I’ve decided to start this blog by discussing one of my favourite ongoing science projects: Mars One. It’s a strange topic to discuss as although I’ve been following it from the start, I still haven’t formed a solid opinion on how I feel about the project.
In short Mars One is focusing on developing a human settlement on Mars, with the first manned mission set to depart in 2027. However, unlike NASAs plans, the Mars One mission is a one way trip. ONE WAY. Furthermore, rather than selecting current astronauts for the mission, Mars One issued a call for candidates allowing members of the general public to submit an application as to why they believe they should be the first humans on Mars. This first call for candidates resulted in over 200,000 applications – that’s 200,000 (arguably slightly crazy) people who are willing to leave Earth and never return.
One of the original plans for additional Mars One funding was to create a reality TV style show documenting the selection of the astronauts, and even allowing the audience to vote on whom they would like to see make the trip to Mars. However as of yet (and quite disappointingly) no such concept has occurred. There were also plans for this to continue with live broadcasts from Mars for the first few years of habitation, however these plans have also now been changed to show ‘documentary’ style highlights, rather than live feeds.
While there are hundreds of different things I could discuss concerning Mars One such as the feasibility of the technology, mission risks, health issues etc. (all of which I may touch on in future blogs) one of the aspects that I find most interesting (and, I’ll admit, slight terrifying) is the psychological impact a mission such as this could have on potential astronauts. Firstly, assuming that the mission actually is feasible and a number of candidates succeed in completing the training, there is the matter of the journey to Mars, which is estimated to last around 7 months. The thought of spending 7 months in any one place makes me feel a bit queasy, let alone in an incredibly confined space in strange zero gravity conditions. All of this with 3 other people who you may, or may not, get on with very well (if you end up have a bit of a tiff you can hardly pop outside for some air!). Then when you finally do arrive on Mars you have to live there, knowing that you are well and truly trapped on that planet with no way home, and only your 3 new besties for company (at least for the first few years, Mars One are hoping to send further crews of 4 every 2 years following the first). Real-time interaction with people on earth will be impossible, with a minimum delay of around 10 minutes. The problem of isolation is already well documented in astronauts and often occurs with people who will have many, many more years of experience compared to the Mars One candidates, as well as the knowledge that they will be returning home. These Mars One astronauts will be the most isolated humans ever to have lived.
Unsurprisingly with such a mission Mars One has attracted a lot of criticism, much of it surrounding the ethics of a one way trip, as well as doubts towards the health and well-being of the potential astronauts in the Martian environment. Furthermore many believe that Mars One’s budget of $6 billion is far too low, with NASA estimating a budget of around $100 billion for a similar mission (albeit including a return trip). Finally many doubt the legitimacy of Mars One as an organisation and suggest that it could just be a money making scam.
Although a mission such as this may provide a host of valuable information on the universe/origins of life/blah blah, in my opinion I feel that a sending humans to Mars is a project that has been created just to prove that it is possible, rather than in the name of gaining scientific knowledge. I hardly think this mission has been created as a fail-safe alternative in case the earth suddenly goes up in a puff of smoke and we all need somewhere else to live. The feasibility of transporting even a small percentage of the population to Mars is slightly laughable. But maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here and should just accept that sending humans to Mars would be a pretty incredible feat, even if I’m still not totally convinced by the idea.
image credit: http://mars.nasa.gov/MPF/index1.html