RSS
The astounding popularity of a ticket to Mars
Two privately funded voyages to the Red Planet are drawing thousands of applicants, even though neither sounds all that pleasant
An illustration of Mars One's proposed human settlement: The newly created group sees the Red Planet as the "Plymouth Rock" of our near future.
An illustration of Mars One's proposed human settlement: The newly created group sees the Red Planet as the "Plymouth Rock" of our near future. Facebook.com/Mars One
M

ars One and the Inspiration Mars Foundation's "Mission for America"  are two legit private projects hoping to get humans to Mars — and they appear to have no lack of people eager to sign up for the journey. Neither project has even begun accepting applications, yet tens of thousands of people are already clamoring for the chance to travel to the Red Planet, perhaps never to return.

Mars One — a plan to colonize Mars in stages, with the first humans arriving in 2023 (see video below) — won't begin accepting 60-second video applications until July. The journey as they've designed it is explicitly a one-way ticket. Nevertheless, "so far, almost 40,000 people from all over the world have applied to become Martians," Dutch physicists and Nobel laureate Gerard 't Hooft tells New Scientist.

This is many more than I had imagined, although some psychologists and cultural anthropologists had apparently predicted there would be at least a million candidates. Everyone is now being asked about their motivation, and thousands of replies have already been collected. [New Scientist, via Slate]

Mars One will largely be financed through an application fee of up to $25 and a global reality TV show that will help vet the candidates. That's "the world we live in today," says Hooft, who's an "ambassador" for Mars One. "Governments are not prepared to finance projects like Mars One, so the money has to come from some other source, and if it is a TV show like Big Brother or X Factor, then so be it."

Inspiration Mars plans to get humans to Mars first, in 2018, but only in a quick fly-by. Two astronauts — possibly a married couple — will spend 501 days on a slingshot mission around the Red Planet. (Watch video below.) And this is what they can expect, according to Stephanie Pappas at Space.com:

They'll be crammed into a space the size of an RV for more than a year, breathing recycled air, subsisting on dehydrated food and drinking their purified urine. If they die, they'll be freeze-dried in a body bag. And if they survive, they'll have to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at a screaming 8.8 miles (14.2 kilometers) per second. [Space.com]

The project, the brainchild of former NASA engineer Dennis Tito, won't start accepting applicants until next year, says Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corp., which is partnering with both Mars projects. But "we've already had a ton of applications."

Some people are baffled by the robust interest in a dangerous, uncomfortable ticket to the Red Planet. "Seriously, what's up with that?" says Christopher Nerney at IT World. "Maybe some of them think they're applying to just another reality show," but these applicants need to understand that "this 'show' is quite a bit different than eating worms, backstabbing other contestants on an island, or living with a smelly, difficult roommate."

We're talking about leaving Earth, never to return. We're also talking about potential instant death in the pitiless environment of space or, should they be so lucky, in the pitiless environment of the Red Planet.... Compared to worms, purified urine is easy! Instant death in space, not so much. Think this through, Earthlings. [IT World]

The other people that need to think this through, of course, are the people screening applicants for Mars One and Inspiration Mars. With the Mars One show, colonists are supposed to be chosen, American Idol–fashion, by viewers, but only from a pool selected by Mars One's experts. IT World's Nerney has some advice for the types of replies that might be deal-breakers:

* I hate humans
* I hate Earth
* I have a death wish
* I plan to return to Earth with superpowers and destroy you all
* This will increase my odds of being picked for The Amazing Race!

In other words, it's important to eliminate the crazy people. [IT World]

Poynter says Inspiration Mars will be looking for the most psychologically stable couple they can find, as well as a pair with the technical expertise to make any needed onboard repairs. She and her husband, Inspiration Mars' chief technology officer Taber MacCallum, spent two years isolated in Biosphere 2, along with four other people, and she says that long periods in isolated spaces can cause depression, mood swings, and "flashbacks almost like hallucinations." But, she tells Space.com, "you really can select people that will do well in this type of environment."

Time will tell if the right people will apply.

Mars One:

Inspiration Mars:

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week