Sat, Jan 04, 2014 - Page 7 News List

More than 1,000 chosen for one-way Mars trip

REALITY TV:Cameras are to follow the settlement of Mars as ‘a new generation of heroes’ conduct experiments and work out how to live happy lives in airlocked pods

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

More than 1,000 candidates — from 200,000 hopefuls — have been chosen to train for a private Mars colonization mission to be partly funded by a reality TV show following their training and subsequent steps, organizers said on Thursday.

They are to be whittled down to just 24, who will be sent over six launches starting in 2024, according to Mars One, the Dutch-based non-profit group behind the audacious endeavor.

The only catch is that the space-bound settlers will be on a one-way ticket to the Red Planet, which lies a minimum 55 million kilometers — six months’ travel — from Earth. Costs are too high to contemplate a return trip.

Mars One said the selected 1,058 would-be emigrants to Mars, from 140 countries, were informed on Monday they were the lucky few deemed to meet the criteria — including an “indomitable spirit,” “good judgement,” “a good sense of play,” disease and drug-free, English-speaking — to be interplanetary pioneers.

“The challenge with 200,000 applicants is separating those who we feel are physically and mentally adept to become human ambassadors on Mars from those who are obviously taking the mission much less seriously. We even had a couple of applicants submit their videos in the nude,” organization co-founder Bas Landsdorp said.

The group’s chief medical officer, Norbert Kraft, said the candidates would now be called in for “rigorous simulations, many in team settings, with focus on testing [their] physical and emotional capabilities” over the next two years.

The candidates will be narrowed down in a number of phases starting this year. Mars One said that process was caught up in “ongoing negotiations” with media companies over television rights.

The organizers announced last month they had signed a US$250,000 contract with US group Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build a concept landing module that would be sent in a 2018 unmanned test flight.

It hopes to add more sponsors and partners to its roster to help cover the US$6 billion cost of its plan, which would see self-sufficient living modules shot off to Mars.

Key to that is an interactive reality TV program built around the project in which the audience decides which candidates make the cut for the one-way mission and which stay behind on Earth.

Cameras are also to follow the settlement of Mars as those it calls “a new generation of heroes” conduct experiments and work out how to live long and happy lives in airlocked pods, growing their own food, far from their native planet, in a new habitat with a thin, unbreathable atmosphere and sub-zero average temperatures.

Crowdfunding — appealing for public donations, mainly through the Internet — is also meant to finance the task of turning the entrepreneurial dream into reality.

Mars One counts a Dutch 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, Gerard ’t Hoofd, among its supporters.

However, there are many skeptics, too.

NASA chief engineer Brian Muirhead reportedly said in April last year that a commercial venture to colonize Mars is “way beyond our capability to do today.”

NASA’s plan is to put an astronaut on the dry planet in a couple of decades.

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