1. The Mars One mission is to build a human settlement on Mars.
The Dutch not-for-profit foundation’s blueprints, simplified: Select a crew by 2015 and train them until the first crew launch in 2024.
In the meantime, the nuts and bolts of the settlement will be shipped over, and a rover will set up the supplies before humans arrive.
2. After over 200,000 applicants, Lt. Heidi Beemer, 25, is one of 705 candidates left.
The 418 men and 287 women who applied for the $6 billion mission come from 99 different countries. “They’re not looking for the world’s best doctors or geologists or scientists,” she says. “They’re looking more for a person that is capable of living in a tin can with a bunch of other people for a very long time.”
3. The biggest question: Why?
While the Curiosity rover putters around Mars to find evidence of life, Beemer’s motivation is similar: exploration.
Her heart was set on an interplanetary visit since the fateful day her dad showed her a newspaper with a panorama from the Mars Pathfinder’s voyage. Since then she’s collected backgrounds in chemistry and geology — and leadership experience being an officer in the army, like at Utah’s Mars Desert Research Station above — and has conquered every outdoors activity under the sun.
That is, on Earth. “My reasons for going to Mars are very scientific. We have a lot of questions that we can’t really answer by just sending robots to Mars.”
4. The trip is arduous.
The trek is around seven months with only freeze-dried or packaged food, similar to these packets used aboard shuttles.
Instead of showers, the astronauts will use wet towelettes. The noise from the machinery will be constant, and there will be three-hour daily workouts to preserve muscle mass.
5. It also means saying good-bye to your friends, family, and Earth.
Except for communication, which is limited to the speed of light and will have a delay anywhere up to 20 minutes, based on the orbits of Earth and Mars.
Beemer’s family was taken aback, she says, “but they really weren’t that surprised that I was willing to put my name in the hat.”
6. There’s no flight home.
“The main drive between making this a one-way trip and making this a permanent settlement is the fact that we don’t actually know how to get back,” says Beemer.
Plus, with unpredictable health risks, returning to Earth could be physically detrimental. “We barely understand how our body reacts to zero gravity in long durations,” she says, and the trip would require going through several gravities — including Mars’, which is about one-third of Earth’s. (To find your Mars weight, multiply it by 0.38, or go here.)
“It almost makes a little more sense to just keep it there and allow our bodies to permanently adapt to the one-third G instead of shuffling that exposure.”
7. But there are organizations working on getting the technology to do it.
NASA’s said that by 2030 it’s going to try and figure out how to bring astronauts back, says Beemer. We’ve gotten good at landing the aircraft on the planet, like Curiosity shown above, “but what no one’s never, ever done before is taken anything off.”
8. The flight also includes the looming threat of radiation.
Harmful radiation can’t reach us because of the Earth’s atmosphere, but in space, the crew would have to huddle in an even smaller sheltered area of the rocket. A return trip would increase your chances of a dose, says Beemer, and that risk is something the organization is taking seriously.
9. The settlement will be up and ready before humans get there.
10. But how will they breathe? Or take showers?
Designed to capitalize on Mars’ natural resources, the life-support units will create water through the heating of ice in soil. As the soil’s heated and water condenses, a portion of the water will be stored while another is used to produce oxygen.
About 80% of what we breathe on Earth is nitrogen, so nitrogen and argon gas will be extracted from the atmosphere and together with the oxygen will be injected into the living areas via a tube.
11. Four astronauts will land first.
Then every two years, a new group of four astronauts will arrive at an additional cost of $4 billion per group. The eight years of rigorous training will isolate them in simulations so they can learn how to deal with living in tiny quarters.
“I’m addicted to training on how to do something and then having to rely on that training to keep me safe to enjoy it, if that makes sense,” says Beemer.
And unlike going to the moon and other missions, ground control won’t be an instant resource. The crew has to be prepared for anything, including settlement repairs, cultivating crops in confined spaces — and medical issues like dental upkeep, muscle tears, and bone fractures.
12. The problems that arise can help us Earthlings too.
The greatest thing about space exploration is the fact that the benefits aren’t just going toward the astronauts, says Beemer.
Citing cell phones and MRI machines as collateral breakthroughs from space research, Beemer stresses that a space issue can overlap with an Earth problem too. “It’s just a continuous cycle of building new technology to meet the goal but also being able to use that technology elsewhere throughout the world and helping out large, vast amounts of people.”
13. And if the Mars One mission succeeds, it’ll make history.
“This is still probably one of the most dangerous things man will ever do, and I’m a firm believer that that shouldn’t stop us from doing it.”