Mars One Culls List of Potential One-Way-Trip-to-Mars Applicants

Mars One Culls List of Potential One-Way-Trip-to-Mars Applicants

Mars One, the Dutch non-for-profit foundation advocating one way trips to Mars for people who want to settle the Red Planet, announced today that it chose 1,058 candidates to proceed to round 2 of its selection and training process.

Mars One said in September that it had “received interest” from 202,586 people to make one-way trips to Mars, four people at a time beginning in 2023.  That statement left open the question of how many of those who expressed interest actually applied, a process that involved paying a fee.  However, today’s press release said that the 1,058 candidates chosen for the next step were drawn “from an applicant pool of over 200,000.”   Applicants were asked to pay “a small administration fee that varies across nations according to their per capita GDP” to make the program “equally accessible” for everyone and to reduce “the number of insincere entries.”  Mars One did not announce how much revenue it earned from the applications.  The foundation says it plans opportunities for people to apply “regularly” in future years.

Mars One plans to finance its effort through crowdsourcing (through Indiegogo), exclusive partnerships, selling broadcasting rights, “involvement with high net worth individuals,” and “revenues from intellectual property.”  The next steps in the selection process were not announced today because Mars One said it is still in negotiations with media companies for the rights to televise the process. 

Earlier this month, Mars One, Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce the first step in Mars One’s plans — a robotic lander/orbiter combination to be launched in 2018.  The orbiter would be a communications satellite built by SSTL, while the lander would be provided by Lockheed Martin based on the Mars Phoenix spacecraft it built for NASA, which landed on Mars in 2007.  The Mars One lander will carry a camera providing continuous video (though the communications satellite), a robotic arm to scoop up Martian material, an experiment to produce liquid water from that material, and a test of a thin film solar panel to provide power.   

The Mars One contracts with Lockheed Martin and SSTL are for mission concept studies only at this point.  Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp declined to say how much the robotic mission would cost, saying that is part of the mission concept studies.  He did say, however, that the study contract with Lockheed Martin is for $250,000 and the SSTL contract is for 60,000 Euros (about $83,000).

Mars One’s effort should not be confused with a completely separate and quite different proposal to send people to Mars called Inspiration Mars.  The latter effort is led by Dennis Tito, an American multimillionaire best known in space circles as the person who paid Russia a reported $20 million to fly to the International Space Station as the first ISS “tourist.”   Tito wants to send a man and a woman, preferably married, on a round-trip flight to Mars in 2018, but they will not land.  The closest they will come is 100 kilometers above the surface as they fly past on a “boomerang” trajectory that returns them to Earth.

One similarity between Mars One and Inspiration Mars is that both have evoked a lot of skepticism not only because of the expected cost and ambitious schedule, but the risk.  NASA has not determined how to protect astronauts from the harmful radiation environment in space for long duration missions, never mind how to support people living on the surface of another planetary body.  NASA’s own current plan is to send people to orbit — not land on — Mars in the 2030s, with a human landing at an indefinite time thereafter.

Bansdorp and Tito both are focused on 2018 — Bansdorp for the robotic mission, Tito for his crewed mission —  because it is an excellent opportunity to launch to Mars from an energy standpoint.  Earth and Mars are  properly aligned in their orbits around the Sun every 26 months to allow such journeys, but some of those opportunities are better than others.   January 2018 is one of the best.  An equivalent opportunity will not be available for 15 years after that.  Bansdorp wants to launch his first four-person crew in 2023, which is not a good energy opportunity.  He has not said what launch vehicle he plans to use.

Tito’s plan to launch only two people at the best energy opportunity requires a very big rocket.   He determined that the only launch vehicle capable of launching the requisite mass that might be available in 2018 is NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), but it will not be ready under NASA’s current schedule.  SLS’s first flight — without a crew — is currently scheduled for 2017 and the first flight with a crew is not until 2021.   Tito told a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing in November that, after initial studies, he now believes this primarily should be a NASA mission.  He estimates it will cost $1 billion and wants NASA to provide 70 percent of that.  NASA replied that it is “unable to commit to sharing expenses” with Inspiration Mars, but “we remain open to further collaboration.”

For its part, Mars One stresses that it is not a government program and is not looking for government money.  


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