One of the main difficulties with any manned Mars mission that aims to land humans on the surface of Mars and return them to Earth is getting humans off of the surface of Mars. Mars has 40% Earth gravity, and overcoming such a gravity well would be problematic. But a European entrepreneur named Bas Lansdorp wants to send humans on a one-way trip to Mars, and to pay for it as a media event. If Mr. Lansdorp meets his goals, the first four settlers will arrive on Mars in 2023, and four more settlers will join them every two years. In an interview for Next Big Future with Sander Olson, Lansdorp discusses the Mars One project, and how he believes that the Mars One project could be done for $6 billion dollars and could eventually lead to a permanent manned presence on Mars.
Question: When and how did you conceive of the mars trip?
I came up with the project along with the cofounder, Arno Wielders. In early 2011, we began working on this project. About fifteen years ago, I came up with the idea of sending humans on a one-way trip to mars. But I couldn’t think of a way to finance such a mission. But then Paul Romer, inventor of Big Brother, told us that we could finance this project by having it as a worldwide media event.
Question: How much direct Research and Development will your team be conducting?
We are not an aerospace company – our goal is to have all of the technical work done by suppliers and not Mars one. But the Mars One mission does not require any technological breakthroughs – it is all possible using existing or modified technology.
Question: How many tons of supplies will need to be landed on Mars before the first humans arrive? We will send two supply missions to Mars, and these missions will land about 5,000 kilograms of food, water, and spare parts. In total there will be eight cargo missions to Mars, which will land six modules. These modules will consist of two life support units, and two living units. Perhaps six landers will be part of the habitat, and two will be used to land the Mars rovers.
Question: How long before the astronauts start growing their own food on Mars?
From the moment they land on Mars, they will begin the process of growing food on Mars. They will start growing food for eight people, so that by the time the second crew arrives their emergency rations have been produced on Mars..
Question: Is it feasible to grow food using hydroponics on Mars?
There is a Dutch company working on this. The company is called PlantLab, and they have developed extremely efficient methods for growing food using controlled lighting and humidity, and one can grow about 75 kilos of food in a year per square meter, using vertical growing techniques. The Mars project won’t be quite that efficient, so we are planning on employing 40 square meters of surface area, but some of that will be in drawers. All plant growth takes place inside the habitat.
Question: How will the Mars project meet its water requirements?
The Mars project will land at about 45 degrees north latitude, at a location with at least 5% water in the soil. The life support unit will evaporate the water from the soil, and will be able to extract 3,000 liters of water before the humans land. Although the astronauts will recycle their water, it won’t be 100% efficient, so the life support unit will replace the water that cannot be recycled.
Question: How many rovers will the Mars one outpost employ? Will they be pressurized?
In 2018, we will send the first rover, and in 2020 we will send the second rover which should land in 2021. Neither of these rovers will be pressurized. As soon as rockets big enough to send pressurized rovers exist, we will send a pressurized rover.
Question: So the mars one project will make extensive use of SpaceX’s Falcon heavy?
The Falcon heavy can put 53 metric tons into low earth orbit. We have discussed this with SpaceX, and they can put approximately 2 1/2 tons of usable payload on the martian surface using the Falcon heavy. SpaceX should have three operational launch pads by then, so we expect that the Falcon heavy will be the workhorse for this project.
Question: What will the gender makeup of this crew?
This will be a mixed gender crew, probably with two men and two women. Studies have shown that mixed crews perform optimally, and have the highest moral. We aim to keep the gender ratios roughly equal.
Question: What would happen in the event of an unplanned pregnancy?
Mars would initially be no place to raise a kid, so it would be very important that no pregnancies occur during the formation of the outpost. The astronauts will know this, and will need to act accordingly. We will pick very intelligent astronauts and they will make sure that a pregnancy does not occur.
Question: So this will be financed through some sort of reality tv show?
Yes. This would be an unprecedented media event. We could derive revenue through direct sponsorships and through media access to the astronauts. The show will start with the selection of the astronauts, and will continue indefinitely, until people can buy a ticket to Mars. Billions of people would want to see this, at least initially.
Question: But what about after the initial excitement has died down? What if ratings plummet?
We anticipate being able to meet all of the financial needs of the outpost through media access. If after eight years the interest dies down, we can save money by sending a resupply mission instead of sending more people. Continuing the mission for a handful of astronauts already on Mars shouldn’t be hugely expensive. We are confident that ratings should remain high for a long time.
Question: Are there any contingency plans for sending the astronauts back to earth?
No, this will be a one way trip, with no possibility of return. This is a bold plan, a true adventure. As with the explorations that occurred centuries ago, these adventures will understand and accept these risks. They will sacrifice their luxurious life on earth, and metaphorically burn their ships.
Question: Did you ever consider establishing a lunar outpost first?
There are a number of advantages to a lunar colony. It is much closer, and return voyages are feasible. But Mars has an atmosphere, day-night cycles similar to earth, and there is nitrogen and water on Mars. We believe that we will have a larger audience from a Mars mission than from a lunar mission.
Question: Is landing a human on Mars by 2023 truly feasible?
Many of the components will have to be finished before 2023. Some deadlines are relatively easy to meet, others are harder. Our suppliers have indicated that our schedules are realistic for all components. If we encounter delays, they will more likely be from financial delays than technical reason. The first thing that we want to contract suppliers for, is conceptual design studies, and those can be done for much less than $6 billion. The first round of financing is already underway, and we are confident that we can garner the necessary funds for the design studies.
Question: Will this project require any Government financing or support?
No, it will be a completely commercial project.
Question: What will be the biggest technical problem for Mars one?
The biggest difficulties will pertain to keeping everything running. We will need the proper equipment for getting the habitat modules in close proximity.
Question: How large could the Mars one outpost be by 2032?
I would eventually like to see the outpost become a colony. It would be a major advance to have the astronauts build a donut shaped habitat, perhaps 150 meters long in diameter. Such a structure would provide a relatively abundant living space. By 2032, Mars should have several dozen permanent inhabitants, and that might be a good time to have the first baby born on Mars.