Science & Environment

Mars One to launch first test mission

Artists conception of the Mars One settlement in 2025
Image caption Mars One aims to found a human colony on the Red Planet by 2023

Mars One will launch its first unmanned mission to the Red Planet in 2016, its co-founder says.

The firm plans to establish a human settlement on Martian soil in 2023, by offering passengers a one-way ticket.

Mars One will send "a small craft that will demonstrate the technologies we need for our human colony" and is inviting partners to join the mission.

Bas Lansdorp revealed details of the test mission at the International Space Commerce 2013 Summit, in London.

The first step is to test whether conditions for sustaining humans can be created, by sending experimental systems on a lander.

"If you have a reason to get something to Mars, get in touch with me," Lansdorp told the conference.

"It could be a country that wants to do an experiment on Martian soil.

"I know the UK space agency has been interested in getting to Mars in the past. They could put something on our lander and get a payload there.

"We also have consumer firms that are interested in becoming 'the first brand on Mars'."

Another idea is to allow a "high schools payload" similar to the recent Youtube Space Lab.

Full details will be revealed in December, by which point we may know who has made the initital shortlist to leave Earth forever.

More than 200,000 Earthlings from 140 countries have applied for the one-way ticket to the Red Planet.

The oldest applicant is 83. The youngest is still in primary school.

"We received an email from a kid who is eight years old saying: 'Why can't I apply? I'll be 18 when the first mission launches'," Lansdorp said.

Image caption A rover will land first to scout the best area

Some 80% of applicants are male, an imbalance that Lansdorp hopes can be addressed in time with publicity.

To enter the reality TV-style selection process, applicants had to submit a video introducing themselves and explaining why they should be chosen.

"Two movies really stuck with me," Lansdorp told the BBC.

"One guy created a Gangnam Style parody called Martian Style.

"Another guy 'video-shopped' himself into scenes from Star Wars, explaining why he should be the one to go to Mars."

The budding explorers gave "a whole number of different reasons" for going, Lansdorp told the summit.

"Many people want to do something great for mankind. It's a chance for immortality," he explained.

"Everyone watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon.

"Imagine when [our colonists] step onto Mars. Four billion people will be watching live on the internet."

Asked whether his venture is financially realistic, Lansdorp cited the enormous revenues likely from what he hopes will be the TV event of the century.

"We estimate $6bn to get the first four people on Mars and $4bn for every further group that follows.

"It's a lot of money. But look at the broadcasting revenue from the Olympics in London - $4bn in three weeks.

"The world was watching. And I want the whole world to be involved in Mars One."

He denied the venture was simply a spectacle, predicting that the mission will bring benefits we cannot yet imagine.

"Exploration is what we humans do. It inspires us to innovate," he said.

"There are two times when humans really innovate - in exploration and in war. And I don't like war."

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