Houston, we have a lot of problems: is Mars One too good to be true?
Age: Going since 2011, but probably best described as nascent. Appearance: Either a crazy, far-fetched story about a mission to Mars; or an actual mission to Mars.
An artist’s impression of the Mars One colony may be as close as we’re going to get any time soon.
Which is the reality? Good question. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard those two words. What are the known facts? Mars One is a non-profit, Dutch-registered company proposing to send up to 20 people to Mars. Wow. How do they come back? They don’t come back. They live on Mars, and they die on Mars. What sort of idiot would sign up for something like that? According to Mars One, 200,000 people applied. Seriously? Well, perhaps not. According to other sources, only 2,176 applications were received. In any case, they have now been whittled down to 50 men and 50 women who will begin their training this year. How long will this take, and how much will it cost? According to Mars One, it will cost $6bn (£4.1bn), with the first colonists arriving on the planet in 2025. And according to other sources? The physicist Gerard ’t Hooft, a one-time consultant to Mars One, says both the budget and the timescale are too small by a factor of 10. A 2009 Nasa project study priced a Mars mission at $100bn. How do they mean to raise even the $6bn? They were planning to turn the whole thing into a reality TV show, but an Endemol subsidiary has just pulled out of talks. And a recent crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising $440,000 failed to reach its goal. Any other potential sources? According to one shortlisted applicant, Dr Joseph Roche, would-be candidates are ranked on a points basis, and they can enhance that ranking by buying Mars One merchandise and donating their interview fees. It doesn’t sound as if anybody is going to Mars any time soon. Even plans for an initial robotic scouting mission – in 2018 – look wildly ambitious. Mars One presently has no contracts with aerospace suppliers to build any hardware. Or training facilities. Do say: “My cousin was selected to colonise Mars, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” Don’t say: “Why don’t they just fake the entire thing for TV? It worked great with the moon landings.”