Dutch company wants astronauts for Mars colony

For anyone who thought our space-age future wasn’t coming fast enough, there is a group of people in the Netherlands who want to make it happen faster than you might think possible.

Dutch not-for-profit organisation Mars One is planning to establish a permanent settlement on Mars by 2023. Permanent also in the sense that once people are there, they will not be able to return.

Who would go?

Mars One admits that "most people would rather lose a leg than live the rest of their life on a cold, hostile planet... however, there are individuals for whom travelling to Mars has been a dream for their entire life. They relish the challenge."

They aren’t wrong. Since announcing their search for astronauts in April this year, around 100.000 people have registered their interest. That’s 2.500 people for each of the 40 places available.

What makes an astronaut?

Both the selection and the training of astronauts will be rigorous, which is unsurprising given the nature of the lives the astronauts will lead on a desert planet for the rest of their lives.

"Their psychological skills will be the main selection criteria we will use," said Mars One CEO Bas Landsdop. "There will be emergencies and deaths. We need to make sure that the crew members can continue without those people."

Once selected, astronauts will undergo eight years of training. This will include being isolated in groups of four in simulation facilities for a few months every two years, to learn how they respond to living in such limited conditions.

They will also have to learn some rare new skills: how to make physical and electrical repairs to the settlement structures, cultivate crops in confined spaces; and address both routine and serious medical issues.

The journey

The flight to Mars will take around seven to eight months, spent in very cramped conditions, eating only freeze-dried and canned food, washing only with wet towelettes. There will also be constant noise from machines and a daily three-hour exercise regime necessary to maintain muscle mass.

If there is a solar storm, the astronauts will have to take shelter for several days in an even smaller area of the rocket to ensure they have the necessary protection.

Life on Mars

Astronauts will get a little more room on Mars, with a combined living space of over 200 metres squared. There will be inflatable components containing bedrooms, working areas, a living room and a "plant production unit," where they will grow food.

On Mars they can have showers, fresh food and even wear normal clothes, all components of typical everyday life. Unless they want to go outside: then they will need to wear a Mars Suit in order to survive in the barren red desert with its thin carbon dioxide atmosphere.

At least most of the building will be done first. Mars One is planning to launch a supply mission to the planet as soon as October 2016.

A "settlement rover" will land in 2018, so the settlement will be ready for its first inhabitants.

In order to form a permanent settlement, Mars One intends for a second crew to join the first one in 2025, with more following regularly. Each flight will carry two men and two women, so reproduction on Mars would be "feasible but not intended," according to their site.

Who’s funding it?

Perhaps not entirely surprisingly for the nation that gave us Big Brother and The X Factor, Mars One plans to fund its mission in great part by selling it as a sort of reality show.

They plan to televise the whole event, from the selection of the candidates, through the training, the launch, the flight and then life on the settlement. Lansdorp said that after consulting with media experts and ad agencies, he is confident that interest in the Mars settlement will remain popular for decades.

"If humans land on Mars, everyone will want to watch," he said. "It will be bigger than the Olympic Games."

They do need six billion US dollars, however. By comparison, the most advanced and largest robot to ever reach Mars, NASA's rover Curiosity, costs a much smaller 2,5 US billion dollars.

Still science fiction?

Whether Mars One will manage to get that amount of funding in time, or at all, is still in doubt. Yet this media push has gotten the small company to a stage where it can begin feasibility studies with aerospace companies, allowing scientists to work on ideas they may otherwise have not been able to pursue.

According to a spokesman for an aerospace company who spoke to CNN, "I don’t think they deserve to be dismissed." With space opening up to the private sector, many companies are trying to get in on the game, he said. Mars One’s idea is just one of the more audacious.

To sign up for your chance to be on the first human settlement on Mars, click here.

Sources: Mars One, CNN

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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