Aerospace & Defence

Emigration to Mars – the next giant leap for mankind?

12th April 2017
Alice Matthews

Australia, France or … Mars? When considering a place to emigrate to, the red planet might not feature very highly in your list, but according to a YouGov survey commissioned for BBC Radio 4's Mars Week, more than one in ten of Brits would accept a one-way ticket there. Yes, you read that correctly – because the Mars One mission is looking to colonise Mars, the first voyagers will not be able to return back to Earth. 

The organisers suggest applicants think of it like European emigration to Australia in the 1960s; that agreement didn’t come with a return ticket but still thousands of people agreed to it.

The mission aims to establish a human settlement on Mars, calling it ‘the next giant leap for mankind.’ Perhaps thankfully, applications for the programme are entirely voluntary and potential astronauts can back out at any time during the rigorous selection process.

In order to apply the candidate must be over 18, have A2 English level and be ‘resilient, adaptable and curious’. The subsequent selection process consists of four rounds, resulting in international crews of up to six groups of four.

The first round is an online application which consists of general information about the applicant, a motivational letter, a CV and a one minute video in which the applicant answers some given questions and explains why he or she should be among the first humans to set foot on Mars. At the end of the first selection round, a team of Mars One experts will decide which applicants will pass to the next round.

The remaining applicants must then provide a medical statement from their doctor stating that they have met all the defined requirements. Mars One's criteria for medical fitness are similar to those of NASA. Successful candidates will then be briefly interviewed by Mars One's Chief Medical Officer Norbert Kraft about their motivation to become part of the life-changing mission.

One-hundred healthy, smart, and dedicated candidates are then in the third round which will test their team work ability and communication skills through a series of group challenges.

The final part of the screening process is the isolation portion. Following this challenge, the forty remaining candidates will be reduced to thirty who will then undergo the Mars Settler Suitability Interview.

Following on from the first selection series, up to six groups of four will become full time employees of Mars One, after which they will start training for the mission.

If you make it through the selection process, what exactly will you be doing on the red planet? During working hours, the astronauts will perform three key tasks: construction, maintenance and research. The first crew will focus on making their new abode a comfortable place to live and ensure food can be produced (it will be grown indoor under artificial lighting). The team will be provided with ways to produce a habitable area from mostly Martian materials – the goal is to construct a 10x50m space where they can live and also grow trees. The crew will carry out both their own research and collect data for other researchers.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and the team at Mars One are very much aware of that. Astronauts will have leisure time in which they can read, play games and even watch TV. The settlement is expected to be well connected, with email, WhatsApp and SMS all accessible for the adventurers. Real time dialogue is not possible, however, because of the time delay.

In order to access websites or TV shows easily, astronauts will have to request it to be uploaded to the server on Mars. As a result of the distance between Earth and Mars, there will always be a time delay of at least three minutes between an Earth broadcast and its showing on the red planet.

Other websites which are not on the local Mars server will take between 6-45 minutes to appear on their screen - first 3-22 minutes for your click to reach Earth, and then another 3-22 minutes for the website data to reach Mars.

What is the cost of this one-way trip to Mars? Mars One estimates it at $6bn and has currently received $1m in funding through donations, merchandise sales and a crowdfunding page. Individuals have criticised many aspects of the project, however, mostly relating to its medical, technical and financial feasibility. NASA has estimated the costs at approximately $100bn, so it remains to be seen whether the Mars One project will be successful.

The first selection process began in 2013 and now there are currently 100 candidates awaiting round four. The first manned voyage is planned for 2031 – the point of no return for the Mars crew – and the journey will take seven months. Lift off for the second crew will take place in 2033, and subsequent crews and cargo modules will land every 26 months.

It is possible to view the application videos for the 100 potential astronauts on the Mars One website. Discussing his motivations for the project in a promotional video for the mission, one applicant borrows a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

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