Thursday, September 12, 2013

Red Planet Mars Awaits

“Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”

Well, maybe it’s not a universe, exactly. But Mars is a planet. And it’s apparently a hell of a good planet. Why else would well over 100,000 folks have applied to the Mars One Project for a – bang, zoom – one way trip to the red planet.

The Mars One project wants to colonize the red planet, beginning in 2022. There are financial and practical questions about this venture that haven't been clarified. Will there be enough money? Will people really be able to survive on Mars? But these haven't stopped some 30,000 [later data: 37,000+] Americans from signing up. (Source: CNN.)

My idea of boldly going to where no man (or woman) has gone before is pretty much to stay home and read about it.

Still, I guess you have to admire the spirit of those willing to slip the surly bonds of earth, not to mention the surly bonds of family, friends, jobs, etc. and head off into the Capital U Unknown.

I thought I’d go check out some of the more serious applicants – i.e., the relatively tiny percentage of the 165,000 applicants who were actually willing to plunk down the entry fee (about $38 for Americans – “the price based on the gross domestic product per capita of each nation”; Qataris pay more, Somalis pay less) and submit a video.

There was Knox, a sort of a left-over hippy dude who, at 60, was one of the older folks applying. Knox feels that the trip will be “awesome”, and thinks his “creativity will really get going” on Mars. As someone who “likes getting silly”, he’s the “perfect candidate.”

Cecilia’s a nerd-girl, interested in the science-y aspects of the project.

Matthew, like Knox, thinks his sense of humor will hold him in good stead in the great beyond, but mostly he wants to go to help ensure the survival of humankind.

I’m not sure what the applicant rating system on Mars One is for, but Alexis, and engineering student from Colorado, was one of the few I saw with five stars. She, too, has a wonderful sense of humor – she’s a prankster – but of the videos I viewed, she struck me as the least odd-ball applicant out there.

Charles, yet another good-humored (puns)science guy  had the most polished video of the ones I saw, and he pictures himself in an orange astronaut suit, so he’s ready to go.

Well, I could have spent all day over there looking through videos, if it weren’t for the Bill Walczak for Mayor ads that kept popping up all over the place. (Seriously, Bill. Is this where you want your ad placements?)

Out of the applicants, Mars One said it will select a multicontinental group of 40 astronauts this year. Four of them -- two men and two women -- are set to leave for Mars in September 2022, landing in April 2023.

Adam One, Adam Two, Eve One, Eve Two.

Another multicontinental group of four will be deployed two years later, according to the Mars One plan. None of them will return to Earth.

I bet it will be a relief for the first two Adams and the first two Eves when the next cohort lands. Unless, of course, they’ve been connected to their earthling BFF’s and ‘rents by Skype or their iPhones, which is almost as good as being there.

Also, there’s no mention of pets. I’m sure not interested in moving to any planet where there are no dogs.

The astronauts will undergo a required eight-year training in a secluded location.According to the project site, they will learn how to repair habitat structures, grow vegetables in confined spaces and address "both routine and serious medical issues such as dental upkeep, muscle tears and bone fractures."

The “landers” will each bring food and other supplies (including solar panels) with them, but they’ll be mining their own water from Martian soil, which will also be the source of “oxygen for the breathing atmosphere.”  Over time – centuries – they will “terraform” Mars so that it will more closely resemble Earth.

The jaunt to Mars is, of course, not as riskless (hah!) as it may seem. Radiation exposure is the danger biggie.

In any case, if you haven’t yet applied, you have nothing to fear from Mars-related radiation poisoning, as the window of application opportunity closed on August 31st.

Mars One is now starting the winnowing process:

"We'll select the good ones for Round 2 — this will be the job interview round," Bas Lansdorp, the venture's co-founder and CEO, told NBC News in an email. "There is no fixed upper limit. ... We expect to announce who passes to Round 2 within two or three months, depending on how many people apply in these last 10 days." (Source: NBC News.)

Those who make the first cut will be interviewed “bye local selection committees.”

Mars One says the third round would involve regional-level, reality-TV contests, in which 20 to 40 applicants will participate in the sorts of challenges they might face during a mission to Mars. Think of these televised contests as "American Idol" auditions, but for spaceflight rather than singing. In each region, the audience could select one of the finalists, and Mars One experts would choose the others.

But wait, there’s more:

Round 4 would bring the regional finalists together for preliminary training at a Mars-style habitat on Earth — a facility like the simulated Mars settlements in Utah, Hawaii and the Canadian Arctic. Then there'd be a global reality-TV extravaganza, resulting in the selection of six four-person crews.

Eurovision on steroids! Bet this will be even zanier than the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. (So why am I channeling The Hunger Games?)

Circle your calendar for 2022, when away you go!

And remember, once you’re there, you can look homeward, angel. But you can’t go home again.

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