by Sumeet Batra, Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, CO)

Mars-One, a non-profit organization, is planning to get astronauts on Mars as early as 2025. Although anyone over 18 can apply to be one of the astronauts, the selection process and training is extensive and requires that person to be in nearly perfect health. The application ended in August 2013, with over 200,000 applicants interested in being among the first astronauts to set foot on Mars. As of May 5 of this year, only 705 applicants remain as the selection process enters phase 2. The Mars-One committee will eventually select two males and two females to become the first

Mars One is planning a one way trip to the red planet.

astronauts to go on a one way trip to Mars.

Mars-One faces the challenge of getting the astronauts to Mars. According to NASA, astronauts face potential issues with radiation exposure throughout the 8 month trip. NASA stated that 1 Sievert (Sv) of radiation exposure from Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs) increases the chances of fatal cancer of 5%. When NASA’s Curiosity rover was sent to Mars, the Radiation Assessment Detector found that the rover was exposed to 1.8 milliSieverts of radiation a day. Mars-One estimates that the trip for the astronauts will take approximately 7 months. This means they will be exposed to about 3.8 Sv of radiation.

Astronauts also face the challenge of living in isolation on Mars. Isolation can have many short term and long term effects, said John Gallagher, the school psychologist at the Denver School of Science and Technology. The psychological harm can take form of melancholy, depression, sleepless nights, and antisocial behavior. In the worst case scenario, isolation can even result in suicide.

 “One way to mitigate the harm done, or potential harm done by long distance travel, is getting somebody some artificial human interaction,” said Gallagher.

By 2017, NASA hopes to launch a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), allowing for interplanetary communications. The technology is capable of providing 10–100-times higher data transmission than traditional communication systems. The design is meant for communications between the moon and Earth, but shows promise for communications at even larger distances.

 Mars One hopes to use the LCRD or a similar form of long distance communication. With these technological advances, the crew will have some access to the media outlets the rest of us will have back on Earth, including video streaming, Skype, and general browsing of the Internet. This is the Mars-One approach to mitigate any psychological harm done by limited social interaction.

If the Mars-One program is successful in raising capital, which they estimate to be around $6 billion, additional settlers could arrive every 2 to 4 years after the first group.

“We know people can endure psychological stress if they know that stress is going to be eased or alleviated down the road. We know that people can endure a long prison sentence if they know when their getting out. I think they could endure that knowing that they only have to endure that for two years,” said Gallagher. 

Upon arrival, the crew will spend a majority of their time setting up the base on Mars. This includes setting solar panels for energy, installing computers and servers for communication/recreation, installing living quarters, and creating structures to cultivate food and take care of basic human needs.

Still, there is some skepticism on the success of the Mars-One project. Bruce Jakosky, a professor at University of Colorado at Boulder and principle investigator of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) satellite, has been studying the change in Martian atmosphere over time. “I think it’s incredibly difficult to plan a mission that would send people to Mars, leaving no more than, what is that, eight or nine years from now and have a high chance of success. It’s doable, but it’s extremely difficult.”

While there are risks and obstacles involved in human interstellar travel and settlement, Mars-One believes innovations in space technology will provide the answers to make settlement on Mars a reality. Sumeet Batra

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