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Monday, April 22, 2013 - 2:58pm
CNN — A Dutch company is looking for volunteer astronauts to fly to Mars. The search began Monday. Departure for the red planet is scheduled for 2023.
The space travelers will return ... never. They will finish out their lives on Mars and die there, says nonprofit Mars One.
"It's likely that there will be a crematorium," said CEO Bas Lansdorp. "It's up to the people on Mars to decide what to do with their dead."
The one-way ticket is what makes the mission possible, because it greatly reduces costs, and the technology for a return flight doesn't yet exist, according to Mars One's website.
Anyone may apply, for a fee
The company is announcing a casting call for candidates at a news conference that started at noon Monday from the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. It is being streamed live on the Internet.
Anyone may apply via video for a seat on board the rocket, but there is an application fee.
The money collected will go toward funding the mission, which won't be cheap.
NASA's unmanned Mars rover mission to put a robotic exploration vehicle on the planet's surface was originally budgeted at $800 million.
Mars One wants to send multiple supply ships, build a colony on the red planet and grow the colony with an ever-expanding crew. And it wants to sustain a growing crew for their lifetimes.
The colony's budget comes in at "about $6 billion," Lansdorp said. "The $6 billion is for the first crew that goes there."
A second crew will join the first one in 2025, and more will follow regularly. Each flight will carry two men and two women, so reproduction on Mars would be feasible but not intended from the get-go.
"We will certainly not send couples," said the CEO, who did not want to be identified because of commercial concerns.
Are they for real?
Mars One plans to fund the mission partly from the sale of technology developed during the mission, Lansdorp said. It will share it with its potential suppliers.
Mars One lists them on its website.
Lansdorp's idea seemed so out of this world that CNN contacted one of them to check on Mar One's credibility.
"I don't think they deserve to be dismissed," said a spokesman for an aerospace company that contracted for NASA's current Mars mission.
With space opening up to the private sector, many companies large and small are coming up with creative ideas to get in on the game, he said.
Mars One's idea is one of the most audacious ones. "Mars is a stretch. It's the furthest out," he said. But he is not counting it out completely.
Mars, the greatest show on Earth
Media coverage will provide the main funding for the mission, Mars One said.
"Not unlike the televised events of the Olympic Games, Mars One intends to maintain an on-going, global media event, from astronaut selection to training, from lift-off to landing," it says on its website.
Publicity is key, and the media event begins now with the casting of the astronauts.
To garner the needed revenues consistently, the event will have to remain very popular. For comparison, the NCAA projects it will take in $700 million for television broadcast rights in 2013 -- for all its college sports games.
Lansdorp said he has spoken with media experts and ad agencies. He says he feels confident that life on Mars will remain a hit for decades for media consumers back on Earth.
"If humans land on Mars, everyone will want to watch," he said. "It will be bigger than the Olympic Games."
He says he believes it will garner so much attention and rake in so much advertising revenue that funding for the mission will hold up perpetually, even through financial crises and wars on Earth -- long enough to sustain a large crew of astronauts for the extent of their lives.
"This will change the world of advertising," he said.
If all goes well, back on Earth, television viewers can look forward to a decades-long reality show, but cameras will not cover the astronauts live at all times. They will be allowed to turn the cameras off, Lansdorp said.
Strange, dangerous mission
The Mars astronauts will face a lonely life of danger, subsisting for extended periods on dried and canned food.
Once they land on Mars, they will get some of their water by recycling their urine.
They will have to take care of sickness and injuries themselves. "There will be emergencies and deaths," Lansdorp said. "We need to make sure that crew members can continue without those people."
Mars astronauts will have to be mentally fit to deal with the unusual stresses, he said. "Their psychological skills will be the main selection criteria we will use."
Once selected, a group of 40 astronauts will undergo seven years of training before any of them can fly.
The flight to Earth's neighbor, with its barren red desert landscape and thin CO2 atmosphere, sounds almost worse than a lifetime on it. The crew of four will be cooped up on a rocket for seven to eight months with a limited supply of food and water.
It also might not smell nice.
"This will not be easy," Mars One's website reads. "Showering with water will not be an option."
Lansdorp is looking for astronauts up for the challenge and sacrifice of a lifetime.
"A one-way mission to Mars is about exploring a new world and the opportunity to conduct the most revolutionary research ever conceived, to build a new home for humans on another planet," his website reads.
It's not just about the hype
The spokesman for the aerospace company credits Mars One for creating a media spectacle and marrying it to technology.
"They very aggressively seem to be pursuing the reality TV angle," he said.
It has gotten the small company from the Netherlands to a stage that it can begin feasibility studies with well-established aerospace companies, he said. It is helping scientists to work on ideas they otherwise would not have been able to.
"It may fund development that would otherwise not get funded," he said. That's why he's taking Mars One seriously.
Lansdorp and his team may never fulfill their big dream of establishing a colony on Mars, but they will probably fulfill some smaller ones on the way.
The aerospace spokesman is hopeful.
"We can't predict how far they'll get."