A One-Way Ticket to Red Planet

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The ambitious $6 billion Mars One project, by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, has proposed to send humankind for a one-way trip to the red planet. The excruciating selection process started with 200,000 candidates and now hundred were short-listed (50 men and 50 women). These candidates are waiting to face more stringent astronaut selection process as eventually six groups of four astronauts will be selected for the final expedition. Plenty of missions were also planned to provide vital groundwork before humans’ are scheduled to blast off for Mars.

The first unmanned mission to Mars is planned to leave in 2016, followed by rover landing in 2018, which will be accompanied by communications satellite to beam messages back and forth. In 2020, a much more self-reliant, intelligent rover is planned to be sent, whose job will be to scope out a good landing site with soil good enough to contain certain amount of water and also equatorial enough to get sunlight. Then, in 2022 cargo missions will be heading off to Mars and the rovers will set up the solar panels and life support unit.

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Eventually, four humans in 2024 will be launched into Earth orbit and climb into Mars Spacecraft, reaching their destination in 2025. The astronauts in the decade before launch will be separated in teams and would have to endure all the permanent hardships of such a settlement. The Mars One project has also received its fair share of fierce criticism, asking the plausibility of human colonization in red planet within 10 years time. Last October, students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a feasibility study of the Mars One Project, and damningly concluded that even if the astronauts reach Mars, unscathed, the crew fatality would start occurring approximately around 68 days.

The study has named some chief problems like low air pressure, lack of spare parts (although the rapid evolution of 3D printers is said to be an answer for the mission detractors), and habitats at the risk of explosion. Radiation would also be a primary concern. Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field, unlike Earth, to protect humans from hazardous particles from Sun, and humans certainly don’t know what might be the effects of such radiations. Protecting the astronaut’s body from radiation even during the Mars trip (inside the spacecraft) would be a greatest challenge. Huge explosions like solar flares could throw heavy doses of radiation towards the spaceship.

Bas Lansdorp -- Co-Founder of Mars One

Bas Lansdorp — Co-Founder of Mars One

In order to protect the humans in that seven to nine month trip, the feasible option available is to line a spacecraft with water, which would absorb radiation. But, then water adds added weight. Scientists are talking about the possibility of creating a small magnetic field to protect the crew, but we are still decades away in achieving such things. Medical officers have also cited the problems caused by zero-g in an extended time period, which may lead to calcium degradation, muscle loss and most importantly the swelling of optic nerve. Medical advances may keep some of these biological problems at bay, but the psychological issues like isolation is a very big concern.

Such troubles may pale in comparison as deep space explorers are questioning how they would get a crew off the Earth. We might have been sending people and probes into space for the last five decades, but a manned Mars mission is a wholly different thing. We haven’t yet designed a rocket that can take off from Earth’s surface, escaping the arduous gravitational pull to reach into space (carrying such enormous weights). Mankind’s largest construction on space was the International Space Station (ISS), which has a mass of 4,500 tonnes and it took 31 spaceship flights to complete. NASA’s estimation states that Spacecraft to launch for Red Planet may take a mass of around 1,250 tonnes. But, the retirement of Space Shuttle Fleet doesn’t make it easy and so now it would at least take 70 launches a assemble a Mars mission vehicle (according to analysis conducted by aerospace engineer Bret Drake).

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It took more than a decade to assemble the ISS and similarly assembling Mars vehicle would take such time. The problems of taking off and building spacecraft are just a tip of the iceberg. Then there is cost problem, fuel-storage problem, advanced propulsion problem and eventually the landing off problem. Let’s also not forget the social and political aspects of the manned Mars mission. Mankind will definitely find answers to all these troubles, but is it possible to launch the humans within such a limited time.

Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Cosmos” TV series) have insisted that projects like Mars One will help us to go further, pushing mankind to bring forth new inventions. He also added that the project is little too ambitious as it thinks that the destination is closer than actually it is. Even though there is heavy skepticism over Mars One mission many renowned scientists still feel that it’s good start. At least it is making people to talk and think about space travel & exploration.

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