Back in the 1970s, androgynous crooner David Bowie invited us all to wonder “Is there life on Mars?” Well, the Curiosity Rover hasn’t found any yet despite evidence of water, but if one Dutch group has their way, there could soon be a whole colony of life on the red planet, our nearest neighbour in the Solar System.
A report from the BBC details a request for applications for a one way ticket to Mars. Dutch organisation Mars One is hoping to found a colony on the planet with an initial batch of volunteers, who will then be joined every couple of years or so by successive batches of colonists.
This would be a one way trip for a number of reasons. Partly because the whole aim of the exercise is to establish a sustainable colony on Mars. Partly because the cost of transporting a human crew to the red planet would already be, no pun intended, astronomical, without being more than doubled by factoring in the cost of a return trip.
Also, the seven to eight month trip across space to Mars would result in the colonists losing bone and muscle density as all astronauts do in zero gravity conditions. Once they arrived on Mars, the lower gravity and thin atmosphere would continue this process, so it’s unlikely that they would be able to adapt themselves to Earth’s conditions again even if it was practical to bring them back. And exposure to radiation from solar wind would mean that the travellers would be at increased risk of developing cancer, with lowered immune systems and reduced fertility.
In spite of all this, Mars One are anticipating thousands of applicants, with pioneers queuing up hoping to be selected, to go down in history as the first humans to live permanently on another world.
This is not the first time a one way trip into space has been seriously considered. In October 2010, media reported on NASA’s plans for a future Hundred Year Starship designed to take humanity into interstellar space.
But what would life on Mars be like? Not luxurious, certainly. The colony’s pre-fabricated domes would need to be covered with several metres of hand-excavated Martian soil to protect residents from radiation, which would need to be dug by the colonists. The colonists would survive on water extracted from soil, and generate electricity through solar panels. They would also have to grow all their own food, though they would be dispatched with an emergency ration, which would be replenished with each successive batch of colonists from Earth.
The main obstacle facing the Mars One project is funding. The cost of establishing a colony on another planet would be astounding. If this challenge can be overcome, however, there could indeed be life on Mars.