So You Want To Go To Mars?
by Jen Burd
April 10, 2013
This year, a number of privately run organizations have been publicizing plans for manned missions to Mars, making the Curiosity rover feel undervalued and generally morose. But if you're like me and you've spent a significant amount of time gorging yourself on astronaut ice cream and dreaming of little green men, distant galaxies, and the moons of Jupiter, then you're probably pretty excited about the prospect of a trip to Mars. Maybe you didn't bully your parents into spending your college fund on Space Camp for nothing. They'll need people like you on Mars. After all, someone has got to be there to warn the crew about the trouble with tribbles.
The first step to taking the first step on the majestic Red Planet is to pick your mission. In 2018, Mars's orbital alignment will be in an optimal position for the thrifty astronaut to make the voyage, and there are a few different groups trying to take advantage of the timing. The details of each mission get weirder and weirder, as if there's some sort of clandestine contest for bat-shit billionaire of the year. Here's a brief rundown:
Inspiration Mars has the most feasible, and perhaps least appealing, plan of action. The organization was founded by Dennis Tito, a 72 year old investment manager and multimillionaire. In 2001, Tito paid the Russian Federal Space Agency $20 million dollars to spend eight days on the International Space Station. Though Tito has earned the epithet of the first “space tourist,” he is not exactly your average Joe when it comes to astrophysics. Tito holds a B.S. in Astronautics and Aeronautics from NYU and an M.S. in Engineering Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 1965, Tito worked as an aerospace engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Tito's mission does not entail actually landing on the surface of Mars, and he does not plan to return to space himself. The mission of Inspiration Mars is to send two astronauts, one male and one female, to fly within 100 miles of Mars. Tito has stated that the astronauts will be male and female because “humanity should be represented by both genders.” The ideal candidates are a married couple past childbearing age, chiefly because the pair will be living together in a room that's about the size of a parking space for nearly 17 months. The psychological risks may be greater than the threat of radiation, and Tito acknowledges that “When you're out that far and the Earth is a tiny blue pinpoint, you're going to need someone you can hug.” And no one wants these “hugs” to result in a space pregnancy.
And now for the best part. To minimize the effects of radiation, scientists are planning to surround the crew with a giant bag of their own feces. Liquid contains more nuclei per volume than solid matter, making it a better shield for radiation. And in 501 days, the crew will produce more than enough of this runny, brownish gold to go around. On top of that, the astronauts will, of course, be drinking there own recycled urine (no one will ever accuse Tito of wastefulness).
So, if you meet the following qualifications, Inspiration Mars might be the right Mars mission for you. There are already some promising candidates, so you'd better move fast.
Though the Mars One mission plan sounds too outlandish to be true, it is not a hoax, and it is well within the realm of possibility. In June of 2012, Mars one, headed by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, released a YouTube video outlining plans for the mission. Lansdorp did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.com, and redditers were sure that the project was a scam. They were wrong.
Experts have confirmed that the mission itself is more achievable than funding the mission. Mars One will send rovers and supplies to Mars between 2016 and 2020. The rovers will find the best location for the settlement and make it habitable enough for humans. The astronauts will leave Earth in 2022 and arrive in 2023, and they will be expected to establish the colony and to live on Mars for the rest of their lives. The mission is estimated to cost between $30 and $50 billion. A return mission would be even more expensive, and fairly risky. If the ship has the proper amount of fuel to launch itself off the surface of Mars, it still has to dock with the International Space Station. If it fails to dock, it will simply plummet into space.
So how does Mars One plan to pay for all this? By making it into a reality show, naturally. Lansdorp refers to the future of the project as the “biggest media event ever,” an ongoing reality show chronicling the lives of the first human beings in space. But no media event has ever raised anywhere near that amount of money. The Olympics yielded $5 billion, a paltry amount compared to what it would take to fund the Mars One mission. And unfortunately, it's hard to believe that that many people will be willing to turn off Dancing With the Stars, even for mankind's interplanetary premier, especially when it becomes a regular weekly distraction.
So get ready. If you're accepted, you will start training next year. For this Mars mission, you will need to:
Elon Musk is the founder of Paypal and CEO of Tesla, and company that specializes in affordable and environmentally friendly car batteries. He is also the CEO of SpaceX, a spaceship and rocket company, and our third maven with lofty aspirations for the fourth planet. In the next thirty years, Musk hopes to establish a self-sustaining colony of 80,000 people on Mars using transparent, pressurized geodesic domes. Why? Musk has mentioned the problem of overpopulation and the possibility of extending “the life of humanity” (he seems sure that we're all doomed), but Musk truly wants to go to Mars for the best reason of all: because it would be extremely cool. He plans to retire to the colony, and thinks “it would be cool to be born on Earth and die on Mars. Hopefully, not at the point of impact.” Fair enough, Elon, fair enough.
The twist? In addition to being somewhat of a doomsday prepper, Musk is a staunch environmentalist and he has pretty high standards for his Martian compatriots. All 80,000 residents must be vegetarians. They will bring fertilizer and machinery to Mars and grow their own food. It will be quaint and picturesque, and no one will be allowed to consume the delicious space cows. They'll just have to settle for space tofurkey.
The whole voyage is estimated to cost at least $36 billion, but Musk wants to sell tickets for $500,000, deeming the cost “low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip.” So we're looking at a space colony full of middle aged vegetarians, mostly of American or European origins. We're looking at Williamsburg on Mars with much less diversity.
If you think this is the right next step for humanity, then go ahead. But make sure you are:
Alan Boyle, NBCNEWS.com, Millionaire Dennis Tito plans to send woman and man to Mars and back
Steve Smith, Reminder News, UConn professor says trip to Mars is possible, if risks are accepted
BBC News, Space station welcomes tourist Dennis Tito
Inspiration Mars, Feasibility Analysis for a Manned Mans Free-Return Mission in 2018
Adam Mann, Wired, Private Plan to Send Humans to Mars in 2018 Might Not Be So Crazy
Adam Taylor, Business Insider, This Incredible Plan For A Mission To Mars In 2023 Is No Hoax
Nicola Clark, The New York Times, Reality TV for the Red Planet
Damon Poeter, PCMag.com, Mars Mission May Use 'Poop Shield' to Block Cosmic Rays
Paul Harris, The Guardian, Elon Musk: 'I'm planning to retire to Mars'
Rob Coppinger, Space.com, Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder Elon Musk
Alex Knapp, Forbes.com, SpaceX Billionaire Elon Musk Wants A Martian Colony Of 80,000 People
Sustainable Business Oregon, Elon Musk: Vegetarians only on Mars colony
Daniel Terdima, Cnet, Elon Musk at SXSW: 'I'd like to die on Mars, just not on impact'
by Jen Burd
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit