Mars One officials announced on May 7 that since the application process opened on April 22, about 78,000 people have applied with the nonprofit organization to become the first human settlers on the Red Planet.
Mars One CEO and co-founder Bas Lansdorp announced: "With 78,000 applications in two weeks, this is turning out to be the most desired job in history. These numbers put us right on track for our goal of half a million."
From the inception, the organizers had anticipated a massive response to the invitation for applications, though for some, how the hope of a one-way ticket to the inhospitable environment of Mars is anyone's idea of a dream trip is puzzling.
According to Space.com, the Netherlands-based nonprofit organization which is involved in an ambitious project to fly groups of four astronauts to Mars hopes to land the first team in 2023 with new teams arriving every two years after the first. The first teams will work to lay the foundation for the establishment of permanent human settlements on the planet.
Space.com reports that Mars One estimates it will cost $6 billion to land the first four settlers on Mars in 2023. The group estimates it will cost $4 billion to land each subsequent team on the Red Planet. The organization has a plan to finance the project through a global reality-TV event which will document the stages of the mission from the selection of astronauts to the colonists' first year on Mars.
The selection process for prospective first settlers opened on April 22 with an invitation to people over the age of 18 who are interested in leaving Earth to begin a new life on Mars to submit applications. Applicants were asked to submit applications at the Mars One website that include a short video in which the applicant explains why he is interested in relocating to Mars.
The organization will be receiving applications until Aug. 31.
Application is open to people of all races and nationality, religion and gender, though non-English speaking candidates chosen to participate will be required to learn the language. The basic requirements for qualification, according to Mars One ambassador, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Gerard 't Hooft, are "intelligence, resourcefulness, courage, determination and skill, as well as psychological stability," Space.com reports.
The project managers nurse the ideal of creating a human settlement on Mars that reflects the diversity of humanity. Thus, opponents of multiculturalism may want to reconsider applying if they remain committed to the view that "multiculturalism does not work."
Applicants will pay a small fee to submit their application. The fee will range from $5 to $75 depending on the gross national income of the applicant's home country.
The selected astronauts will undergo seven years of training to test their ability to adapt to the conditions they will be exposed to during the mission. Trainees will spend time living in a mock Mars environment where they will have the opportunity to learn the basic survival skills.
After application process closes on August 13, reviewers will select 50 to 100 candidates from 300 regions of the world. Further selection will trim down the number to 28 to 40 candidates Space.com reports.
The candidates will then be split into four groups and begin training in preparation for the historic journey.
Mars One officials say they have recieved applications from more than 120 countries. The United States (17,324), China (10,241), the United Kingdom (3,581), Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina and India top the list of countries contributing applicants.
Lansdorp said: "Mars One is a mission representing all humanity, and its true spirit will be justified only if people from the entire world are represented. I'm proud that this is exactly what we see happening."
The major hurdles along the way will involve using available technology to build launch systems, landing crafts and life support systems for the mission.
According to Space.com, planners say the project will involve at least three missions: The first to launch the crew and the vehicle to Mars, the second to launch the habitat for humans on the planet, and the third to launch the vehicle that will lift off from Mars to take the crews home.
Engineers anticipate considerable challenges in the Mars entry, descent and landing phase as well as the return phase in which astronauts will have to lift off from the planet's surface.
Mark Raftery, director of space station utilization and exploration at Boeing, NASA's contractor for heavy-lift rockets being developed for the Mars project, said "To me this is one of the biggest challenges. We have to essentially land a launch pad on the surface that's then ready to launch the crew back to Earth."
The crews will also need medicine, food, communications and navigation systems. Solutions to the technical problems will have to come within the limits of available technology, because there is not enough time to invest in new technologies. Mars settlers will not be able to carry everything they need. They will have to find ways to exploit resources available on Mars for survival. They will need a constant supply of water, food, oxygen.
New settlers will also need radiation protection gear in space, during the journey as well as after landing on Mars.
Grant Anderson, Paragon chief engineer, said: "There's no doubt that the success of this mission depends on the life support system on the surface of Mars working forever. To be successful, we have to execute a major and logical problem of applied engineering. We have to do the design, build and then test extensively before we leave."
James Reuther of NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, said: "We're going to have to rely on being able to live off the land. Those will require significant technology investments in order to actually bring that about."
An initial test launch is scheduled for 2016. A second mission to deliver a robotic rover to scout the land is scheduled for 2018, and a third in 2020 will begin to assemble equipment and living facilities for the first human colonists.
John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate, said: "It's very likely that we'll send some kind of lander or rover to the site we want to send people to first, to drill a couple meters down to tell us if we have fresh water."
A firm called Paragon Space Development Corporation is working with Mars One to design support technologies for the mission.
Space policy experts see the Mars effort in the inspiring context of the challenge to land a man on the Moon in the 1960s. They see the Mars challenge as an opportunity for a concerted growth spurt in space technology and exploration.
NASA's Charles Bolden said at the Humans 2 Mars Summit at George Washington University: "Interest in sending humans to Mars I think has never been higher. We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man's destiny — to step onto another planet."