For some, going on a mission to Mars seems like a dream come true. But a trip to the Red Planet costs a lot of money—and for the first travelers—probably their lives, too. At first, the trips will be funded by people like Elon Musk, NASA, and the government, but once it is established as a viable base, then what happens? The first to make the trip will likely be adventurous guinea pigs, followed by a more select refined group, and the finally the rich elite. For all, there will be one major requirement: the willingness to leave the Earth behind…for good.
So how many people are really willing to make the trip? Apparently, a lot. More than 100,000 people have already applied for a one-way trip to Mars and are eagerly awaiting their chance to spend the rest of their lives mapping out uncharted territory. That number comes from the Mars One project, which has goals of colonizing the planet starting in 2022. Of course, there are financial and practical hurdles to get over first.
“There is also a very large number of people who are still working on their profile, so either they have decided not to pay the application fee, or they are still making their video, or they’re still filling out the questionnaire or their resume,” Bas Lansdorp, Mars One CEO and co-founder notes. “So the people that you can see online are only the ones that have finished and who have set their profiles as public.”
Anyone 18 or older may apply, and the fee ranges from $38 to $15 depending on the user’s nationality. The price is based on the GDP per capita of each nation.
“We wanted it to be high enough for people to have to really think about it and low enough for anyone to be able to afford it,” Lansdorp adds. For the first crew, the mission will cost $6 billion. The idea is that it will first be funded by sponsors and the media that will pay for the broadcasting rights of shows and movies. Mars One intends to select a multicontinental group of 40 astronauts later this year. Four of them, two men and two women, will leave to Mars in September 2022. Another group of four will be deployed two years later. None of them will return to Earth.
For eight years, the travelers will undergo training in a secluded location, learning how to repair habitat structures, grow vegetables in confined spaces, and address “both routine and serious medical issues such as dental upkeep, muscle tears, and bone fractures.”
Each lander that Mars One sends will have the ability to carry about 5,511 pounds of “useful load” to Mars. After eight missions, more than 44,000 pounds of supplies and people will have arrived, if everything goes according to plan. Water and oxygen will have to be manufactured on Earth. Astronauts will be required to filter Martian water from the soil, evaporating it and condensing it back into its liquid state.
Mars One has serious doubters, however. Space travel experts said the risks are far too high to carry out these manned missions. The first concern is radiation. At present, NASA does not allow their astronauts to expose themselves to radiation levels that increase their risk of developing cancer by more than 3%. That means that the maximum time an astronaut can spend is space is “anywhere from about 300 days to 360 days for the solar minimum activity. For solar maximum, it ranges anywhere from 275 days to 500 days.”
Just one single round-trip journey to Mars could expose astronauts to the maximum amount of radiation allowed in a career under current NASA standards. And Mars One isn’t even considering a journey home. At this time, there is no technology that can protect astronauts from an excess of space radiation.
“The risks of space travel, in general, are already very high, so radiation is really not our biggest concern,” Lansdorp said. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the trip.
And then there is the price tag. Mars One isn’t the only organization looking for high-cost manned flights to Mars. NASA’s budget has dropped nearly 60 percent since the mid-1960s, and Congress has little appetite at present to send civilians to the Red Planet. Unmanned missions are handled very differently than manned missions since they are focused entirely on science. These missions don’t have the added weight of getting astronauts out and back to Earth—or protecting them along the way. Not surprisingly, they carry a much lower price tag. That’s not saying manned missions aren’t worth it, but as Carl Sagan put it, once you include astronauts in a spacecraft the priority of the mission changes from science to getting them back alive—and that’s much more expensive.
For the past couple of years, NASA has been partnering with two private companies—SpaceX and Orbital ATK—for Cargo resupply missions to the ISS. That partnership could potentially be carried out to Mars—but unlike Mars One, NASA first needs to determine whether there is a solid reason to send people to Mars in the first place. And if the goal extends beyond planting a flag on the planet to ultimately establishing a permanent presence, the costs, and complications skyrocket.
Sources: CNN, SFGate