Last week a Dutch company, Mars One, announced they plan to send people to Mars in 2023. Mars One, a non-profit, private spaceflight project, led by Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders, are aiming to have 2500 kg of supplies on Mars by 2016. After sending equipment on top of these supplies, making habitation possible, humans would be sent for permanent residence in 2023. Four more astronauts would make the journey every two years afterwards. Even though this is a one way trip over 40,000 people have submitted an application to be considered, with screening due to begin at the end of the year.
Another recent story in the press was a claim made in February by the first ‘space tourist’ Dennis Tito, who said he planned to send a couple on a round trip to Mars in January 2018. Mr Tito, who travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001, is also the founder of the Inspiration Mars Foundation, and will take advantage of planetary alignment within the solar system to send the travellers on a 501-day trip. The journey will take them within 100 miles of Mars before returning. The trajectory of this flight is known as a ‘free return’ allowing the space craft to use the least amount of fuel, also meaning that it will travel around Mars and come back to Earth regardless of what may happen to the people inside.
One of the main dangers of embarking on trips into space is the potential exposure to cosmic and solar radiation, something which on Earth the ozone layer protects us from. As previous trips from astronauts have only lasted a few days, the long terms effects of this radiation on the human body are not known.
However, the living conditions on Mars bear some similarities to that of Earth. The Martian day is very similar, lasting 24 hours 39 minutes. Mars also has an atmosphere, albeit a thin one (1% of the thickness of Earth’s) that offers some protection from solar and cosmic radiation. Most importantly there is water on Mars, more than on the Moon, and without this supply life would be impossible.
The differences from Earth also pose problems for would be inhabitants. The surface gravity is 36 per cent of Earth’s meaning that muscle wasting would occur (it does anyway in space but at an increased level on Mars). The changes in temperature are more extreme, and due to the atmospheric pressure being lower, suits would have to be worn. The atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide (95.3 per cent) whereas on Earth CO2 makes up less than one per cent of the air. Mars also has a lot less nitrogen and oxygen in its atmosphere, with the planet also prone to dust storms, which often come from nowhere and travel long distances before dying down.
On the Mars One expedition, the team being sent will have to be both physically and psychologically trained. Once at their destination they will have to use energy generated from solar power, water will be recycled from soil, they will grow their own food. The new astronauts will also replenish their food and supplies as they arrive every two years.
Space travel to Mars is nothing new, with several spacecraft being sent there from the 1970’s. Not all have been successful with some crashing, and others being lost, such as Beagle 2. Those that have landed successfully sent pictures and data back to Earth, allowing scientists to find out more about the composition of Mars. At the moment the rovers that are still operating on Mars include Opportunity, sent in 2003, and Curiosity, 2011.
There are doubts surrounding the ability of Mars One to raise funds, mainly due to the fact they have raised less than $100,000 to date. Modest projections indicate this project will run into the billions of dollars, and it remains to be seen exactly how the funds will be raised. Mars One said that they will aim to attract investors through a global reality TV event to select the people who will go on to travel to Mars.
Regardless of whether this Mars One project will actually see people inhabit Mars, NASA have plans to send a manned craft to an asteroid in the 2020′s and someone to the moon in the 2030′s. Furthermore the European Space Agency are planning on manned missions to Mars, meaning the likelihood of seeing someone on Mars becomes closer and closer with each passing year.