Maggie Lieu is a 24-year-old PhD candidate in astrophysics at the Birmingham University, eager to be on board of the first one-way-trip to Mars. She is in love with science, and hopes one day she’ll become an inspiration for some future Einstein, Newton, or Galileo. Her hopes are also of becoming a mother of the first Martian. So far her chances are high. She’s among the chosen ones.
Mars One narrowed their list of candidates from initial 202.586 to one hundred. From the pool of 50 men and 50 women from all four corners of the world, 24 should be ready for the first lift-off in 2024. Before the final selection is made by viewers of the reality TV show, adventurers will have to undergo 10-year training program, which will cover everything from agriculture and plumbing to electronics and medicine. The training base representing the Mars settlement will be built this year on so far unidentified location where candidates will spend most of the time in isolation from the rest of the world.
In 2018 the first satellite and a robotic lander should be sent to Mars, followed by unmanned cargo missions, as a part of preparations for the human crew that should be subsequently arriving on the Red Planet every two years in groups of four. First challenge for Mars explorers will be covering 34 million miles trip that should last about seven months.
Once on the location, they will have to endure other challenges, like murderous radiation, brutal temperature, absence of oxygen, and many other hardships. But, the biggest obstacle for this mission is not human capacity or willingness, nor capacity of available technology to support human life on Mars for a prolonged period of time, but that profane earthly thing called money. Mars One hopes they will collect needed $6 billion+ by selling the broadcast rights to the first extraterrestrial reality television show.
Considering the fact that they started this project from scratch, and that all the necessary equipment will be purchased off the shelf from private vendors, within an extremely ambitious timeline, Mars One’s chances of pulling this off are very slim. On the other side, in this accelerated state of scientific and technological progress, ten more years that lie ahead of the first manned flight to Mars are a substantial, life-altering period.
It is not only the matter of hardware that will decide whether it will be possible to safely land people on Mars. Their survival there will depend on supplies shipped from Earth. And, NASA’s calculations for similar missions state that for every unit mass of payload launched, 99 units of mass are required to support it. By support they mean: oxygen, fuel, food, medicine, etc. So, in order to survive, Mars colonizers will have to rely on in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and life support equipment that isn’t tested in Marian environment.
Adam Arkin and Amor Menezes, scientists at Berkeley National Laboratory’s Physical Biosciences Division, believe they have the answer that could lower some of the risks previously enumerated and greatly reduce cost of manned mission to extraterrestrial locations, and it comes in the form of microbes.
Arkin, the leading authority on synthetic biology and the senior author of the paper published at the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, thinks that” Microbes could be used to greatly augment the materials available at a lending site, enable the manufacturing of food and pharmaceuticals, and possibly even modify and enrich local soils for agriculture in controlled environments.”
With the application of microbial manufacturing spacecraft payloads could be drastically reduced. Scientists have calculated that amount of fuel could be reduced by 56%, food supply by 38% and pharmaceuticals by 100%. If experiments prove these finding to be correct, then it will significantly speed –up mankind’s efforts to colonize space. By cutting these costs, Mars One could invest into technologies that could augment bleak survival chances for their astronauts, imposed by the mission feasibility assessment of the researchers at MIT.
Whatever might be the final outcome of the Mars One mission, perhaps its greatest contribution to the humanity will be accelerated research and development of technologies that will yield benefits to the life on Earth. And, that’s why space missions are so important to all of us.