What Is Mars One?

Thus far, the response of family and friends to the news that I’m involved in the Mars One Project has been either positive or…confused. This post is targeted at people in the latter camp: those who understand that I’m excited about something, but are not quite sure what that something is. If I’m successful, this post will be something that can be sent to anyone who wants a brief, informative outline of the project. 

Mars One Concept Art 3 - image courtesy of Mars One

Mars One is a privately funded one-way mission to Mars, planned to occur within our lifetimes, with the goal of preparing the Red Planet for permanent human habitation.

Last year, Mars One solicited applications from those who would be willing to participate in such a mission. More than 200,000 people from 100 countries expressed interest. Applications involved essays (sort of like a college application), a short video (which I will post here someday when I’m feeling brave), and From the Round One applicants, 1058 were selected for further evaluation. I was one of the people who made the cut for Round Two.

The details of the next round, which is underway, will involve interviews, regional selection committees, and physical and emotional trials to determine whether the candidates are up to the rigors of the mission. Ongoing negotiations with media companies will determine whether and how the details of this round are shared with the world; it is very likely that the viewing public (that means you) will play some role in the final selection. Ultimately, some number of groups of four “Marstronauts” will be chosen for 7–8 years of full-time training.

If all goes well, a mission carrying the first four settlers will fly 10–12 years from now, traveling from Earth to Mars over a period of months. (The length of the flight depends on several parameters yet to be determined. The interplanetary transit vehicle and lander are TBA; among the topics I’ll be returning to repeatedly on this blog will be the various options for getting us to Mars, as well as how to keep us healthy en route and on the Martian surface.) The settlers will be preceded by  shipments of supplies, including habitation modules, life support systems, power sources, and other necessities (not to mention scientific instruments, etc.), with which they will make their first home on the Red Planet.

Once on the surface, the settlers will pursue multiple goals: scientific research, to be sure, but also expansion of the primary base for the arrival of additional settlers: Mars One plans to fly four more astronauts on every launch window (roughly once every 2 years).

Now all we need are fair winds and a few billion dollars. Mars One estimates that the primary mission can fly for $6 billion, an estimate that most critics consider far too low. The current plan for acquiring that money involves a combination of philanthropy on large and small scales, as well as the sale of merchandising and the media rights to broadcast the selection process. (Stay tuned: you might be seeing me on reality TV.) I think that skepticism about the business model is nothing but healthy, and I’ll be exploring the details in future posts.

None of the settlers will ever return to Earth; the mission is a one-way trip. This is one of the aspects of Mars One that bothers people the most, and it’s one with which I’m not completely reconciled myself. I’ll be writing a great deal more about this, but for now I’ll leave this excerpt from my application:

I don’t know exactly how it would affect me; perhaps I am unable to imagine it vividly enough to make it feel real. I would be suspicious of anyone who was confident that they knew their reaction this far in advance. The best answer I have is that it would be a huge sacrifice, but that huge sacrifices are called for when the prize is a whole world.

Lots more to come. Thank you for joining me. Please feel free to +Follow the blog,  subscribe to the RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and — most importantly —if you have questions, please post them in the comments. There is so much to write about; I’m going to rely heavily on the interests of my readers (i.e., you) to determine what to talk about first.

For more information (and for the sources I used when writing this piece), please explore the following.


Deteriorating vision in microgravity: a challenge for human Mars missions

To the list of health-related problems caused by exposure to microgravity, including bone loss and the effects of radiation, we must now add deterioration of visual acuity. The problem may be related to increased cerebrospinal fluid pressure, an issue not easily resolved by stationary biking and resistance training. How serious the vision loss might be, as well as whether it stabilizes over time, remains to be determined.

Artificial gravity (e.g., attained by rotating the habitation portion of the interplanetary vehicle) might help address this, but the current plans for the Mars One transit vehicle do not involve such an arrangement. Then again, that could change. I guess we’ll see.

(via space.com — the piece is by Michael D Wall, whom I met once in a bar in San Francisco)

Hello, worlds!

Last July I applied as a candidate for the Mars One Project, an audacious and unprecedented effort to privately fund a one-way human mission to the Red Planet. More than 200,000 people from more than 100 countries submitted initial applications, which were judged on the basis of the applicants’ resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust, and creativity.

On New Year’s Eve of this year, I learned that I was one of 1058 candidates chosen for Round Two, a process that involves a medical examination (basically a routine physical, already complete), additional interviews (yet to be scheduled), and additional evaluations as yet unspecified. And I’ve decided to go for it.


Obviously, I have a lot of questions—about the technological and logistical details of the mission; about the feasibility of the plans for funding and sustaining the project; and about Mars itself. This weblog is one way for me to start answering those questions for myself. I’ll be learning about planetology, orbital mechanics, hydroponics, astrobiology, and many more fields—and trying to summarize my findings in a clear way, not just for myself but for others who are interested (and, like me, inspired by the cause). So I welcome your questions, even as I’m trying to answer my own.

Because of its educational goals, the blog will be a kind of notebook. Each article will likely be incomplete in some way, a launching pad toward the next piece on a related subject. I will often be writing at the very limit of my understanding, and as a result I will sometimes get something blatantly (and perhaps hilariously) wrong. So be it.

The blog has other missions, too, not least to spread the word about Mars One. When I first heard about the project, it caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go, and I know that many others will feel the same way and seek to learn more.

Will the Mars One mission really happen? I don’t know, and it’s sometimes hard to hold the conflicting thoughts in my head at the same time: on the one hand, the desire to take it seriously; on the other, the knowledge that the audacity of the mission makes it unlikely to succeed.

A dear friend of mine recently helped me put the matter in proper perspective. He told me a story about an old soccer coach of his, decades ago, who would never let his team slack off during scrimmage, even though the games didn’t ‘count’. The coach told his players, “You practice like you play.”

So I don’t know whether Mars One will ever take us to Mars, but I do know that I’ll be taking my participation as seriously as possible for as long as possible. Because one day, human beings will set foot on Mars. And regardless of whether Mars One sends them there, the efforts we make and the conversations we have, now, as part of this project, will inform the decisions of those who ultimately do.