A Dutch start-up named Mars One is hoping to send a select group of brave astronauts on a one-way trip to the Red Planet in the year 2023 with the aim of establishing a permanent human colony.
If all proceeds as planned, Mars One would launch four astronauts on the interplanetary voyage in 2022, landing the team on the surface of Mars in 2023, after which they would begin constructing the colony. Every two years, a team of four additional astronauts would arrive to reinforce the existing colony.
Founded in 2010 by 36-year-old engineer Bas Lansdorp, Mars One says it has developed a road map and financing plan for the project, and that the mission is perfectly feasible. "Mars One has developed a precise, realistic plan based entirely upon existing technologies," the website says. "It is both economically and logically feasible, in motion through the integration of existing suppliers and experts in space exploration."
Lansdorp told ABC News the primary colony, which will consist of several interlocked modules, will include small bedrooms, a larger common room, and areas for computer and research work. "It will look a lot like an Arctic station," said Lansdorp.
In the years leading up to the astronauts' landing, several cargo missions will take place to prepare the settlement. "Two rovers will move the equipment to the right location to the settlement, which will be habitable before they depart from earth," said Lansdorp. "After they land they will have to do a lot of construction work to make it their new home."
In order to raise the estimated $6 billion required to fund such an ambitious project, Lansdorp says that it hopes to capitalize on vast public interest in a manned mission to Mars by selling global broadcasting rights to the mission.
"The revenue garnered by the London Olympics was almost enough to finance a mission to mars," Lansdorp said. "We believe that if we can make this happen it will be much bigger than the Olympic games."
In effect the entire mission, from the early stages of planning, to the selection of the crew, to the landing and construction of the settlement, would be a massive reality TV show.
Mars One expects to begin the selection process for the astronauts who will be participating in the mission this spring.
"It will be a worldwide search for the best candidates and about six groups of four people will be selected in 2015," Lansdorp said. "From that time on they will be full-time employees of Mars One and they will learn all the hardware, medical skills, how to construct and repair and grow their own food."
Lansdorp says he is expecting over a million applications from prospective Mars One astronauts from around the world. After several application rounds designed to narrow the field and ensure that candidates are qualified, Mars One intends to broadcast the national selection process worldwide as a type of reality TV show, with viewers picking the eventual winners.
"We feel the selection of the first people to go to Mars should be a democratic process, we want to ask the audience 'who do you want as your ambassador to Mars and your envoy for mankind?'"
The project is not without its skeptics, and concerns have been raised about the logistics required to get the astronauts to the Martian surface, and their ability to provide for themselves upon arrival.
"To send people there, with life support, with food, with air, with all the other things that they need, books, entertainment, means of communication, and means of providing for their own resources for a long stay on Mars, that's even more challenging," said Mars expert Dr. Alan Baker of Kingston University in the U.K. in an interview with Reuters. "The sheer size of the rockets you'd need to do this would be absolutely colossal," he said.
But Mars One and Lansdorp remain optimistic, and stressed that the technology required for a one-way trip to Mars already exists.
"We know that we are working on a complex, ambitious project. There will be many hurdles to take, but we are eager to face and overcome those hurdles with the help of our suppliers, advisers and ambassadors," he said.