A One-Way Ticket to Mars

It is 2026 and you have decided to move far away. You think it wise to pack sparingly—the flight will be cramped with a whopping three-seat limit—and you almost forget: the duration of your flight will be nine months. You fasten your seatbelt and moments later, you are overwhelmed with nausea that surges through your body. The next thrust comes: You have escaped velocity and embarked on your 300 million mile journey—to Mars.

Let’s rewind to 2011 when Mars One, a Netherlands based nonprofit, was established for the purpose of creating a permanent settlement on Mars. Imagine 200,000 people willing to give up life as they know it on Earth to become pioneers of Mars, knowing they will never return. But this is not simply a concept designed for the imagination; it is a reality. In 2015, 200,000 people from all corners of the globe applied for a one-way ticket to Mars—a ticket to permanently colonize the rust-stained planet. Twenty-four astronauts will ultimately be chosen to begin the process of colonization, knowing they will no longer affiliate themselves with a country and no longer define themselves as Americans, Germans, or Chinese, but as Martians. Over the course of about thirteen years, six resilient teams of four will populate Mars. The first team of four will venture into the unknown in 2026. They will face the monotony of an utterly bleak, uncivilized environment, which might sound daunting, but the trials and tribulations of survival will consume the minds and hearts of the four Martians every moment of their 24 hour, 39 minute, 35 second day. The first four will be pioneers, in the penultimate sense of the word. Assuming all proceeds according to plan, the Martian settlement will increase in size by four (until all twenty-four have settled on Mars) every twenty-six months.

Thus far the nonprofit Mars One has been funded by donations from over 100 countries. It is in early stage of fundraising with the goal of an eventual Ney York Stock Exchange listing (so investors will be able to own their own part of the mission to colonize the red planet).

In February 2015, 100 applicants, dubbed the Mars 100, advanced to the third round of the Mars One Astronaut Selection Process. The applicants were pared down by an advisory board, which included medical director Dr. Norbert Kraft, a specialist in the psychological and psychiatric elements of aerospace. The 100 will have a chance to demonstrate their capacity to work among a team in a Mars Output on Earth, the individual success of which will be factored into the next round of the selection process. The twenty-four (of the Mars 100) who emerge from a rigorous interview process as Martians-to-be (some time in 2015) will begin a high intensity training program in preparation for their move to Mars.

The Mars 100 were selected for mental and physical resilience, adaptability, curiosity and resourcefulness. Although Oscar Mathews, one of the Mars 100, brings extensive qualifications in nuclear engineering and military operations to the table, he told The Politic that his “capacity to never give up and to see potential solutions to normally intractable problems” is his most valuable contribution to the mission.

The Mars 100, many of which have earned advanced engineering and science degrees, hail from six continents, which calls to mind an essential question: How will the colonists communicate effectively? English has been sanctioned as the official language and applicants were required to be able to speak elementary English by the second round of the selection process.

Peter Degen-Portnoy, another constituent of the Mars 100, shared an interesting perspective on communication on Mars with The Politic. He conjectured, “we will develop our own lingo that will be the way we efficiently communicateimportant ideas and concepts in our experiment. [Thus] one of the interesting social experiments that will come from Mars One, is [discovering] how our language evolves and how does that reflect the change in the community.” As communication is a basic tenant of teamwork, the chosen four will undoubtedly have to exhibit forbearance by establishing a balance between speaking and listening.

As the twenty-four finalists will be first-class in their respective fields—leading scientists, engineers and other highly trained professionals alike—they must still be masters of open-mindedness and compromise. Consequently, self-reflection, constructive criticism and consensus by virtue of open discussion on Mars will be essential. In an interview with The Politic, Degen-Portnoy wondered, “If we can make Mars One succeed and demonstrate a society that is founded on open, honest and respectful communication, what could that do to help foster communication on Earth?” If the colony on Mars is able to sustain itself, it could become a paradigm for positive dialogue and interface that would transcend political and religious boundaries, which have complicated many aspects of life on Earth.

As survival will be the primary concern of the Mars settlers, one might wonder what they will eat, drink, and breathe. The carbon dioxide saturated atmosphere on Mars will be exploited as a means of survival for both humans and plants. Specialized electrolysis equipment brought from Earth will be used to amass oxygen from carbon dioxide. At the same time, the carbon dioxide will act as a fuel source and will provide sustenance for plants, which will be grown in Martian soil (researchers are currently working to engineer a Martian soil-based environment conducive to plant growth). According to one of the Mars 100, “Pioneer Astronautics” is among a group of companies that have conducted research proving the feasibility of this process. As for hydration, Martians will look to the ice caps and glaciers on the rocky surface of Mars as water taps, in addition to dehydrating sweat and urine (removing the H2O). Nuclear batteries, solar energy, and fuel cells will serve as a means of power. The Martians will live in inflatable capsule-like units to counterbalance the air pressure on the planet’s surface (which is equivalent to the pressure exerted 15 miles above ground on Earth) and to protect themselves from radiation.

Governmental organization is also imperative to the success of a colony situated in an extreme environment.The onus will be on the first four astronauts to form a government; perhaps involving elected representatives, a democratic vote, a hierarchal command system or an authoritarian leader. To this end, they will receive education on social organization prior to their departure. Mr. Degen-Portnoy imparted, “I am only as smart as myself.” But when working with a team, he continued, “I get input from all my teammates and all of a sudden I have the combined intellect of nine or more people and their perspectives and ideas always exceed the initial understanding I had. Together we create a ‘significantly better’ solution than anything I was able to devise on my own. I think that same philosophy will be true for our governmental system…the way we organize ourselves [on Mars].” Concerned only with their own well-being and survival, the Martians should not be overwhelmed by the identification and execution of tasks; however, as the colony grows in size it will become increasingly difficult to control without an organized governmental constitution. Mars 100 contestant Robert Schröder informed The Politic that “there will be a continuous learning process on the settlement, with nothing written in stone,” allowing for continuous evolution and change.

There is surely an element of adventure that is inherent to colonizing the red planet. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that exceeds one of conventional adventure— one that will try to steal the lives of the Martians each and every day. Mars will be no friend to the 24 Martians—their only allies will be one another. Ingrained in this challenge is the most palpable threat: the stipulation that they will never return to Earth upon landing on the rust-stained planet. Such a challenge can only be answered by those who hope to affect change for the good of humanity and answer the seemingly inexplicable questions abounding in outer space. Their passions for a new human civilization are strong—strong enough to tempt them to leave everything they know behind, including husbands, wives and children. Oscar Matthews beautifully articulated, “Those questions from Earth will kindle a fire of discovery. Those questions will ignite a need to find out, first-hand, and bring the glorious tales home to those who wish to hear them. America (and the entire world) needs those embers, now smoldering and long-neglected, to be stoked into an inferno of discovery and renewal. Our new future, both rugged and dazzling in the darkness, must be invented. This is what will allow our children to dream of a land full of promise and opportunity, like the English did of America just 400 years ago.”

Each of the Mars 100 passionately defends the idea that the Martian dream can become a reality. The challenge of successfully colonizing Mars must stand a test of time, but also a test of grit and perseverance. A test that is limited in its predictability and promise, and ample in its risk and fallibility. May the force be with the incredibly brave and altruistic four who embark on this 300 million mile, journey—earthlings no more.

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  1. They’re still going to be Earthlings, if not why don’t we say the same type of thing of immigrants?

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