Would you go to Mars, even if you knew that you would never come back? Would you let someone film you the whole way?
As far fetched as a reality TV show set on the dusty red world may seem, Lionsgate TV and Dutch billionaire Bas Landorp have teamed up to bring that vision to life with a project called Mars One. Aimed to launch in 2026, the project will follow teams of four that will be sent to Mars every two years to establish the first human base on the Red Planet.
All 300,000 applicants are very well aware that this will be a one-way trip.
The application process to participate in such a reality show is nothing like getting on “The Real World.” If chosen, the candidates must undergo a rigorous training process for eight years and develop skills that surpass that of even a trained astronaut.
Among the selected candidates, there must be experts in medicine, engineering, horticulture, and biology. They need candidates who are not only intelligent, but also creative, psychologically stable, and physically healthy.
They must also be willing—you guessed it—to procreate.
“An interesting thing about Mars One is that we are not all war heroes or M.I.T. engineers, or so on,” Pietro Alprandi, a current Mars One candidate and recent Doctoral graduate from Trieste Medicine School, said in the AOL Original Documentary “Citizen Mars.”
“We were, before applying…common people. If a common person can go to Mars why shouldn’t everyone be able to do something great?”
So how would this crew of talented civilians even make it to Mars?
Claas Olthoff is a Ph.D. student in the Technical University of Munich’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Institute of Astronautics. His research group conducts life-support simulations in order to design systems that can keep people alive in space, both on long flights and in colonization scenarios.
Olthoff tells BTR that preparing for a trip to Mars is not entirely unlike preparing for a long hiking trip: in addition to completing vigorous physical training, you’d also need to bring clothes, water, and food. The glaring difference is that in space, there is no air, so travelers would need to bring, find, or create a source of oxygen.
“On Mars you can maybe use the ‘Sabatier,’ which is a name we use for the CO2 chemical processing, where you split the CO2 up, add hydrogen, and get water, which you can then get oxygen out of,” Olthoff says. “Or there might be water already on Mars.”
The Sabatier is currently in use on the International Space Station. In fact, there are a few chemical processes that can be used to split CO2 into oxygen, such as the Bosch Process, or solid oxide electrolysis.
The Bosch Process is similar to the Sabatier process. Olthoff explains that instead of using 200-400 degrees Celsius to create water from CO2, the Bosch Process uses at least 1000 degrees Celsius. Since the heat is much higher it can directly split the carbon and the oxygen. By adding hydrogen, it creates pure carbon and water.
Solid oxide electrolysis, which is fairly new and still in its testing phases, passes hot CO2 through an electrolyzer, which removes the need for hydrogen all together. The oxygen atom here is stripped from the CO2, which leaves just the carbon and the atomic oxygen. The two oxygen atoms then get combined to create molecular oxygen. There is then a follow-up process that extracts the pure carbon. The next Mars Rover launch in 2020 intends to experiment with this process.
Even with the trip checklist fulfilled, and with access to oxygen covered, Olthoff still finds it unlikely that humans will venture to or inhabit Mars any time soon.
“We’ve been ‘going to Mars in 20 years,’ for the last, I don’t know, 40 years or so,” he laughs. “In the end it really comes down to money. I don’t think we’re 20 years away—we’re 500 billion dollars away.”
Turning the trip into a reality TV show might just be the answer to that expensive price tag. Not only would it generate a ton of revenue, but Lionsgate has also figured out a way to cut the budget in half.
The Mars One project estimates that the cost of getting to the Red Planet is about 6 billion dollars A return trip—which requires extra fuel, food, water, and of course, oxygen—doubles those costs. Having the candidates stay on Mars cuts the cost in half.
The project is split into two different means of revenue: the Mars One Corporation and the Mars One Foundation. The corporation helps generate revenue by seeking investors and by monetizing the exclusive media and intellectual property of the TV show. The foundation is a non-profit that receives donations from people all over the world who support the program and donate. Mars One is also going to be listed on the stock exchange to enable supporters to own part of the project.
However, turning this dangerous endeavor with such immense consequences into a reality TV show that caters to popular entertainment raises some obvious ethical concerns. These are real people leaving their friends and family forever for a planet that might not even be habitable by humans.
Many consider it a suicide mission.
“If you think the probability that they’re going to die fairly soon exists, then that’s not terribly ethical,” said Hans Bozler, professor of physics at the University of Southern California.
Mary Ellen Weber, a former NASA astronaut, expresses in “Citizen Mars” her belief that the mission is reckless, and that it would be absurd for anyone to call it a safe trip. Clifford V. Johnson, a Professor of Physics from The University of California even called the different hypotheses of shortcuts to Mars pure “fantasies.”
However, Olthoff disagrees. “The plan is that the people who go there will die on Mars,” he says. “But they will die, hopefully, of natural causes or old age—not because it’s a flawed mission concept.”
Adriana Marais, a quantum biologist and another Mars One candidate, wrote for The Huffington Post that she is prepared to give up her life so that humans could explore a new world.
“I would like to point out immediately that we are all survivors of one-way trips, wherever on the surface of the Earth we happen to currently live,” Marais said. “Homo sapiens emerged in central eastern Africa around 200,000 years ago, and we have been exploring the surface of the Earth ever since.”
All in all, turning the mission into a reality TV show may seem unethical to some, but it may be the most viable option for generating the funds necessary for such a mission.
Mars One states on their website that they do indeed think it is “ethically conscientious to allow people to emigrate to Mars.” While they understand the concerns regarding the project, they fully intend to provide the candidates with a high quality of life on Mars, as well as with the potential to eventually have tools to build a return ship right there on the Red Planet.
“Human settlement on Mars will aid our understanding of the origins of the solar system, the origins of life and our place in the universe,” they write. “As with the Apollo Moon landings, a human mission to Mars will inspire generations to believe that all things are possible, anything can be achieved.”
Olthoff notes that a pessimistic view might regard Mars One’s colonization of Mars as a type of ‘back-up’ for humanity.
“In case we continue down the path that we seem to be on now,” he points out, “where we’re destroying this planet, we might look to have a settlement on another planet to ensure our survival as a species.”
However, Alprandi disagrees that Mars represents an emergency exit from Earth, or a plan B for humanity. Rather, he and other Mars One candidates elect to view this mission in terms of its possible repercussions for the future of space exploration and scientific discovery.
Would you watch the show?