With NASA taking a backseat to private enterprises like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the future of space exploration is essentially in the hands of anyone with deep enough pockets and an overflow of ideas. Now, a new Dutch group calling itself Mars One is throwing its hat into the ring and has announced an earnest (yet "achievable") plan to set up a fully manned station on the Red Planet by the year 2023. Here's what you should know about the ambitious project:
What's the plan?
On the "surprisingly specific date" of Sept. 14, 2022, Mars One aims to send four astronauts on a 10-month, one-way journey to set up permanent residence on Earth's closest neighbor, says Chris Taylor at Mashable. What separates this particular undertaking from earlier projects is that no one comes back, saving invaluable time and expensive equipment; consider the Mars base the "Plymouth Rock" of a new era.
What steps will need to be taken to get there?
The plan has "a definitive and achievable to-do list," says Taylor. The first step calls for a communications satellite to be sent to Mars in 2016. Step two, in 2018, follows up with a Red Planet rover, "which will trawl the dusty landscape, scoping out some of the best spots to found a colony." In step three, robots will be sent to the planet to begin building the minimal infrastructure for humans to use, "complete with solar panels and machines that will convert the Martian elements into water and oxygen." By 2023, humans should be living on the planet's surface in a self-sustained environment — that is, if all else goes according to plan.
Who's the leader of Mars One?
Bas Landsdorp, a researcher from the Netherlands. Prominent physicist and 1999 Nobel Prize winner Gerard 't Hooft supports Landsdorp's project, and argues that the undertaking is invaluable to the future of space exploration. "Mars One is an extraordinarily daring initiative by people with vision and imagination," says Hooft. (Watch a video below.) "This project seems to me to be the only way to fulfill dreams of mankind's expansion into space." Prominent equipment suppliers from around the globe, including SpaceX, have already endorsed the idea, and have promised to supply the equipment necessary to carry out the mission.
Who's funding it?
The group's funding strategy is to turn the process into a Big Brother-style reality show, following the astronauts as they prepare — and eventually embark — on their 36 million-mile-plus journey. That might be easier said than done. "The next step is introducing the project to the world and securing sponsors and investors," Landsdorp tells Digital Journal. Coca-Cola in space, anyone?