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Colonizing Mars by 2023

Tue, 10/09/2012 - 4:08pm
Chris Fox, Managing Editor

So, NASA recently landed a rover the size of an SUV on Mars. Big deal, Mars One plans to colonize the place by 2023. The fifteen year-old dream project of CEO Bas Lansdorp is in the process of organizing a series of missions to the red planet. As more companies like SpaceX emerge from the private sector, it is quickly becoming a possibility that the first human on Mars could be a privatized endeavor.

At first inquiry, I was driven to wonder how anybody other than NASA could even think about such a landmark journey, but if inspiration and money are all it takes to get the ball rolling, Mars One is leagues ahead of NASA. Without any hesitation in his voice, Bas Lansdorp stoically says, “It is our mission to put humans on Mars in 2023.” Once the shock wears off, the next question begs to be asked. How?

Lansdorp was confronted with the same questions when he first dreamed of this venture, until the concept of commercializing the landmark event dawned on him. To fund the greatest endeavor in human history (privatized or not), Mars One plans to turn the first human steps on Mars into a monstrous media event., like the broadcast of the Apollo 11 landing with commercials and a giant sticker on the side of the rocket – exaggerations aside, that is exactly how Lansdorp plans to fund this venture.

Lansdorp says, “If you talk to people in the media industry, they all agree that if you can really do this, then the financing should be no problem. If you talk to the people in the technical area, they will say, 'we can make this, technically it isn’t a problem.'” It all comes down to money and who will pay for the next great endeavor in human history. To get everything started, Mars One plans to get small investments and sponsorships; paying for conceptual designs from suppliers so as to take the technical feasibility one step further. Lansdorp continues “Our challenge is to keep our sponsors and investors convinced that their ever-growing investment will be worth the money that they are putting into it.” 

After selling some shares from his previous company, Lansdorp started making a technical plan and contacting suppliers. After numerous discussions, Mars One walked away with a list of capable suppliers, letters of interest, and confirmation that every component of the missions can be fabricated. "Now we have a design that our suppliers agree is feasible," he says.

Prepping for Humans

Given rough estimates and Internet rumors, NASA can potentially land people on Mars by 2039. Lansdorp says that his projected 2023 land-date was determined by the Mars One lander supplier, SpaceX. “We discussed with SpaceX what would be the first date that they could land a module on Mars. That was 2016,” explains Lansdorp. Once the first supply mission is a success, it is all downhill from there.

The landing of a supply mission is the essential beginning of the chain reaction that is Mars One’s plan. Lansdorp says, “We want to land a supply mission first because the first mission has the biggest chance of failure.” For obvious reasons, the system can never be completely tested until the actual landing.

Once there is a successful confirmation that the supplies have landed, another mission will be en route with a rover. The rover will search for the best location for a human-inhabited environment, and move the initial components to that location. The third mission will be the hardware, which the rover will be responsible for assembling. As Mars One’s agenda is currently set, humans will be on their way to a preassembled Martian habitat by 2022 (landing in 2023).

In Transit

During the fourth mission, when humans are headed to Mars, a transit habitat will be used. This habitat will not enter the atmosphere of Mars, but will act as an extraterrestrial Winnebago, carting supplies, a lander, and Martian tourists. If things go as planned “the builder of the ISS habitat will be building our transit habitat,” explains Lansdorp.

The 250-day trip (give or take) will be reminiscent of the backseat of your parents car. “The trip to mars is not going to be fun,” says Lansdorp. “Space will be very limited, even compared to the International Space Station, so it is going to be a tough section of their trip.” That seems like an understatement with only 20 m3 per person for the entire duration.

Footprints in Red Dirt

Once humans land on Mars, there will be an established habitat and supplies ready to accept the Martian pioneers. Those travelers will also have the supplies for the next group of Martian immigrants. This gives light to some of the maintenance and supply questions that beg to be asked. Lansdorp explains, “Of course things will break, but we will have a backup and another backup. They will have spare parts and the technology will be complex, but it will be as simple as possible to make sure that they can fix whatever breaks.”

Once the colonists are on Mars, they will remain there for the rest of their lives, so it is kind of a big commitment. Though there will be delays in communication, the residents will have the ability to send messages to loved ones and even surf the web. “If you are on Mars and you want to visit a website, it would take three minutes to send and three minutes to receive requests for pages,” Lansdorp explains. Instead Mars One plans to place a web server on Mars that will receive updates on a number of favorite pages for the colonists to browse; limiting the web, but still providing some non-red planet connection.

Using a similar communication system to that of Curiosity, Mars One residents will send video content back to Earth for commercial purposes. Lansdorp says, “Our business model is to sell video content from Mars on earth to monetize it.” Breaking way for the galaxy’s first interstellar reality show.

Realistic Skepticism

Lansdorp reiterates the importance of funding. Essentially, the biggest challenges for Mars One will remain here on Earth – money. The suppliers are ready, and so is Lansdorp. Now it’s time to sell some advertising space and snag investors.

With the success of other privatized space organizations building interstellar utensils, the reality that Mars One will reach Mars before NASA is more than likely. Though, Lansdorp is more than happy to collaborate with the government organization – in fact, he welcomes their expertise. He says, “Right now NASA doesn’t have a hand in what we’re doing, but I’m sure that, as we are progressing, they will. We are already in contact with a number of people at NASA, but not NASA officially as an organization.”
This venture is incredibly exciting, but it comes with an overwhelmingly endless number of questions that have yet to be answered. It certainly seems possible, and if ambition is any measure of potential success, Mars One is more than capable of reaching Mars by 2023.

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