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Mars One puts 100 Red Planet corpses colonists through fresh tests

Out-of-this-world bonkers reality show starts the cameras rolling

By Iain Thomson, 7 Jun 2016

The Mars One project – which plans to make a reality TV show out of an attempt to settle on the Red Planet – will now put 100 space colonist hopefuls through selection tests.

In 2012, the Netherlands-based non-profit group announced it would send cargo ships to Mars in 2016, with the goal of setting up a permanent colony there some years later. The project estimated that it would take about $6bn to achieve, and would be partially funded by selling the rights to the first interplanetary reality show – with Big Brother biz Endemol touted as sponsors. (It's not clear if Endemol is still on board with the madcap scheme.)

After a lengthy and contentious publicity campaign, 100 potential astronauts were selected from applications sent in by the public. At a press conference held on Monday, the group outlined how those potential cosmic settlers will be shortly whittled down to a smaller selection.

"The challenges are designed to determine the candidate's key competencies. Additionally, individual debriefing sessions after each group challenge will provide us with insights into morale, motivation, norm settings, coping strategies and decision making," said Mars One's chief medical officer Dr Norbert Kraft.

He explained they would be checking the wannabes' knowledge, clarity of communication, whether or not that have low personal boundaries – it's going to be a long, cramped ride – and their ability to handle conflict. A governing committee will judge which potential astronauts have the right stuff for the mission.

Within the next six months, the Mars One hopefuls will be put up in a hotel for five days of testing, based on similar tests that NASA carries out when selecting colonists. Ten groups of 10 people will be whittled down to 40 candidates, although the final batch must have a 50:50 gender mix.

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After that, the candidates will be placed in isolation chambers for an extended period to see how they can handle a long time in close confinement with others. The trip to Mars would take nine months, even if the project gets that far.

According to the current timeline, Mars One plans to send a series of unmanned cargo capsules to the Red Planet using SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rockets – the prototype of which won't fly until November at the soonest – in 2023. The cargo pods will be landed in an as-yet unnamed location that will be picked using an orbiting satellite and Martian rover already on the dust world.

Then the first four colonists are fired off in 2026 and the plan is to send further teams out with fresh supplies every two years. Live-streaming cameras will be dotted around the Martian colony to show viewers at home how things are working out.

That live feed could be fascinating – fascinatingly gruesome, that is – because unless Mars One sustains a breathable atmosphere in the habitats, which won't be easy, the colonists will suffocate. And then we'll just be watching a pile of corpses millions of miles away. The International Space Station circling Earth has no problem maintaining an atmosphere because we ship it water to be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, or ship the gas in direct from Earth.

Also, an MIT study found that Mars One would have to fill about 15 Falcon Heavy rockets with fuel to make the first journey to the barren world, not the six that Mars One reckons is needed.

Experts have questioned everything from the cost of the mission (NASA thinks it will take $100bn to land a single team of astronauts and bring them back safely) to the feasibility of building a colony using the available technology.

A senior Muslim cleric has banned devout followers of Islam from going on the mission, claiming it was suicide. The Chinese won't be helping either, after state media branded the scheme a scam.

As too did one of the original final 100 colonists selected. Dr Joseph Roche, an assistant professor at Trinity College, Dublin, quit the Mars One program. He claimed that the sole selection criteria was a 10-minute Skype call and a questionnaire.

"My nightmare about it is that people continue to support it and give it money and attention, and it then gets to the point where it inevitably falls on its face," said Roche.

If, as a result, "people lose faith in NASA and possibly even in scientists, then that's the polar opposite of what I'm about. If I was somehow linked to something that could do damage to the public perception of science, that is my nightmare scenario."

Even the TV deal that was supposed to be funding a large part of the trip appears in jeopardy, after Endemol reportedly put the project on hold. Nevertheless, the scheduled trials will be filmed for broadcast and it appears the show will go on. ®

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