When the call went out Mars One might have expected a few dozen people would be willing to accept a suicide mission to a dead planet. Instead, they were overwhelmed with more than 80,000 applicants including at least a dozen from the Middle East. From this region three are from Israel, six from Turkey, one from Egypt, five from Iran, two from Iraq and one each from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Who’s wanted? Adventurous pioneers. Must be willing to share a cramped living space for many months. At least 40 million miles of travel required. Reward is a chance to be among the first to colonize a vast new land.
“With a Mars-load of experience,” writes Omri, an artist from Israel on his application. You can filter through all of them by country. Candidates should understand that the prob probability of success is less than 50 percent, where success means a spending the remainder of their lives on a frigid and desolate Martian desert.
A blood-red wanderer in the night sky, planet Mars represented the god of war in Persian, Greek and Roman mythology. When Percival Lowell pointed his telescopes at Mars, he saw what appeared to be canals. Mars was the source of monstrous aliens in H.G. Wells’ classic, War of the Worlds. Writers imagined martian cities and dying civilizations. More recently, people saw pyramids and sphinx-like faces in the blurry crater-strewn landscape photographs returned by Martian space probes. As the planet most like earth, Mars captures our imagination so it shouldn’t surprise us that it is becoming the next target of human exploration.
Is a manned mission to Mars possible?
Many of the biggest challenges of landing humans on another planet were solved almost half a during NASA’s Apollo lunar landing missions. In some ways a Martian mission is simply more of the same, more fuel, more food, more life support, more boredom. Mars does have some unique challenges. It is much farther away so there is more chance of a meteorite puncture or radiation from solar storms. To minimize the travel time, the spaceship would accelerate to a higher speed and would have to spend even more fuel to slow down for the landing. Martian gravity is much stronger than the moon’s so an Apollo-style powered descent isn’t practical. But the Martian atmosphere is too thin for an ordinary parachute or glider landing.
Whenever we have the technology to go to Mars, we shouldn’t assume we will also have the technology to return astronauts to earth. It’s true that Mars is “uphill” from earth in our solar system. But only about half of the 44 martian space probes were able to successfully complete their one-way mission. What’s more, humans experience bone loss and other body changes during long periods of weightlessness. After adjusting to the years of weightlessness necessary to travel to Mars and living with only about 1/3rd of earth’s gravity, it may be impossible for martian pioneers to ever return home. Modern societies might consider this a show stopper, but past explorers and pioneers seldom had the expectation that they would ever return home. In Tom Wolfe’s novel entitled You can’t go home again, one of the characters explains:
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
The phrase, “you can’t go home again” strikes a chord even for those who migrate from one earthbound land to another. Imagine what an adjustment it would be to return from another planet.
Think you got what it takes to go to Mars? Watch the video.
The scariest bit
China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper has already declared Mars One a hoax and in this skeptical age where many disbelieve the lunar landings, Mars One has an uphill credibility battle.
This brings us to one of the most worrisome aspects of the Mars One flight plan: The mission will become a reality TV show. Anyone who has glimpsed Reality TV train wrecks such as Big Brother, BridalPlasty or even Cabin Fever where a reality TV tour around a small Irish Island ended in a real shipwreck. Sorry Mars One, as much as I would love to live the life of the missionaries in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, I’m going to have to sit this one out.
Images of Mars via of NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell