We’re used to seeing private enterprise pushing past government-funded scientific research, but when Dutch energy entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced he would land colonists on Mars by 2023 with the Mars One mission, geeks of all ages were wowed.
Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit, later pushed the date to land the first four-person team on Mars to 2027. Nine additional teams of four will take off for the red planet each year. This is a one-way mission; it would be too costly to land an empty spaceship to bring colonists back. Instead, each annual flight will bring supplies and equipment, as well as new colonists.
The project has shortlisted 100 candidates and will whittle that down to just 40 people by the end of the year in a series of Survivor-like competitions.
Mars One: Dream or Scam?
Is this the kind of wildly ambitious project that only private enterprise could pull off? Or is it a completely unfeasible publicity stunt? There are some red flags.
The 100 final candidates seem to have been chosen for their looks; few have a scientific background, but the chosen 40 will train for the mission for 10 years – which should be long enough to get their science up to speed.
Funding for the project is also up in the air. In 2014, four MIT students did an independent study of the Mars One plans and found that the project didn’t have the funding or technical resources to make it work.
But Lansdorp responded that 10 years is enough time to raise necessary funds and create new technologies. According to LinkedIn, Mars One itself has 10 or less employees, so there’s not much opportunity for those bitten with the space bug. It will rely on suppliers to actually build the launch and the station – that’s the best way to get involved.
Paragon Space Development is doing preliminary designs for Mars One’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). The small company, based in Austin, Texas, says it’s actively looking for “people who are excited about working in the space industry and want to work on projects of significance.”
It’s specifically looking for folks with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and even a single year of experience. If you know aerospace systems engineering, thermal control systems, or ECLSS, you’re an especially hot prospect.
The Future of Space Exploration
Whether you think Mission One is farfetched or not, it seems clear that private enterprise will take the lead in space exploration and colonization. President Obama’s 2011 budget included $6 billion to support the development of commercial spaceships to take NASA astronauts into space. Boeing and SpaceX are its first partners.
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