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Mars One opens doors for astronauts

Elizabeth Howell, News Writer
Apr 25, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen— It's time, if you're so inclined, to plunk down a reservation for a one-way ticket to Mars. The privately funded Mars One foundation recently opened up applications for astronauts to take a journey to the Red Planet in 2022-23. Return trips, the organizers said, just aren't feasible with the technology we have.

From a wide field of applicants, organizers said two women and two men will be selected to make the journey. The technology that takes them there has been tested before, and the potential for a worldwide audience will be there given four billion people will have the Internet by then, said Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp.

However, a cost breakdown of the £3.93 billion (US$6 billion) budget -- as well as a concrete plan for how reality television deals and other sponsorship money will be secured -- was not provided to the public at the press conference, prompting some scepticism among journalists as to whether the plan could be achieved.

Lansdorp remained optimistic in the face of questions concerning the project's viability, pointing out the London Olympics in 2012 generated nearly £2.62 billion (US$4 billion) in revenues for a three-week spectacle. This makes Mars One a bargain deal for investors, he said.

"No new inventions are needed to land humans on Mars," Lansdorp said in a press conference on Monday. "There might be delays, there might be cost overruns, there might even be failures, but it can be done."

Getting humans to Mars will be the culmination of a decade of research and exploration conducted by Mars One. Should all go to plan, the Dutch foundation plans to launch a robotic demonstration mission in 2016, followed by a rover that will scout out the exact location of the settlement in 2018.

After that, a second rover will arrive in 2020 along with, in stages, hardware to build a human settlement. The rovers will work together to build the Mars base and activate life support systems. Once everything is in place, humans will launch in 2022 and arrive after a seven-month journey in April 2023 to begin permanent settlement.

Mars One will make heavy use of established private space technology to get to the Red Planet. Among the components proposed:

- SpaceX's proposed Falcon Heavy launcher, a follow-on rocket to the Falcon 9 that brings the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station;

- A lander that is "a variant" of the Dragon spacecraft, but a little bigger;

- A "semi-autonomous, solar-electric" rover capable of performing exploration (no vendor was specified);

- A yet-to-be constructed Mars transit vehicle to get to the Red Planet, and Mars spacesuits for use on the surface.

As for the astronauts, Lansdorp said Mars One has already received 10,000 emails of interest from 100 countries in the past year. The selection criteria themselves are quite broad.

Applicants must be 18 years of age or older, English-speaking or willing to learn English, and in generally good health. Rather than specifying technical requirements, however, the foundation focused on personality characteristics. Resiliancy, adaptability, curiosity, an ability to trust and resourcefulness are the qualities future Martians will need, Mars One stated.

"Once on Mars," the foundation warned on its website, "there is no means to return to Earth. Mars is home. A grounded, deep sense of purpose will help each astronaut maintain his or her psychological stability and focus as they work together toward a shared and better future." 

Online applications will be open until August 31, 2013. Potential astronauts will be weeded out after three culling rounds accompanied by training. Final selection for who should go, however, will rest in the public's hands. They will vote for the winner among 24 to 40 candidates who are trained and ready to go.

Gallery: Mars One