice to determine the first four people to move to Mars. Each winning contestant will receive a complementary one-way, seven-month trip to the red planet in 2023.
Unlike traditional manned missions, a Mars-to-stay mission is actually less costly. The astronauts only need a one-way trip. And they don’t have to pack all of their necessary provisions. They just need the tools to be self-sufficient. And creators of the show estimate that will cost about $6 billion. To raise money for the project this revolution will be televised from every angle.
The Mars One website says, “We see this as a journey that belongs to us all, and it is for this reason that we will make every step one that we take together. This will also be our way to finance the mission: the mission to Mars will be the biggest media event ever!”
And with all Earthly eyes watching that could be very true. But it’s still a high-risk project. Reality TV veteran Paul Römer says when the Mars One founders first approached him, asking whether they could discuss a mission to Mars, his first response was “these people are crazy. What can they do that NASA’s can’t?”
But he says, “That conversation made it clear to me, however. They think so creatively, and outside of the box and the concept of a ‘one-way’ mission is both outrageous and exciting.”
After thinking about it, the reality TV veteran decided to put his name along side an August bunch, including theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Gerard ‘t Hooft, best-selling author Mary Roach, and a couple of Dutch space experts.
Romer was impressed by the team, their plan and the opportunity to have the whole world watch his TV show. he says, “These aspects are what brought me to the idea of making the mission the biggest media event in the world. Reality meets talent show with no ending and the whole world watching. Now there’s a pitch!”Bas Lansdorp is the man behind Mars One. Some people like to organize family reunions or big parties. For years, the Dutch entrepreneur has wanted to organize a mission to Mars.
He says, “This will not be just another reality show. This will be a report on humanity’s next giant leap.”
Landsdorp says the mission to Mars is the goal. The media event around it is just the way to make it into a reality. And reality TV.
Lansdorp is a successful mechanical engineer who left his successful company Amypx Power after just three years to join Mars One full time.
Starting next year the world will be able to watch a rigorous selection process as Mars One producers select astronaut candidates who will ultimately spend the next ten years training for a mission to Mars.
The would-be astronauts will face big challenges (which ought to make for good reality TV) as they build skills and prepare to leave Earth forever.
The Mars One website says that four people will leave Earth in September 2022 to embark on a seven-month journey to their new home, Mars. It says, “Four more will take off in October 2024, who will have started their training years before 2022. As this pattern shows, there will always be several groups training for future missions.”
By 2030 there will be 20 or so Martian colonists living and working on Mars. And we’ll be able to watch their experience as part of the reality TV show Mars One.
The company is in talks with SpaceX, a private space mission company owned by technology billionaire Elon Musk. According to Lansdorp, the crew heading to Mars will use the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with Dragon crew capsule to get to the red planet. But hey will have trained for years before even setting foot in the rocket.
The entire mission relies on commercially-available parts and components using existing and proven technology. After announcing the project Lansdorp and company contacted companies to supply the mission. They say the response has been incredible. The Mars One website says, “All potential suppliers were enthused by an apolitical, commercial, manned mission to Mars and confirmed their ability to produce the parts when needed.”
With the mission plan and potential suppliers line up, Mars One turned its attention to training the astronauts for the grueling adventure.
In 2013 the company will build an exact replica of the proposed Mars colony in a remote desert here on Earth. There the 40 astronaut candidates will train and test equipment. The website says, “The astronaut selection and the preparations in the simulated Mars base will be broadcast on television and online for the public to view.”
Starting in 2014 the production of the first Mars communication satellite will begin. Signals take about 20 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth and back again. So a specialized satellite which is due to launch in 2016 will carry the continuous television signal, which makes this project so unique.
While the astronauts are deep in their training — spending about two months every year in total isolation from the rest of the world — the main supply mission to Mars will launch in early 2016, carrying all the pieces to build a Martian habitat. A rover will select the best spot for the new settlement in 2018 and by 2021 construction on the new human outpost should be complete and awaiting the first four astronauts.
Once on Mars and settled into their new home, the new inhabitants will begin researching Mars’ history and they will investigate any possible past life it hosted, as well as looking into present matters of interest, like how do Earth plants behave on Mars.
Lansdorp says that the astronauts will have two main tasks when they arrive on Mars. The first is construction and repairs. They will finish building the settlement that robots controlled from Earth will begin. Then they will work to improve it and extend the colony. Their second priority will be scientific research. Here they will be tasked with finding out all they can about Mars and about living on Mars.
He says, “Our astronauts will have to be the best people available for the job, both from the point of view of their skills and their personality. There are only four people there the first two years, so they need to be able to solve any conceivable problem.”
If something goes wrong on Mars they can’t just call a plumber or an electrician. Of the four, each will have a specialty but all of the colonists will pitch in to make life work so far away from what’s familiar. All four of the initial astronauts will be trained as medics – but probably not as full medical doctors, says Lansdorp, because the medical equipment will be limited. He says it will be like living in a remote mountain village or on Antarctica. He says, “The crew will first of all have to be able to fix any mechanical or electrical problem that could occur. Also, they will need to do biology and geology to do some interesting research. Discovering Mars is of course one of the main goals.”
He and his team would like the Mars settlement to slowly turn into a real society, a village on Mars. He says, “We would very much recommend the first settlers not to have children on Mars.” Medical facilities especially in the first years will be very rudimentary. He says, “Also, we don’t know if it is at all possible to get pregnant on Mars and how the baby would develop in lower gravity. This should be very well researched first.”
But many people are already dismissing the Mars One mission as “incredibly ambitious,” “expensive,” and “highly unrealistic.”
One critic says, “You can’t just throw Snooki and Britney Spears into a space ship for laughs, because they’ll very likely have a psychological breakdown.”
An anonymous aerospace engineer says, “This is a very nice idea… but its horribly unrealistic. Going to Mars, even one way, is easily one of the most expensive things our species could decide to do, and the simple truth is that branding it as a media event is not enough to get us there. I really wish I was wrong, but as someone who works in the Aerospace industry, I can assure you that no one is going to want to watch us do our jobs for the sake of entertainment.”
But for Mary Roach, a manned Mars mission struck is the ultimate reality television event. And the author who wrote Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void sees it as an “unbeatable funding opportunity.” The best-selling author recently signed on as a Mars One ambassador to help champion the project.
Roach says the mission to Mars provides all the drama, duress, and psychological tension that makes reality TV so popular. She says, “At their core the Mars One team are aerospace professionals with the background and contacts to pull together the technical aspects of the mission. It’s Jersey Shore meets NASA meets American Idol. This might just work!”
The Mars One team chose the red planet over Venus or other planets (or even the moon) for the destination of their reality TV project for a few reasons. After the Earth, Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system. Its soil contains water and it isn’t too cold or too hot. There is enough sunlight to charge solar panels and its gravity is 40 percent that of Earth, making it the healthiest place for the human body to cope off of Earth.
Lansdorp says Mars has a number of technical advantages and a number of technical disadvantages compared to the Moon. On the plus side he says, “Water is available, atmosphere with a bit of nitrogen in it. CO2 is available. But on the downside he says, “It takes more energy to get there, but it also takes longer to ‘fly’ there, so more consumables to bring for the trip.”
The most important reason that Lansdorp says he is doing a Mars mission is that Mars is more cool. He says, “Mars has an appeal to people, and we need appeal because we’re planning the biggest media event ever. Mars has more drama: the people are millions of kilometers away from home. The Earth is just a star in the sky. The Mars crew is on their own.”
People haven’t tuned in to watch a space mission since the last moon walk in 1972. Lansdorp and his team believe more people will watch a media event around a Mars mission. Lansdorp says, “The goal of Mars One is to settle humans on Mars. Mars is more appealing to people than the Moon, which is why the media event will result in more attention than in [the] case of a Moon mission.”
Dr. t’ Hooft is convinced that the Mars One program is the way to go. He says, “Mars One is an extraordinarily daring initiative by people with vision and imagination. This project seems to me to be the only way to fulfill dreams of mankind’s expansion into space.”And Mars is the dream retirement destination for SpaceX’s Musk. a couple of years ago he told the Guardian newspaper, “It would be a good place to retire.” Part of Musk’s mission is to turn humanity into a space-faring people who colonize other planets, including and especially Mars.
He says, “When I was in college there were three areas that I thought most would affect the future of humanity. Those were the internet, the transition to a sustainable energy economy, and space exploration and ultimately extending life beyond Earth and making it multi-planetary.”
And Musk met his first goal by selling his technology company PayPal to Ebay for $1.5 billion. Then he started Tesla Motors, an electric car company and now he is making commercial space travel more affordable and more popular.
He says, “One of the long-term goals of SpaceX is, ultimately, to get the price of transporting people and product to Mars to be low enough and with a high enough reliability that if somebody wanted to sell all their belongings and move to a new planet and forge a new civilization they could do so.”
Which is exactly what Mars One is planning. Musk estimates that this will take 20 years (though he says his Falcon rockets are ready to go to Mars now) and Mars One is trying to accomplish this feat in just over ten years.
Mars One estimates the cost of putting the first four people on Mars at about six billion US dollars. And it naturally assumes both the manned launch and landing on Mars will be watched by the whole world. So the company plans to raise money by taking on investors and sponsors who want their brands associated with the first colony on Mars.
Mars One says the six billion figure is the cost of all the hardware combined, plus the operational expenditures, plus margins. The team divided the mission into large components and talked to supply companies to figure out the overall cost. Some of the pieces, like the SpaceX Heavy Launcher can be calculated exactly but others like the Mars rover are a little trickier to price.
The company is now looking for a round of funding to pay potential suppliers to perform conceptual design studies, which will result in more accurate calculations of the cost of each component. With the results of these studies, Mars One will have a much better indication of the mission’s price and will have a far rounder, more detailed case to present for a new round of sponsorship or investment.
Making the mission to Mars into the largest media event in history may be easier than convincing potential sponsors that their plan is really feasible. Mars One is in the process of amassing relatively small sponsorships now to pay suppliers to take the hardware a step further. They believe that this will increase the plan’s credibility and in turn attract even more sponsors.
The company is looking for a round of funding to pay potential suppliers to perform conceptual design studies, which will result in more accurate calculations of the cost of each component. With the results of these studies, Mars One will have a much better indication of the mission’s price and will have a far rounder, more detailed case to present for a new round of sponsorship or investment.
Mars One is one of a handful of projects exploring sending people to Mars. Mars Foundation and Mars Society are working on missions to Mars. But this is the only one that is built by a commercial company with a planned reality TV program attached.
Lansdorp adds, “There is a big difference between the Apollo mission, the ISS and our mission. Our mission will be one of exploration. It will truly be the next giant leap for mankind. And who gets to go to Mars will be selected, at least in part, by the audience such that they will be interesting people to watch. We are expecting to use the Falcon Heavy as our launcher. It is powerful enough to launch our cargo straight to Mars, and the manned transit habitat in four pieces, assembled in low-Earth orbit. We have discussed our financial planning with our suppliers. Obviously it will be a challenge to secure the funding in line with our timeline, but as you can tell from replies from many other people, a lot of people believe in the media spectacle business case. We are building a strong technical case that will convince our sponsors and investors that this can really happen. If we can achieve that, believing the business case, we think we can convince them to join us!”