Would You Fly to Mars?
Applicants to the Mars One project vie for the chance to be the first humans to fly to Mars, if that ever happens.
When I was a little kid, I woke up from a dream about being an astronaut and announced to my parents that I was going to Mars. My parents supportively explained to me that I could be an astronaut if I wanted to, but it would take a lot of hard work and training. Also, they pointed out, Mars is much farther away than anyone has ever gone, so I should perhaps set my sights on the moon or space stations.
Not so, counters the privately-operated, Dutch-based Mars One project! If you’ve got $38 (if you're from the US; prices vary with the country of the applicant) and don't mind leaving Earth behind for the rest of your life, you can go to settle on Mars in 2023—with no scientific or academic qualifications. Just make a one-minute video explaining why you'd be a good Martian colonist and submit it here. If you're selected, you'll be provided with the requisite training, according to Mars One chief medical director Norbert Kraft.
Selection will be partially based on the votes of international TV watchers, as the entire process of Martian colonization will be televised. According to their website: "Mars One intends to fund this decade-long endeavor by involving the whole world as the audience of an interactive, televised broadcast of every aspect of this mission, from the astronaut selections and their preparations to the arrival on Mars and their lives on the Red Planet." You can also make donations to support the mission if you'd like. They even take bitcoins.
Assuming it does work, what happens once the people make it to Mars? If you've read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, it will sound familiar, just with more televised drama and, one imagines, less debate over geology since there aren't likely to be trained geologists. How will they get to Mars? In groups of 4, with 2 men and 2 women per group. The plan is to have 6 such groups. The Mars One website admits, "The journey will be arduous, pressing each of them to the very limits of their training and personal capacity." It's alright though, according to this slightly facile assurance: "The astronauts will endure because this will be the flight carrying them to their dream." The details of the whole process, as envisioned by Mars One, are available here.
You can watch and rate the video applications online. As I’m writing this, there are 104 viewable videos from all over the world. Only 12 submissions are from women, potentially undermining the group composition schematic. The youngest two applicants are 18 and the oldest is a 56-year-old Italian man. Most people mention their dream of space exploration. I haven't seen any videos yet that mention the fact that the astronauts won't return to Earth. Robinson's Mars books were prescient in that respect as well, describing the difficulty of finding people who are OK with leaving everything behind for only all the right reasons.
The highest-rated would-be Martian, the only applicant as of writing with 5 of 5 stars, is a 25-year-old American woman named Erica Meszaros from the United States who has experience with the Mars Rover Team and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. "Space travel has always represented to me the pinnacle of human achievement, not only colossally trumping all previous human exploration, but providing an epic new opportunity for scientific research and investigation," she says. Honestly, the exhilaration in the videos gets contagious. As iffy as some of the project’s details sound, it's hard to argue with the excitement it inspires, and I sort of can't wait to see what happens.
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