Nine months ago, when MarsOne founder Bas Lansdorp first announced that the company was going to put people on Mars by 2023, the idea seemed outlandish. Consequently, he and MarsOne faced general skepticism and some glaring criticism from the collective internet. Since then, a handful of private organizations with the intent to travel to Mars have cropped up. And, while their specific goals range from flybys to colonization, they are all pursuing a common goal: the first human journey to Mars.
The most recent of these to make headlines is the Inspiration Mars Foundation headed by millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito. Tito wants to send two people on a round trip to and from Mars. Inspiration Mars’ spacecraft will not actually land on the surface, however. The Foundation’s craft intends to take advantage of an approximately once-every-fifteen-years aligning of Mars and Earth that will allow a launched craft to orbit Mars before using Mars’ gravity well to slingshot back to Earth.
If anything can be said about the mission with certainty, it is that it will be relatively dangerous. This isn’t just a mission to moon; aside from the health risks that we’re already aware of (including an extended stay in microgravity and radiation exposure) I’d bet that there are some unknowns that are impossible to account for. For example, the emotional integrity of the two-person crew will be paramount. Past experiments have taught us that isolation in any environment can create volatility. It would be difficult to imagine a worse scenario than a two person crew angry at one another and millions of miles away from home, in a place where you literally cannot take walk outside for a breath of fresh air or to alleviate cabin fever. All this and we haven’t even yet considered the relative incompatibility of space travel and human circadian rhythms. Talk about a recipe for a breakdown!
With these risks in mind, Tito is currently looking for a married couple — a man and a woman — to embark on the mission. This arrangement makes sense on several levels: first, a married couple would be much more capable of dealing with the relative isolation of the journey. Jane Poynter, a member of the Inspiration Mars team and president of Paragon Space Development Corporation, offered a great second point: a male/female couple would be ideal because it would best represent humanity.
Applicant couples will be rigorously tested to ensure that they can deal with the realities of the mission. In an attempt to mitigate the inherent risks of the mission, the IMF will be placing a premium on the ability to handle isolation, a level head, and a positive disposition in the face of danger or ambiguity.
Personally, I’d be infinitely more willing to be involved with the second, third, or even fourth manned mission to Mars. Given the history of the space program, being one of the first few to attempt the endeavor seems a little too risky for me.
So now that you understand the risks, how about it? Are you up for a journey to Mars?